Solving identity, matching and reach: The 5 biggest identity challenges

Your customers aren’t device IDs, cookies or IP addresses. They’re real people, and engaging with them effectively requires treating them that way.

As consumers follow increasingly individualized paths to purchase, identity management is key for understanding and having meaningful conversations with each one, over time, at scale.

The buyer journey is unique for each person, and businesses need to figure out how to make personalized use of the details they collect. The modern consumer expects consistent experiences, a range of options tailored to the individual, and their choice of personalized content between channels, devices, and sessions. This is where identity matching comes into play.  

Marketers can learn a lot about their potential customers' online behavior—from the websites they frequent to the social profiles they have to the content they search for. By building profiles of real people that won’t fade over time, you can drive:

  • Connected customer experiences. Imagine telling someone a little bit about yourself the first time you meet. How frustrated would you feel if they had no idea who you were the next time you saw them? Brands without a solid identity management strategy are doing the digital equivalent to their customers, eroding their trust and making them less likely to engage.
  • More efficient spending. When you don’t have a handle on who you’re talking to, you end up wasting money targeting people who haven’t already purchased, aren’t your ideal buyer or aren’t even the person you think they are. Identity management helps you invest your dollars where they’ll make a difference.
  • Better performance. Knowing each customers’ preferences, behavior and history is the key to determining the next best interaction with them, ultimately driving greater engagement and sales.

But while getting closer to a single customer view is a universal goal among marketers, the vast majority of brands aren’t there yet. According to a study by Conversant and The CMO Club, only 15% of marketers are confident they know their customers well based on online and offline activities. To gain a clearer picture of their customers and connect with audiences on a deeper level, brands need a better approach to identity management and customer matching.

5 common identity matching challenges—and how to solve them

In a recent podcast, Conversant President Ric Elert shared some of the top challenges holding marketers back from truly knowing their customers. You can hear the full podcast here or continue reading for what Elert considers the five biggest identity issues marketers face, along with strategies to turn these challenges into successes.

Challenge 1: Fractured data

Brands often have inaccurate or duplicative customer data sets, and the bigger you scale their marketing efforts, the more gaping the cracks in your data become. This results in nothing more than partial pictures of your target market, leaving some serious holes in your customer data matching effort.

Common causes of fractured data include people signing up with multiple emails or phone numbers; brands issuing multiple customer IDs; and the temporary nature of cookies, which can decay in a matter of hours. Some marketers are also relying solely on internal data, creating a limited view of the customer through the lens of their brand. 

When customers are on the receiving end of bad data, things can get ugly. For example, Elert said ads for feminine products often pop up in his feed from companies that have him mixed up with his wife.

To fix these data gaps, enhance your internal data with third-party data to create nuanced, real-time profiles of actual people. Relying on stable, privacy-protected data like offline transactions, rather than cookies or device IDs, also helps build a persistent ID for each person that won’t fade over time. 

Challenge 2: Reaching the right buyers at scale

Based on internal CRM data, most brands may only reach 30% of in-market consumers. With the right marketing partner, that reach can potentially soar to 70%. As Elert points out, though, marketing success depends on accuracy as well as reach. Can you ensure that you’re talking to actual people over long periods of time? If your vendor connects you with six people, but they’re all the same person on different devices, your efforts won’t have the same impact.

To improve the accuracy of your identity management, give partner matching methods a reality check. If a partner says they can match you with 40 million people in a segment that only has 30 million people total, that’s a red flag.

In addition, focus on quality over quantity. Higher isn’t always better when it comes to reach—the ones that matter are the people who have a genuine interest in and affinity with your brand.  

Challenge 3: Relying on the wrong data methods

Still settling for low match rates? Elert says he recently heard a major hotel chain tout its 25% match rate, but pointed out that rate means the brand is wrong three out of four times. The culprit is often the type of data.

Many brands rely on probabilistic data to identify customers, which uses limited third-party information like IP addresses, devices and browsing patterns to make guesses about who people are. This method isn’t as accurate as deterministic data, which depends on concrete personal information like transaction history, name and address to establish a person’s identity.

Achieving true personalization requires the no-questions-asked identification that only deterministic data can provide. By using deterministic methods for identity management, you can make more informed decisions, such as whether someone will respond best to promotional, branding or aspirational messages. The more confidence you can gain in identity management, the more efficient your marketing becomes.

Challenge 4: Not following privacy best practices

As regulations like GDPR and CCPA swiftly become the standard, a rigorous approach to privacy is a must. Many consumers are more open to exchanging data for a more personalized customer experience, with a recent IBM survey reporting that 71% of consumers were willing to share data to access technology features.

These consumers want to know that brands are being good stewards of this information, however, with 87% saying organizations should face stronger regulations on data management.

For brands performing consumer data matching, this means taking a very proactive and hands-on approach to data security and privacy. Following best practices includes scrubbing all data of personally identifiable information, such as names, addresses and financial accounts. Look for external partners that take a similar stance on data protection, using techniques like pseudo-anonymizing and randomizing where appropriate.

Challenge 5: Connecting digital marketing efforts with sales outcomes

Did that display ad convince that customer to try your new lunch combo, or would they have stopped in anyway? Many brands are grappling with questions about the true impact of their data-driven marketing activities, Elert says.

As marketers face increasing pressure to understand and optimize every decision, effective measurement is essential to prove the ROI of your marketing investments.

An individual-based measurement strategy allows you to follow customers from online to the checkout line, attributing outcomes like sales to campaigns where appropriate. External partners should be allies in this process, providing the capabilities and transparency you need to understand the effects of marketing on your business goals.

Mastering identity management

Making the shift to a marketing strategy built around real people is an ongoing process and can be challenging at times, Elert says. For early movers who master identity management, however, the potential payoff is huge for business—as well as the customers they serve.

Ready to go deeper on identity?

Learn how to establish an effective customer identity matching strategy in our e-book, 5 building blocks of identity management.