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Why having no first-party data strategy is not an option: JDE’s Vasilios Sarakiniotis explains where marketeers need to focus their efforts

Bradley Gerrard

Key Takeaways

  • How to develop a strategy that recognizes first-party data as an asset
  • How to keep focused on your core message regardless of distractions
  • Why a start-up mentality can be useful in large organizations
  • Focusing on personalization is a vital component of any campaign

Bradley Gerrard: Every marketeer knows data is key, but where do you think those in the industry should focus their efforts?

Vasilios Sarakiniotis: Brands want to know their customers more than ever, and with the cookieless future on the horizon, businesses are incentivized to develop a vault of first-party data.

This information, which is collected directly from customers and clients via websites, apps, CRM systems and other sources, should be viewed as the vital building block for successful and impactful advertising campaigns.

The data provides varied insights into how customers interact with the brand, their purchase history, and demographic information that helps firms truly understand who they are talking to and what motivates those individuals.

As such, programmatic leads and senior performance marketing managers need to view first-party data as an asset. Assets need to be invested in, nurtured, and protected for the future, and it’s imperative that marketeers appreciate the importance of first-party data because of what it can tell them about their audience.

BG: Does this mean that firms should prioritize how they collate and review their first-party data?

VS: Not having an approach to first-party data is not an option for firms in today’s competitive landscape, and those who don’t make it the center of what they do could be at risk of missing potential conversions.

Knowing who is using a product, or who might use it, is a powerful component behind any marketing campaign, and every firm should put it at the core of their advertising strategy.

This can be easier said than done when the digital platforms that marketeers use to communicate their campaigns are constantly promoting the latest feature to help brands spread their message. But maintaining focus is key.

BG: Do you feel that these platforms can sometimes be a distraction for marketing teams then, and if so, how?

VS: I definitely think they can be a distraction and potentially lead teams to place too much emphasis in the wrong places.

New gadgets on the likes of Facebook and Google’s advertising platforms are designed to capture the attention of marketeers, but they should not dictate the campaign’s core focus.

The way campaigns are delivered is a key factor, but the method of communication shouldn’t override the message; essentially teams should not change what they are trying to say purely because of the latest delivery gadget.

Platforms come up with new features and functions every other day, but trying to become an expert on each one could be a dangerous distraction.

If proof were needed that this is the case, Google is now trying to simplify its advertising platform, with a shift away from the myriad options that it has offered in the past.

Marketeers have had to grapple with trying to work out what ‘discovery campaigns’ were, and ‘display campaigns’, while also trying to understand what the merchant center does as well as various other tools.

Many marketeers spent too long trying to master all these functions, in my view, and I think the fact Google is now trying to refine its offering suggests that the firm also realizes the benefit of simplicity.

BG: What should marketing professionals do then?

VS: I think marketeers should reduce their dependence on these advertising platforms, as it can get pretty ugly pretty quickly; platforms are full of data points, but every insight can be a risk as much as it can be an opportunity.

Instead of trying to become an expert in the functionality of marketing platforms, I’d recommend teams take a step back, focus on their product, think about how to gather first-party data, and strive to understand their customers and clients better so that their communications with them are more effective.

As much as there is pressure from management to bring back multiples in value from every pound, euro or dollar invested, it’s important to try and detach yourself from that mentality, and to focus on your strategy in its entirety.

Having that helicopter view of your campaign will unlock pockets of excellence far more effectively than focusing on the latest marketing platform gadget.

BG: Which part of your marketing career so far has been particularly formative and helped you to retain that ability to focus on the things that matter?

VS: I truly feel that my time in the start-up world provided an excellent grounding to my approach. When you work for a start-up it means you get your hands on every nitty-gritty detail.

It means you build things from the bottom up and you have colleagues around you who want to create things from scratch too.

That mentality – the willingness to pursue new ideas by starting with a blank sheet of paper – carries you a long way when you move to a large firm.

That willingness to experiment, to try to find a solution – and not being fearful of failure – are vital components when developing captivating campaigns.

I think teams that approach creativity with an attitude that there are no boundaries – whether perceived or real – are more likely to cultivate truly compelling ideas that genuinely speak to potential and existing customers. While this is perhaps more natural for those who have worked at a start-up, it is absolutely a mindset that those working in larger, more established organizations can implement.

Doing so will absolutely lead to greater connections with audiences.

BG: You’ve talked about the importance of focusing on the message, but what about its content? How should marketing teams approach the creative process?

VS: I think it’s undeniable that consumers are increasingly choosing brands that align with their values. How a brand treats its employees, its suppliers, and its customers can, for some consumers, be just as important as the quality of the product or service.

This puts greater pressure on firms to know who their customers are, not just what they want. This makes personalization absolutely vital.

It’s so important to understand your first-party data, as it allows you to personalize your marketing message. And this leads to better engagement and unlocks better conversations, which is the metric marketeers should be focusing on.

Of course, we can’t ignore that marketing efforts have to lead to financial conversions, but when you are trying to be creative, you really need to put fiscal targets to the back of your mind.

Marketeers need to take their time, test their campaigns, and then go out to their audience with one key message, a message that really adheres with the service or solution that they are offering.

BG: That’s obviously the ideal, but is it difficult to block everything out apart from your campaign’s content?

VS: Staying true to this can be challenging, especially when marketing platforms are making it increasingly simple to launch campaigns.

It’s good that these services have made it easier for us as marketeers to launch campaigns, but just because we can connect with our audiences more easily, we shouldn’t forget about the importance of creating meaningful campaigns.

Essentially, we must hone in on what we are saying; once a marketing team is being led purely because of how it can say something, I think the focus is all wrong and the quality of your campaigns could deteriorate.

And that laser-focus on what you are trying to say ties back in with first-party data: If you want to be next to your consumer, or app user, or client, you have to build a first-party data strategy that covers all the different aspects of who those people are, and the various data points that they are bringing to you that help inform you about them.

Business is about people connecting with people, and while it can be tempting, and even lucrative, to find out everything that marketing platforms have to offer, I think it’s best to focus on one thing – your message – and build on it.

Vasilios Sarakiniotis is the lead responsible for global lead generation and performance marketing in Europe for acquisition, engagement, resurrection, digital branding, and effective media buying and performance at JDE. He is based in Amsterdam.

Prior to joining the company in August 2022, Sarakiniotis was a marketing project manager at Otrium in Holland, and a performance marketing specialist at Catawiki.

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