In the 20-plus years I have worked in the marketing and data industry, one of the most poignant and pivotal initiatives I have seen cast into the ever-flowing and sometimes murky marketing conversation is identity matching. The concept is by no means brand new. In fact, it’s been around for several years now and has proven to be a fundamental part of marketing in the 21st century, along with the likes of other significant advancements, such as the cookie, data science and the consumer journey.
Today’s marketing is about the evolution of personalization into what is now considered true individualized marketing. It is marketing communication created for the individual, at the moment they need it, and there is no other identical instance of that communication out there.
The most critical component of communication is listening. What are your customers saying? What are they searching? What are they browsing? By understanding all of the clues consumers are leaving behind, brands are getting smarter about how to serve not just a one-size-fits-all strategy, but an individualized one that drives results. Understanding the buyer’s journey may be the best process for listening.
As each consumer follows a very specific path on their journey to purchasing, marketers must be thinking about how to connect the data that has been shared. Consumers expect companies to use the data they provide to deliver relevant, personal experiences across sessions, devices and touch points, deployed in real time throughout their channel of choice.
In fact, a study by Forrester found that “77% of consumers have chosen, recommended or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.”
This is where identity matching comes in to play.
Identity matching is the ability to match behaviors across multiple devices to the same consumer. With the rapid expansion in the number of devices that consumers are using to conduct their everyday business, identity matching is needed to aggregate data into a single customer view and enable marketers to provide that relevant and consistent messaging.
In fact, research by Pew Research Center found that 84% of American households have at least one smartphone, and a third have three or more smartphones. The same study found that, overall, the majority (90%) of U.S. households have at least one of the following devices, with the average having five: a smartphone, desktop or laptop computer, tablet or streaming media device.
That is a lot of connectivity! So, when considering identity matching, both scale and precision are important. While we want to be able to connect as much data as possible to a single consumer, these associations must be accurate — but it’s tricky. Marketers have to link offline and online behavior for the same household or individual using postal name and address, IP address, email address, mobile phone number, landlines, device IDs and cookies.
While we are no longer in the days of the Wild West on the topic of identity matching, there are some critical points to recognize and understand when considering adding this to your marketing strategy.
Cookie Vs. IP Addresses
Cookies are small text files that contain a unique ID and are placed on a computer by a website to remember certain pieces of information about online users and improve the user experience. The process of matching the identifiers on those cookies is called cookie matching. This is what allows advertisers to target consumers with relevant ads. While highly accurate, cookies can get deleted, so you may sacrifice some reach.
An IP Address is the digital address of a device (computers, tablets and smartphones). They are dynamic and are associated with the network the device is on. Every time a consumer uses a laptop on a Wi-Fi network, they are switching IP addresses. For example, if you are at the office or Starbucks or at a hotel, you will have a different IP address at each location. But you will have the same IP address as the person sitting next to you. And, important to note, the majority of browsing activity occurs Monday through Friday between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Where are consumers during this time? Most are at work, where multiple users will have the same IP address. So, you may sacrifice some of the accuracy.
Deterministic Vs. Probabilistic
Deterministic matching, or explicit matching, as I recently heard someone define it, allows for an exact match between two pieces of data. But it’s challenging to find a single field that can provide a reliable match between two records, so you may sacrifice reach. The tendency for more “false negatives” is also prevalent.
Alternatively, probabilistic matching, or implicit data, allows for the comparison between several fields across records, with each field weighted to indicate how closely the fields match — it’s a statistical approach that measures the probability that two records represent the same individual. Here, you might sacrifice some of the accuracy or see more false positives.
To take your personalized marketing one step further and create a truly individualized consumer experience with identity matching, all of this should be taken into consideration. Whether it’s cookie-based or IP address-based matching, some hybrid of the two, or deterministic instead probabilistic matching, only you can determine where the greater tolerance lies for the particular application of the matches.