Identity - the heart of modern marketing

Profile picture for user Jon Suarez-Davis By Jon Suarez-Davis September 14, 2017
Brand success is based on the strength of relationship they enjoy with consumers, and marketers that put identity at the center of their strategy are building the foundation to deliver exceptional experiences that stand out.

The key to effective marketing has always been to connect with people where they spend their time, and when they are most receptive to engage with a brand. A decade ago, that largely meant reaching them on channels that included television, radio and print.

Today, that means finding them on dozens of channels and understanding them across their approximately 3.5 devices -- through cookies, mobile phone IDs, e-mail addresses and various device IDs. But at the end of the day, browser cookies and device IDs don't buy anything—people do. So, if you are going to excel at smarter marketing, you must believe that every signal a consumer creates is a clue to their intent, their desires, their needs, and for those clues to make sense, you must understand how they map to a consumer; you must understand identity.

For example, let’s think about some of the data signals generated over several weeks or months from a car shopper, and what they might mean to the auto marketer trying to reach her. We can collect data showing new Toyota minivan TV spots targeted to household with kids. Facebook could tell us that mom liked the minivan page, and we can also tell that mom went from Facebook to Toyota's site and looked at specific lease offers for a minivan. The dealer's CRM system would tell us that she signed up for a sales appointment. The sales system at the dealer can tell us what car she actually bought, its price, and whether or not she signed up for the extended warranty program.

This very sequence of events - and thousands of permutations - happens every single day. Her journey from brand exposure, to research, to consideration, and finally purchase of the new family car is documented and well-understood. What is alarming is that marketers never get to see this consumer journey in its full resolution because of a lack of data fidelity and isolated systems.

For most marketers, social data stays in the social platform, CRM data remains at the dealership, and the TV and online display data is housed in its own separate spreadsheet. More importantly, those actions and behaviors are not mapped back to a person - there is no source of truth for identity. Of course, the goal is to tie together mom's mobile phone, desktop computer, cable box, and Facebook account—and understand every interaction she had on her new car journey—to give the auto marketer a fighting chance to better personalize a great experience for her every step of the way.

If you believe every touchpoint matters and delivering better consumer engagement moves the needle for brands, then identity is truly the new basis for competition in marketing.

Making progress with identity management

Where should marketers focus their efforts today? The first step is to bring together all of the email addresses, social handles, mobile IDs and web cookies to build a user placeholder or profile. Usually, the marketer has a piece of known data, like an email or postal address, and that person can be identified. However, sometimes the marketer needs to use a placeholder to create a user profile of engagement for a still “unknown” person.

Identity management starts with connecting declared (and responsibly collected) known user data and appending it to an anonymous ID. It then uses probabilistic methods to create linkages between unknown people and devices, leveraging algorithms to predict how groups of identifiers belong to the same person. In addition, identifiers like an email address can be safely hashed, which is simply creating a value or key that represents the original identifier to make it anonymous.

How does identity management make marketing more effective?

Identity management is a lot more than just creating a massive “device graph” of IDs that tie people together with their devices. Making identity impactful requires enormous scale, the data science chops to apply intelligence to massive datasets, and the real-time capabilities to append associations between IDs in the time a consumer is recognized across an increasing amount of channels and devices. This is not only about ID matching, but understanding the intent such signals convey, and using those insights to create better consumer experiences.

For example, consumers only authenticate - or become “known” - at certain times: when they raise their hand to receive brand communications such as an email newsletter, offers via mobile notifications or during an e-commerce transaction. When they do authenticate, they become a “known user” by providing a “known” ID, like an email address or phone number, and they give you permission to send them email, mobile notifications or other direct forms of communication. But that same consumer may later see a digital ad, they may come back to your web site but not authenticate, or they may have multiple devices that you don't know about. In all these cases, they appear as an “unknown user” even though its the same person. Without understanding the consumer in both ways, known and unknown, a marketer cannot understand true consumer behavior, nor deliver the right experience to the right person at the right time and place.

Every marketing platform today has some kind of identity solution. Some see the world through the lens of e-mail identity, and seek to connect to the known with web cookies. Others see the world primarily through cookies, and try to find the truth of identity by mapping people to the various categories they fall into while browsing. Still others see the truth of identity primarily through the lens of website behavior. All of these approaches provide important clues to identity.

However, in order to stay ahead, marketers must have access to much richer data that include not only e-mail addresses and browser-based cookies, but also signals from social, service, apps and purchase transactions. The key to leveraging identity requires marketers to build their approach to the future with a few basic precepts: every signal matters, signals must map to a person, and those signals form the basis of delivering better brand experiences.

Brand success is based on the strength of relationship they enjoy with consumers, and marketers that put identity at the center of their strategy are building the foundation to deliver exceptional experiences that stand out.