GrowthOctober 05, 2017

Why identity matching is broken, and how to resolve it

Learn how the new CRM is enabling brands to resolve customer identities across devices, channels, and platforms for better customer experiences.

Why identity matching is broken, and how to resolve it

By now, most marketers recognize that cookies are a weak approximation for actual human beings, and severely limited when it comes to applications beyond web advertising, which still represents only a fraction of most brands’ overall marketing investment. Yet, the promise of “people-based marketing” to transform the customer experience remains largely unrealized. And while Salesforce owns the B2B CRM opportunity, the B2C equivalent hasn’t been built.

The challenge has been that CRM relies on two types of customer data to be successful: context and identity. While there’s been a lot of innovation around context in recent years – invoking everything from people’s purchase and browsing histories to physical locations – identity is a major stumbling block for consumer-facing brands.

Companies like Acxiom, Experian, and Alliance Data Systems all basically provide this to offline brands across several industries, mapping customer behaviors including purchases to identity (name and address etc) but this opportunity has not materialized in digital because most of the data was anonymous and perishable. So the opportunity to bring customer-centric CRM to digital sat dormant during the first ~15 years of mainstream web usage. Now with multiple connected devices, and mobile at the center, you can easily persist behaviors to identity at a brand level.

To deliver on the promise of customer-centric CRM—true personalization—brands have to prioritize identity, and fast.

What is identity resolution?

The identity revolution begins with identity resolution. Forrester defines identity resolution as the process of marrying “multiple sources of identifier and interaction information to form a cross-channel view of the consumer.”

It’s clear that brands can no longer afford to approach identity in channel-specific silos—for example, email systems which are built around a single notion of identity, or web marketing systems built around cookies—especially as customers migrate the bulk of all their interactions to mobile. But, for most marketers, that’s a lot easier said than done.

It is complicated by the fact that any given person can be linked to several forms of identity including email address, anonymous mobile advertising identities, various device IDs (eg Roku ID), social identities, cookie ID, vendor-centric user IDs, push tokens, and more – all of which are created and live in a number of distributed systems. It’s further complicated by such common occurrences as people having multiple emails and multiple devices, and people switching and sharing devices. All of this making accurate, scalable identity resolution a Sisyphean task.

Why it’s broken

While the move away from the anonymous web to a number of connected devices, with mobile at the center, this has made identity more important than ever, the industry-standard approaches have left marketers with the dilemma of choosing between three imperfect options:

  1. Adopt one of the marketing clouds with a “universal identifier” that is multichannel, but not portable, and highly constrained to a single vendor and their definitions of identity (not yours).
  2. Use a probabilistic matching partner, which will produce unpredictable results.
  3. Hire a systems integrator to create a costly bespoke solution that conforms to your identity strategies but largely can’t handle non-authenticated users.

When you dig into it, this is really a Hobson’s choice for most large companies. Given their limitations, the first and second options should be used only to augment an identity framework, not be the identity framework. As a result, brands that have the resources and are serious about people-based marketing tend to adopt choice number 3, at significant expense, only later to discover it doesn’t enable real-time connections needed to exploit mobile and cross-device moments and leaves them with major blind spots when it comes to anonymous usage.

Why it matters

The good news is that, with mobile and connected devices becoming the center of the customer experience, customers are now connected to a persistent form of identity the majority of the time. This is nothing short of a game-changer. Finally, a unified view of the customer is within reach—if you can draw the right linkages.

This will require three things

  1. Being mobile first, but not “mobile-only”: Mobile, being the center of the digital universe, is key to understanding customers, but it needs to be bolstered by information from other channels for a true 360° view.
  2. Putting the customer first: By stitching together several digital identities, brands can finally start reliably knowing who people are, rather than attempting to guess at who they are. Conversely, putting customers first also means being able to “forget” people that don’t want to be known, which will have huge implications as GDPR approaches.
  3. Focusing on actions, not just insights: Making “identity management” a foundational part of marketing execution so you can apply the right identity, in the right context, at the right time, to the right partner system.

The recent debate over Safari 11’s new cookie standards is a flea on the elephant that is customer identity resolution. The real issue is that, in today’s multi-screen, multi-channel world, marketers need to accurately and reliably know who they are engaging with in order to deliver experiences that truly resonate.

Whatever path device manufacturers decide to take, there’s more information than ever about who your customers are and what they want. The time is now, the key components and tools are finally in place to help brands build a comprehensive understanding of the customer across channels and devices built on real identity.

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