Identity: How moments become meaningful customer experiences

In today’s hyper-connected digital age, consumers are in the driver’s seat. Armed with multiple devices and channels to engage with brands, consumers are conditioned to get the information, products and services they want—instantly and from anywhere. To win them, brands must be prepared to engage at critical decision points along their path to purchase.

But many brands’ existing technology and strategies aren’t up to the challenge of truly delivering a connected experience across devices and channels in the digital space.

A 2019 commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Epsilon on identity resolution found that more than half of the 200 director-level and above marketers struggle with the basics of identity recognition, unable to identify the right audience for online campaigns or personalize and optimize campaigns effectively.

In a December 2019 webinar featuring findings from the research, guest speaker Joe Stanhope of Forrester said, “Learning how to personalize and work in the moment—there’s a lot of investment, effort and thought going into that. But there’s a delta between the effort of brands and what the customer is actually experiencing.”

Here, we dive deeper into the key findings from the research, commentary from the webinar and guidance on how to build a “good” identity program from soup to nuts.

Learn more: 5 keys to building a better identity program: It's time to stop guessing

Losing in the moment

At the most basic level, most brands' efforts at personalizing the customer experience fail. Roughly 90% of businesses say they are personalizing experiences and 72% of retailers are personalizing the in-store experience. Yet just 5% of consumers say brand emails—the most essential weapon in the marketer’s arsenal—are well-timed and meet their needs. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, only 13% feel valued by brands.

The experience ecosystem is undeniably changing; new devices and new channels of engagement mean the universe of touchpoints is constantly shifting and expanding. On the other side, consolidating media and social players wall off huge chunks of data, and thus limit brands' ability to understand—let alone manage—the customer experience.

“Identity is the connective tissue for the customer’s moment. No analytics capability, no marketing engagement capacity works correctly without an identity backbone to support it.” Joe Stanhope, Forrester

Identity: the connective tissue

Brands can innovate on and improve the customer experience using two primary dimensions:

  1. The expanding universe of touchpoints
  2. The increasing granularity of available data about each customer

Innovative technology exists to collect and interpret this high-velocity, individualized data in real-time, but without the ability to reliably connect it to an individual consumer, it’s essentially worthless. “Identity is the connective tissue for the customer’s moments,” said Stanhope. “No analytics capability, no marketing engagement capacity works correctly without an identity backbone to support it.”

Identity resolution isn’t just a marketing tactic or a one-off project, but an essential strategic capability for brands,” Joe noted. The ability for brands to connect engagement breadth with granular consumer data rests on their ability to accurately identify their customers.

The current state of identity

To help better understand how brands are using identity today, Epsilon commissioned Forrester Consulting for a study of 200 marketers on their use of identity resolution capabilities. The study examined five pillars under-girding identity resolution—persistence, recognition, scale, accuracy and privacy—to see how they were driving value for marketing efforts.

Forrester found that many brands struggle across all five pillars:

  • 71% were unable to maintain an accurate ID over time
  • 69% couldn’t identify what percentage of an audience was active and reachable online
  • 63% couldn’t verify what amount of the addressable audience was reachable
  • 58% weren’t sure their solution could message the correct person across different devices and touchpoints
  • 40% weren’t confident that their privacy opt-outs and controls were in place

While far too many brands weren’t able to leverage their identity program to innovate the customer experience, the research also showed they were overlooking a key opportunity to measure marketing and business performance.

The majority of brands used identity for customer preference management and profile development, but just over 40% used their identity program to measure marketing performance and optimize campaigns. “Measurement ultimately sits at the heart of efforts to choose the next best message in the customer buying journey,” said Stanhope.

The research also showed that many identity programs are too narrow in scope to be effective and as a result, brands miss out on the key benefits of identity resolution.

For example, most brands expected their identity program to help them achieve more complete customer profiles, deliver the right content to the right customer, and increase the efficiency of marketing spend, but only about 40% of respondents claimed these as benefits. In other words, the gains brands realized from their identity solution failed to align with their most significant challenges.

“Identity resolution has the potential to drive crucial understanding of marketing measurement and performance and sits at the heart of all one-to-one personalization efforts,” Stanhope said. But it has to go farther than its current state for marketers to be successful at innovating relevant, individualized and impactful customer experiences.

What makes “good” identity?

If many brands are faltering with just the basics of identity resolution, what does a “good” identity program actually look like?

In the second half of the webinar, Epsilon’s SVP of product management, Joel Pulliam, stepped in to offer advice on how to build a quality view of each customer. “All of our products have identity at their core, it’s the connective tissue—when we build a product, it’s the first thing we look at and the last thing we consider,” said Pulliam.

He shared that the best way to approach this is by looking at the five pillars from Forrester’s research: recognition, scale (or reach), accuracy, persistence and privacy.


In terms of recognition, the best version of ID resolution uses implicit, explicit and deterministic purchase data and connects it to individual consumers at scale. These various methods often use email, IP address and device-based cookies to recognize people online, but they often fall short of transactional data, which is a much more consistent and accurate identifier.


Reach is more challenging in the era of intelligent tracking prevention. This technology prevents cross-site cookies and tracking, which effectively roadblocks advertising based on third-party cookies. Safari and now Google have followed suit (Google recently announced it will deprecate third-party cookies by 2022). This will create many challenges for adtech providers’ whose products rely on third-party cookies, and, based on our experience with the Safari update, many will not be able to solve it effectively. “Reach has actually plummeted over time,” Pulliam said, “because cookies are being deleted so quickly now.”


Accuracy is the ability to show the right message to the right person at the right time. Many solutions rely on probabilistic matching using device IDs and IP addresses, but if they aren’t connected to the right person, the message is wasted.


Persistence, or reach over time, is the ability to have an ongoing conversation with a consumer. One impression rarely leads to a conversion, so it’s important to continue your conversation over a period of months or even years. “Most providers don’t really measure persistence, it’s the least talked about part of any ID resolution because it’s really difficult to identify over time,” Pulliam said. Even so, Epsilon's 12-month retention rate is 80%, while other solutions are estimated to be 35%.


Privacy is an increasingly important topic in the digital space. When it comes to identity resolution, privacy isn’t necessarily an extra step in the process and more so a mindset that permeates how you think about and are a steward of consumer data. Brands can (and should) only work with partners that have a “privacy by design” mindset and offer transparency and choice for consumers. This includes:

  • Promoting and living by transparency and fairness with consumers and clients
  • Ensuring consumer privacy is considered at every step of the process when it comes to building and developing new products
  • Ensuring appropriate compliance across:
  • Are GDPR and now CCPA compliant

To ensure customers are having the best, most relevant online experiences, marketers need to take these five pillars of identity resolution into consideration, or they risk losing customers to competitors better suited to provide top-notch personalization.

Want to know more about the five pillars of identity and how your organization can leverage identity to drive critical understanding of marketing measurement and performance? Watch the full webinar with AdWeek and guest Forrester today.