Never before have brands had access to so much data. Yet never before has there been so much duplicate, disconnected and inaccurate information collected about their customers.
Marketers, it appears, are suffering from an identity crisis. And their pain is being felt all the way down to a brand’s bottom line.
In the race to win customer attention and loyalty, brands must be able to recognize and relate to customers with personal, seamless and meaningful brand interactions that make life easier… or lose to competitors who can. This is why Amazon, which has mastered the use of first-party data to transform buyer experiences, consistently outpaces both online and offline retailers in every aspect of the consumer journey — from consideration to research to purchase to delivery — making the company more valuable than the biggest names in brick and mortar combined. And we have yet to even imagine the ramifications of Amazon’s recent acquisitions and forays into the physical space.
Clearly, most brands are struggling to connect all the dots. That’s because they are missing the one thing that ties all consumer engagement together: identity.
Connecting the Dots
Customer identity means much more than just knowing a customer’s name. It means knowing what a customer wants, needs and where she is in her buyer journey. It means realizing the opportunities to improve the relationship by solving her problems, anticipating her needs or purely delighting. Simply put, identity is the connecting point between all consumer interactions, online and off, past and present. As such, it’s the foundation for all consumer engagements — across the web, mobile apps, stores, email, digital ads, contact centers and beyond.
With people demanding convenient, friction-free brand experiences, marketers must understand that consumer engagements aren’t defined by any single device, channel or campaign. Rather, they are a reflection of everything a brand knows about a customer — needs, desires and past behaviors — and take shape at the right time and in the right context of a buyer journey.
In short, it takes a complex series of data to deliver just the right amount of ease. And the one thing that ties it all together is identity.
Resolving customer identity requires the ability to connect all the information a brand may have about an individual — data in offline CRM storages and POS systems, web browser history, app searches, chat box queries, etc. — and tie it back to a customer record, or profile. This is where the new breed of customer identity solutions come into play.
Customer identity solutions allow marketers to recognize individuals as they move among devices, channels and platforms. Technologies that work with persistent identifiers continually collect new data and update profiles, so marketers can craft personal, relevant and consistent brand interactions at significant moments throughout the customer relationship
The Great Connector: An Identity Graph
To resolve identity, customer identity solutions work with an identity graph, or ID graph. Basically, an ID graph is a profile store that houses all the known identifiers that correlate with individual customers.
Across a consumer’s journey, one or many personal identifiers may be associated with an individual: email addresses, a physical address, mobile phone numbers, device IDs, account usernames, customer IDs, loyalty numbers and an ever-changing array of cookies picked up in browsers. The ID graph collects these identifiers and connects them to the customer’s profile and any related data points, including behavioral data like browsing activity or purchase history.
There is no standard model for an ID graph. Different solution providers use ID graphs that work with different types of customer profiles, matching methodologies, speed and control. Brands may own their own ID graph or they may tap into ID graphs that have been assembled by social networks, advertising partners or onboarding providers.
Identifying the Need to Change
Armed with identity, marketers can deliver experiences that customers want, not marketing messages they want to ignore. Accomplishing this requires working with a customer identity solution that offers continuous recognition, persistence and ownership. And herein lies the marketer’s greatest challenge.
Most marketers are working with multiple technology solutions and partners, their customer data strewn among dozens of different platforms, channels, applications and silos. While the capabilities for each may be powerful in their own right, when each piece of the marketing pie has its own recipe for customer data and identity, brands are left with fragmented slices of consumer behavior past and present, online and off. Which takes the ability to identify and relate to customers at the right time and in the right context off the table.
Hampered by disconnected and siloed data technologies, marketers are unable to upload and reconcile massive data sets — a method that commonly involves batch processing — in time to do anything with it quickly, let alone identify and reach customers “in the moment” across the web and mobile. Plus, many brands work with technologies that rely on data from cookies, which is web-restricted, often outdated and, typically after 180 days, non-existent. To recognize individuals and the digital signals they’re sending in real time across all channels, marketers must work with persistent identifiers that can find and continuously follow individuals as they move across touchpoints, becoming more robust with each interaction.
Sure, marketers have options. For years now, solutions providers have been offering data onboarding, the process of connecting a company’s offline customer data with the digital environment. Onboarders are able to upload a brand’s data, match customer identities across channels and devices and push out these customer IDs to media vendors, a process that typically takes five to seven days, or longer. But five days is five days too late for engaging the customer who’s shopping for your product today — not to mention that precious little data is returned for attribution.
And then there are the internet giants, such as Facebook or Google, which are able to upload and match a marketer’s data with their own massive lists of logged-in users in a matter of hours, delivering unrivaled scale. Yet neither share back user-level data or insights, making it impossible for brands to connect what happens inside the walled gardens with the rest of their marketing efforts.
Customer Identity: Looking Ahead
So, is your marketing suffering from an identity crisis?
If you don’t have an identity solution that allows you to truly understand the person behind the ever-changing screen of choice, odds are it is.
Consumers already switch among four connected devices each day. With new smart technologies continually hitting the market — kitchen appliances, cars, even umbrellas — customers’ cross-device habits will become even more complicated. Which means so, too, will the marketer’s ability to recognize and relate to them with relevancy, consistency and timeliness across all touchpoints.
Fortunately, there is a solution. With the right technology and a strategy built around resolving customer identity, marketers can start to make wonderful things happen for their customers — and a brand’s bottom line.