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Deduction or Inference? The Science of Identity Resolution for Marketers

Mike Ferguson | March 13, 2018

Identity Resolution is vital for customer engagementOne of the things that I really enjoy at RedPoint Global is being part of the team hiring great people.  During the interview process, I need to judge whether candidates not only have the right technical skills for the job, but also whether they will fit with the team, what they bring to the culture of the organisation, and do they have that bit of DNA that makes them want to delight their (and hopefully our) customers. In a field of good candidates, the challenge is in finding the great person.

How do I determine who is great? This journey of discovery is based on declared evidence (their CV/resume) but also questions and answers, discussion, and my inferences and experience. A CV should provide some insight into their personality; I often get the rest from little clues, like throw-away remarks, which help me get an insight into the person they really are.

Our clients at RedPoint Global face a similar challenge: how to understand their customers and prospects to provide the best service for each individual person. We have been talking about marketing to a “segment of one” for the last five years, but the only way we can do this effectively is to construct a picture of everything we know about each person. Reports believe that half a billion pounds of market share will shift to the players in the retail and financial services sectors who can effectively personalise their customer experiences.

Building this detailed view of each customer sounds like a gargantuan task, but with our clients, we have been working to piece together the clues that their customers leave to create progressively improving data profiles – what we often call a unified customer profile.

Where to Find the “Clues” for Identity Resolution

We find that the clues for resolving customer identities are in the typical sources of customer data. This includes CRM systems, order databases, social media information, website analytics, or any other customer engagement touchpoint. The number of available sources increases all the time. Retailers could have in-store purchase data as well as online purchase data. Financial services marketers have mortgage applications. Insurers have claims data. You get the picture.

At RedPoint we’ve been helping our clients drill into this data, and identifying the keys within it, to join these many data sources together. The key in each piece of data is an account number, email address, cookie, or social ID, etc. Once we have the keys, we start to stitch the data together to build the unified customer profile.

We may only have data from one area to start this process with: perhaps web analytics data driving identity by cookie and device ID. Or we might have a social profile with social ID, likes, friends, significant dates, and sentiment that has been built up by our customer’s interactions on Facebook, Twitter, or even a Social Sign-on service. If the prospect buys something via a website, we hopefully have a name, email, account number, and perhaps even a delivery address. An in-store purchase can be difficult to track, but this could still generate data if the customer experience is designed correctly.

Inference vs. Deduction: Building Customer Identity

In each of these cases, we are starting to build a partial view of the individual: web, social; in store, customer service, financial, etc. While valuable, this isn’t the whole picture – it’s like when I interview someone and can only see their technical ability and not their cultural fit and motivations.  We need to see the whole person to be able to serve them best.

Not many organizations have a full 360-degree view of their customers. They may take a social profile and use it to understand who a follower is, but they don’t always connect that social identity to a customer who has made a purchase. Linking those two types of identity will provide a deeper view of the customer versus one solution alone.

As more pieces are added, the profile gets bigger and more detailed. One possibility is that linking social data and shopper data could provide visibility into whether a social posting led to a purchase. Knowing this information may lead to different types of messages in the future. It could also mean that offers are provided via Facebook instead of email.

So, the challenge that we have been helping our customers achieve is how to join these disparate parts into a single whole view. This, ideally, translates into a true 360-degree view of the customer. While that term has been around for ages, many organisations haven’t really managed to bring all the facets into a unified profile yet. To be honest, I blame business silos more than technical challenges for why many companies lack a 360-degree view of their customers.

Doing this kind of matching and merging at speed is crucial. Customers move fast through the purchase cycle and organizations need to be able to engage at the right moment. This is what makes identity resolution capabilities so vital. A solution that can bridge silos of information makes all the difference between providing a relevant customer experience and an irrelevant one. When companies connect silos of information, they move from a place of understanding only one small sliver of the customer experience to viewing the sum of that interaction journey.

Identity Resolution Isn’t Quite Elementary

Resolving identities from ‘anonymous’ to ‘known’ is vital for a good customer experience. To do that, organisations need a solution like a customer data platform that can unify silos of information. Customer data platforms provide the flexibility to link siloed point solutions, at speed, into a central command centre. That central point is then accessible to end users and manages the process of resolving customer identity initially as well as over time. As companies get better at resolving customer identity across channels, they become better able to engage those same consumers correctly.

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Mike’s “The Science of Deduction: Anonymous to Known” Master Class at the Marketing Technology Expo (MTEX), at ExCel London on March 21 and 22. Click here to register for this free event.

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Mike Ferguson
Mike Ferguson

Mike Ferguson is an experienced technology executive with a track record of more than 20 years in delivering complex software, web, IT, and engineering solutions. As VP EMEA at RedPoint Global, Mike leads on managing RedPoint’s rapidly expanding portfolio of client relationships outside of North America and establishing the company’s international presence. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn and Twitter.