If your child reads 20 minutes a day, he or she will end up reading 1.8 million words in a year. Imagine how many words you’re reading given the data explosion in recent years. In this new world, everyone from the President of the United States to big name CEOs to brand marketers are going direct-to-consumer with their message. The goal is owning the relationship with the customer, who is likely found on multiple platforms.

While four out of five CMOs expect to increase their spending on marketing analytics and attribution over the next year, three out of four have have little to no confidence they’re investing in the right technologies to achieve their marketing goals, according to a recent survey of chief marketing officers done by Nielsen. Startling.

What can marketers do to achieve their goals and achieve the ROI they are looking for? It all comes down to collecting and activating unique sets of data. Let’s explore the trend of going direct-to-consumer; the challenges of getting ROI from that data and the way brands are using social as a tool to convert users into loyal customers.

The direct-to-consumer trend

It’s pretty well established by now that the best way for brands to connect is to go direct-to-consumer. This means creating their own branded content that will attract people to their app or website, allowing the brand to truly own the relationship and, most importantly, to build out their own first-party data.

“If you look at a lot of large enterprise brands we deal with, particularly in the restaurant and in the retail space, they’re looking for ways to create a unique one-to-one connection with their consumers,” said Patrick Reynolds, CMO of SessionM. He notes that it’s primarily through apps, but can be done “through a myriad of touch points.”

Content is also important for brand loyalty because it can fill in the gaps between purchases, essentially keeping customers interested even when they are between purchase cycles. It maintains the relationship with a company like Nike, for example, even when they wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about buying new shoes or other sports gear.

“We see a lot of non-transactional incentives that keep customers loyal, and most of those are content based,” Reynolds noted.

“Let’s say that you’re a large company that sells diapers. In a very traditional loyalty paradigm you may say, ‘For every dollar you spend on diapers, you get a point, and after you amass 1,000 points you get one free diaper.’ That would be a traditional, not particularly inspirational, way to go about it. A better campaign would be: ‘Every time you watch a video on baby proofing your house, you get 100 points, and for each time you learn about water safety and infants, you’ll get X points.’ If I create content that engages you, and you consume it, you’re actually being loyal to me as a brand, even if you’re not buying something at this exact moment.”

Challenges around ROI

One of the reasons behind the push toward first-party data is that third-party data leaves a lot to be desired as the return on investment for that data is low, if at all existent. Brett House, VP of Marketing and Strategy at Nielsen, explains that the quality of data from third parties is just not optimal.

“There’s a lot of third-party audience data acting as a proxy for real people. Machine learning algorithms link devices, then makes an educated guess about the person using those devices,” said House. “It’s important to understand that digital – to this day – is really done at the device level, which amounts to a certain amount of guesswork when it comes to reaching the right audience. That’s why over 40% of all online and mobile campaigns miss their most basic age and gender targets. Machine learning can help weed out bad data, but it’s clearly not getting us to where we need to be as marketers.”

“High quality, deterministic data based on real people rather than device signals is imperative,” said House. “At Nielsen, this comes down to persons-based data based on two things: what media people engage with and the products they purchase at the store level. Much of the third party data out there doesn’t capture this real view of people, and that – in part – helps explain a lot of the advertising waste we see in the digital ecosystem. The industry needs to move away from targeting devices and towards understanding and engaging with verifiable human beings.”

To get ROI from their content, brands need to get that first-party data, and the best way to get it is by delivering that content. For help with content delivery, look at True Anthem organic and paid services.

Social interactions = point-of-sale transactions

So if brands have content and are acquiring first-party data, then what? How do they then use it to actually convert customers? The answer lies in social media.

“We integrate with a lot of social media listening platforms, so if you’re leaving reviews, if you’re sharing content, if you’re doing all these different things outside of the walled garden (generally the larger B2C brands are tracking that) then we inject that data just like it was a point-of-sale transaction. It can all go into a comprehensive real time profile for each customer, inclusive of the social interactions, vis-a-vis the brand,” said SessionM’s Reynolds.

“Once customers are aware of your brand you want to get them to commit some sort of action, and social media effectively supports this deeper-funnel, customer acquisition tactic,” said House. “It really comes down to the fact that social media platforms have – arguably – more accurate and verifiable insight into real people and their interests than any other media. So the advertisements being served – if done correctly – often have a high degree of relevance to the person in question, which means more ad recall and engagement.”

With first-party data, social is a great conversion tool

Across multiple industries, the trend toward precision and predictive analytics is about getting data specifically about a person, not just a population. We see it in the way we get cars. Now transportation comes directly to us a la Uber and Lyft. We see it in the way we’re getting personalized care due to our own individual DNA. The way to engage with consumers is increasingly understanding them individually and personally.

This is harder to capture with third-party data that estimates what populations of people will do. It was good for a while and still offers benefits. But it’s not enough.

Brands have made investments into content on their websites in an effort to bring consumers to their site, and in so doing, gather more data from the interactions of those consumers. In order to get them to the door, brands also need to leverage their content assets and the targeting capabilities available on social media platforms to acquire the right engaged consumers into their conversion funnel.

By combining content and social media marketers are able to establish, maintain and cultivate an ongoing relationship that becomes one of the best conversion tools the online world has today.