How Mastering Customer Identity Will Help Your Brand Win

To help in the new marketing battleground

four people dressed in different colors; all the people have boxes on their heads
It's on brands to find solutions for potential shortcomings in customer experience. Matt Herring, Getty Images
Headshot of Jon Suarez-Davis

Marketers are swimming in customer data and quickly sprawling technology stacks that promise to help them manage and make sense of it. With nearly 7,000 mar-tech vendors, marketers are overwhelmed with options, investing in many solutions to solve for different needs. As a result, they’re working with siloed, inconsistent data, which makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint a single customer across the numerous channels through which they interact with brands. At the same time, marketers are tasked with leveraging data to meet changing consumer expectations across multiple digital touch points.

According to recent research, the top technologies marketers use to solve for customer identity are marketing databases, customer-relationship management systems, email service providers, data management platforms and customer data platforms. Marketers have several options available to unify their data, and it would be poor guidance to recommend one over the other as marketing teams have different goals. Before making a decision on a customer identity solution, here are the five questions marketers need to ask.

What marketing problems am I solving for?

Different marketing objectives call for specific customer identity solutions. Sometimes a marketer’s main goal is to ingest data from different systems and unify it in order to develop a single customer record to predict customer behavior and analyze preferences. Other times, marketers want to activate the data in real time.

Brands that don’t think holistically about the customer experience across marketing, service, commerce and more will lose out to brands that do.

Marketers need to also ask themselves if the data captured is pseudonymous or based on personally identifiable information. First-party data has a different management process compared to other types of data. Additionally, it’s important to evaluate the role of identity matching, which means linking one customer ID to another. Most companies lean on two types: deterministic and probabilistic. When IDs are identical, the match is deterministic, but in many cases, the match is based on statistical similarity (probabilistic). Ultimately, different marketing activities require different levels of accuracy.

Will the tools I choose solve the challenges at hand?

The marketing challenge should dictate the technology a company adopts, not the industry hype around it. Some tools may support use cases such as mobile offer management but lack the ability to tackle applications across both unifying customer data and activating it. Before leaping in, marketers should ask themselves whether the cost of the solution is worth the ROI and whether the investment is replicating existing technology. Marketers need to also consider whether the time spent to get the new solution up and running is worth it and how well it will complement existing tools.

Have I looked at existing tools through a new lens?

Marketers may already have the right technologies available to them but need to start using them in new ways. For example, some CRM systems can help companies understand customer behavior across marketing, commerce and service on the same platform. They can also connect to additional tools such as point-of-sale transaction solutions. In another example, DMPs offer marketers an option as they’ve moved beyond digital advertising to stitch together a broader view of the customer.

Is integration a top priority for my business?

Integration between different data sources and systems is a big opportunity for marketers to build their brands and drive growth. Brands that don’t think holistically about the customer experience across marketing, service, commerce and more will lose out to brands that do. Integration is no longer IT’s mandate; it’s a business priority that often starts with the marketing department. In fact, more than half (54 percent) of high-performing marketers (those completely satisfied with their marketing performance and investments) say their marketing organization is leading customer experience initiatives across the entire business. The organization must commit to creating connectivity across data silos in order to deliver the experiences that customers want.

Am I investing in AI capabilities to boost results?

One of the main challenges around identity is connecting the thousands of customer touch points that comprise the modern customer journey into a single view. Companies are turning to data scientists to manually decipher and merge all of the customer data available, but the U.S. economy could be short as many as 250,000 data scientists by 2024, making artificial intelligence essential for marketers to adopt. AI capabilities are critical for data unification, identity resolution and activation. The technology can automatically help marketers sift through massive amounts of data, find patterns in it and activate the information for personalized marketing campaigns instantly.

Every one of us has seen an online ad for a product we recently purchased or have had to recite customer service woes to numerous agents as we’re punted to different reps that we are told will help us. While marketing has never been more sophisticated, it’s a pivotal time as companies race to find solutions that reduce these redundancies and eliminate broken customer experiences. In other words, it’s a race to solve for customer identity, the new marketing battleground.

This story first appeared in the March 18, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@jsuarezdavis Jon Suarez-Davis is svp, marketing innovation and CMO programs for Salesforce and a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.