Writing for Ad Age, marketer Kevin Dean recently discussed why it’s so important for companies to piece together customer identity for all contacts in all their databases today:
“Identity should be the start of every customer interaction, whether that means accurately understanding the profile of the consumers you are engaging with or crafting the ideal marketing message. … Brands want to create relevant (and positive) customer experiences for individuals — and it all starts with identity.”
The key term there? “Customer experiences.”
As Dean noted, every marketing activity implemented by you and your marketing team ties back to customers’ engagement and the need to provide a world-class CX to them today.
Before you can realize this mutually beneficial CX, though — one that compels customers to continually return to and make purchases from you and keeps your business metrics moving in the right direction — you need to do two things:
- 1) Proactively resolve customers’ identities by accruing as much personally identifiable information (PII) as possible so you can turn unknown users into known individuals.
- 2) Store those prospects’ dynamically updated, authenticated data in persistent profiles that live in a dedicated single source of truth — like a customer data platform (CDP).
Given the increased difficulty of reconciling customers’ identities today, thanks largely to the end of third-party cookies as a valid and dependable data source and the “new normal” it created in the marketing landscape, a CDP — along with an identity resolution strategy — has become essential.
It may seem like a lot is required of marketers such as yourself to adapt to this evolving privacy landscape. The good news is there’s a way forward for all brands, including yours, to improve their customer identification efforts and, in turn, continue (or start) to make the most of first-party data.
Understanding customer identity’s importance for your marketing
As noted, modern marketing technology like a pure-play customer data platform can help your business with its data unification and customer identity resolution needs.
More specifically, the CDP offers you the ability to gain “owned” insights (first-party data secured directly from contacts) as opposed to “rented” data derived via once-popular-but-now-useless, cookie-based means and stored in less-efficient identity graphs linked by disparate systems.
Why go through all this work of onboarding such a centralized database that can provide you and your team with a single, comprehensive customer view? Two main reasons: accuracy and activation:
- To get an always-accurate picture of your audience — the most recent demographic, contextual, and behavioral data based on their latest profile changes and engagements — you either need a compilation of marketing tools to patch together this unified view or integrate your core martech with an emerging resource, the CDP, which updates said profile in real time with this up-to-the-second information.
- The result of this precise, real-time customer visibility? The ability to activate their data in hyper-targeted fashion (e.g., perfectly placed and timed individualized offers, like on-site dialogues promoting deals for products viewed). No more waiting around for hours (let alone days or weeks) for profiles to update. Instead, you get the latest information needed to inform immediate marketing actions.
In short, the limitations of the third-party cookies as a data source (fleeting lifespan, thus requiring quick activation by marketers; only anonymous user engagement details; more often than not, blocked by users or browsers) are simply too great for publishers and advertisers alike to overcome today.
Similarly, the clear-cut advantages of first-party data are far too many to ignore. Gathered across devices and channels, first-party data only improves over time as customers further interact with your brand, when said data is stored persistently in a CDP profile (i.e., unified from other databases).
As martech expert Kathy Menis noted for Ad Age, it’s this permanency of data records for all prospects and buyers — not transient, soon-to-expire, vague contact details collected through third-party-cookie-related activities — that helps modernize and streamline brands’ digital strategies today.
“For identity to drive results, customer data must rest exclusively in the brand’s possession in order to maintain consistent and meaningful connections across channels and throughout the customer relationship lifecycle, not just for the duration of a campaign,” said Menis.
Evaluating and improving your brand’s customer identity “confidence”
It’s evident customer data unification into a CDP — and, therefore, persistent profiles where said data can live permanently and update dynamically — is many marketers’ primary objective today.
What’s less clear is how marketers should begin their transition from their once-reliable, cookie-focused approaches to the now-premier marketing resource: first-party data.
The best place to start? Evaluate your company’s customer identity confidence levels.
In other words? Examine your existing databases to see how you currently collect and store consumer data so you can identify how to improve your overall data-gathering processes.
Here are the most common customer identity confidence levels we see in brands today:
- Absent: This one’s fairly simple: It’s when you have zero individual-level data on which to base your marketing decisions. You may have broad audience data you glean from tools like Google Analytics and tag management software. But you don’t have any PII on specific users, anonymous or known, who interact with your organization in one form or another. (Not ideal.)
- Anonymous: As BlueConic COO Cory Munchbach noted on our CCPA-themed webinar on reconciling customer experience with consumer privacy regulations, with anonymous profiles, “we’re dealing with something that’s more ephemeral and we’re never actually going to have a clear link between that anonymous person and a concept of a record.” (Also not great.)
- Anonymized: As we’ve discussed, anonymized data and anonymous data aren’t one and the same. The former is typically procured taken from a source with time or consent limitations (e.g., third-party cookies), activated (and quickly) in a targeted manner, like interest-based ads, then discarded — or anonymized — due to the aforementioned limitations.
- Associated: At this level, you’ve secured data associated with an actual person, typically in your campaign management solution, CRM, or both. You’ve obtained at least one piece of PII from an individual (usually email address to start) in order to contact them following that initial touch point and gradually acquire more PII to build out their profile.
- Authenticated: And finally, the ultimate end game. “This is where the consumer’s own agency comes into play in the biggest possible way,” according to Cory. Your prospects have utilized your customer identity and access management technology to log in to an owned channel of some kind and taken additional steps in their respective customer journeys.
The takeaway is clear: If your confidence level is anything but “Authenticated,” it’s time to closely and carefully investigate what requires changing in your data-driven marketing program.
More specifically, it’s time to analyze how you can more efficiently resolve customer identities and construct “complete” customer profiles (a loose term, given no profile is ever really “complete”) in a way that’s scalable and allows for easy, marketing ROI-improving, cross-channel activation.
Resolving and managing your customer identities with a pure-play CDP
Now, there’s technically a sixth confidence level — “Assembled” — only leading brands achieve today. And they all use the same martech to accomplish the feat: the CDP.
At the “Assembled” stage, you’ve accomplished three particular goals in your marketing:
- 1) Built an effective back-end technology setup: You’ve fine-tuned your martech stack to ensure all of your data from separate sources and systems (adtech, email service providers, CRMs, etc.) constantly and seamlessly flow in and out of a unified, single source of truth: your customer data platform of choice.
- 2) Developed a front-end customer experience strategy: You’ve determined what value you’ll provide your audience to get them to opt in to receive marketing messaging and allow you to use said data to inform further messaging down the line (i.e., personalized and individualized promotions across channels).
- 3) Constructed a governance plan to maintain consent: You’ve ensured consent for each contact is always up-to-date and 100% accurate, thus eliminating the risk of accidentally marketing to opted-out users (and receiving fines due to violations of data privacy regulations like GDPR and the CCPA).
Achieving this confidence level and these objectives with a leading, built-for-purpose CDP to host your consented customer data is what can help you build and sustain your customer identity management efforts and, in turn, provide a best-in-class CX for your audience.