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First-party data is, as the kids say, having a moment.

The concept resurfaced in the public consciousness when Google postponed its anticipated phase-out of third-party cookies on Chrome until 2024. But what might have been perceived as a no-news announcement only highlighted the inevitability of the ultimate result: The era of the third-party cookie is ending, and the need for first-party data will usher in an evolution in marketing, sales pipeline development, and customer acquisition strategies.

Many brands and marketers have already begun to pivot to prepare for a cookie-free future. In the EMEA region, which is part of my purview as the GM of EMEA and head of global partnerships for Splash, that pivot is well underway, spurred by the EU's early adoption of stringent privacy and data collection regulations that limit the utility of indirect audience creation and cross-platform tracking.

But even as American and European brands experiment with both traditional and out-of-the-box ways to engage with customers and potential customers directly (metaverse activations, anyone?), there's one relatively unsung source of first-party data that is both straightforward and verifiably effective: events.

Events are excellent first-party data collection mechanisms not only for consumer-facing brands but also for B2B marketers, media companies, and publishers looking to expand and define their sales funnels and target people who play important roles in the buying and procurement process.

Encompassing a spectrum of engagements from field marketing (which, according to Splash platform data, increased significantly in Europe following the implementation of GDPR rules) to seminars to industry conferences, B2B events are rich veins of data, provided that companies have the tactics and technology in place to mine it all.

The Role of Everyday and Virtual Events in First-Party Data Collection

Events—specifically everyday, repeatable events as opposed to infrequent flagship events—are important to a B2B data collection strategy in part because of the demand for progressive profiling.

There's now an average of 27 touchpoints in a B2B buying cycle, according to Forrester Research's latest B2B buying survey. So, first- and last-touch attribution don't always provide the best insight into why a deal closes. Instead, it's middle-of-the-funnel events, such as workshops and thought-leadership dinners, that help teams understand who's involved in the decision-making process.

Everyday events also just work for B2B businesses, and that efficacy is crucial to their role as sustainable generators of first-party data.

Small to midsize events (events under 350 attendees) had the highest ROI for 72% of respondents, a soon-to-be released Splash survey of marketers and event professionals found. The same forthcoming survey also found that 59% of event professionals already host six or more recurring events every year, indicating that most businesses already recognize how integral everyday events are to their overall marketing and sales strategies.

And for real-world results, take the example of TechCrunch, which achieved a 67% increase in event revenues last year partly due to the success of its small event series "Dinner for Six" and "Roundtables" and its collection and application of first-party data from attendees at in-person events.

Fine-Tuning the Event First-Party Data Engine

If businesses are already having success with everyday events and using those engagements to generate valuable first-party data, how can they improve and optimize that process?

B2B businesses and marketers can use three implementation-ready tactics to soup-up their event data engines.

1. Ensure event tech is integrated with the broader tech stack

This seems like a 101-level data collection recommendation, but considering that many companies have been experimenting with different event platforms and technologies over the past few years, there's no guarantee that all of the pieces fit together seamlessly. Tech integration is therefore critically important for attribution, attendee experience, and compliance.

2. Design event playbooks and event program mixes to align with intended experiences

Understanding what part of the customer journey an event is meant to influence—and whom it is meant to target—is crucial for collecting the right data and advancing overall corporate goals. Each event is a set of interactions and experiences that B2B marketers can calibrate to achieve the desired result.

3. Capture (and control) rogue events

Events that occur outside the structure of a cultivated event strategy are harder to measure, difficult to replicate if successful, and—when conducted apart from the established event technology platform—almost useless as a source of first-party data.

Having easy-to-use tools that automate event programs reduces the number of rogue events and helps optimize an events-based data collection strategy.

* * *

Whether the last stale third-party cookie is deployed in 2024 or five years afterward, the utility of first-party data will never diminish. There will always be value in forging direct relationships with customers and potential customers, especially for B2B enterprises.

Events have always been a pathway to those relationships; perhaps now, in the sunset of the third-party cookie era, events are having their moment too.

More Resources on First-Party Data and Events

How Creative Digital Experiences Will Save Us When Third-Party Cookies Crumble

A Five-Point Plan for First-Party Data

Experiential Event Marketing: Set Up Your Brand for Success (8 Do's, 4 Don'ts)

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Connect, Gather, and Learn: Why Events Are the Unheralded Engine of the First-Party Data Resurgence

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image of Greg Higgins

Greg Higgins is the general manager of EMEA and the head of global partnerships at Splash, a solution built by and for event professionals.

LinkedIn: Greg Higgins