3 Step Identity Strategy for Hyper-Personalization


Marketing is being revolutionized by innovative, direct-to-consumer brands who engage consumers through hyper-personalized experiences. Hyper-personalized means targeted, relevant experiences at every encounter with the brand. Companies like Amazon, Netflix, Uber, and others have changed the game for personalization and raised the bar for competitors. How are these brands differentiating themselves? Matt Austin, Vice President, Identity Management at Merkle, explores this question, highlighting brands’ intense focus on person-based identity.

Identity is the foundation for personalization. Without knowing who your customers are at every interaction, it becomes virtually impossible to treat them as individuals with unique interests and preferences. Identity solves this by recognizing customers across touchpoints and supplying the intelligence to personalize the experienceOpens a new window .

Establishing a comprehensive identity strategy to support personalization is complex. However, when done right, it will drive better experiences while improving marketing effectiveness.

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Put Identity at the Center of the Customer Strategy

Identity strategy for hyper-personalization begins customer engagementOpens a new window and the information they provide in exchange for services. Compliant and secure collection of person-level identity data is the natural starting point of the identity strategy. 

Customer interaction points need to be designed to allow consumers to easily provide personally identifiable information (PII) and consent in exchange for services. Consumers are cautious about the brands with which they share their information. It’s important that they feel their data will be used to enhance their experience by providing a sense of value and an assurance of security. Enhanced experiences can include convenient interactions, compelling content, and easy-to-use tools/applications.

You also need to strike a careful balance between the consumer’s perceived benefits of sharing data and the effort required to provide it. For example, acquiring an email address upon first interaction with a new customer is a perfect way to start collecting identity. Over time, as the customer engages further with the brand, focus can be applied toward building out the full PII profile without negatively impacting the user experience with an arduous data entry process.

The technology used to orchestrate and deliver these experiences should be designed and configured toward the long-term goal of acquiring PII and gaining consent over time in exchange for the personalization brands deliver. Data security and overall data compliance need to remain a top priority, allowing customers to opt out or adjust their preferences to best suit their needs. 

It is important to recognize that not all brands can naturally acquire the amount of PII required to reach the identity scale. This gap can be bridged through careful consideration of compliantly sourced second- and/or third-party data.

Building a customer strategy anchored on person-level identity is fundamental in supporting hyper-personalization. In addition, with increasing privacy regulations, transparency demands, and the phasing out of the third-party cookie, person-level identity is becoming paramount to enabling personalization in the modern marketing ecosystem.

Take Ownership of Identity Through the Private Identity Graph

Brands that deliver hyper-personalized experiences take ownership of identity through person-level private identity graphs. The private identity graph built upon person-level PII is the centralized identity hub that informs customer interactions. The private identity graph is sourced primarily through first-party data, supplemented with trusted and compliant second- and/or third-party data, and tailored specifically to meet the brand’s unique use cases.

The private identity graph starts with person-level data from trusted sources, particularly first-party owned data. Confidence levels in identity associations begin to emerge as data is expanded to other identity signals, such as first-party cookies and device associations. In cases where second- and/or third-party data is included in the private graph, these associations typically create a third layer of confidence in the graph. It is important to establish transparent and clear confidence intervals in the private identity graph for business users to apply data in the proper context.

The private identity graph must also support data compliance, consent, and opt-out rights. Brands that take control of identity through person-level private identity graphs are going to be best positioned to seamlessly apply proper data compliance now and into the future.

Visual Example of the Private Identity Graph

The underlying identity technology is often supported through trusted identity providers who specialize in person-level identity. Providers that are not focused on person-based identity often prioritize match rate over accuracy. Their processes and identity graphs may start with third-party cookies with short shelf lives and questionable quality. Their graphs may commingle high, medium, and low confidence identity associations, which maximize match rates at the expense of accuracy. While there is a role for this approach (i.e., maximum reach), anchoring your private identity graph on anything less than PII is a risk.

Organizations should consider a provider that is focused on a person-based identity centered on transparency, match confidence, and proper privacy controls. Without a flexible provider to meet these requirements, identity noise and low-quality associations based upon black-box algorithms can result in marketing inefficiency, low return on investment, and lack of consumer confidence.

Establishing a person-based private identity graph takes advantage of the identity-focused customer strategy established in step one. This empowers organizations to inform technology with identity to support hyper-personalization.

Integrate Identity Into the Technology Stack

Hyper-personalization relies on the intersection of technology and identity. Informing technology with identity creates an environment where interactions can be tailored specifically to each individual.

This is where the power of the person-level private identity graph shines. The private identity graph becomes the centralized intelligence hub to support personalization across the technology stack. Brands that have taken control of identity through the private identity graph concept can engage customers with confidence, knowing they are talking to the right person.

To make this possible, the private identity graph must be accessible, ideally in real-time, to all components in the marketing technology stack. If we conceptualize the layers of the marketing technology stack into data management, insights, orchestration, integration, and activation, we begin to imagine how each layer can be informed through identity. 

There are endless use cases and scenarios where identity and technology collaborate to deliver hyper-personalization. Some core examples include the following:

  • Data management is the layer where the private identity graph is established and where interactions are identified at the person level.

  • Insights is the layer that leverages identity and customer interactions to create analytic models to inform personalized interactions.

  • Orchestration is the layer where identity is heavily used to personalize interactions across a wide variety of applications (e.g., traditional campaign management, decisioning, and journey management).

  • Integration is the layer that uses identity to collect and distribute intelligence across the integration services, which integrate technology platforms in real time.

  • Activation is the layer that puts a significant emphasis on identity to inform everything from traditional campaign channels (e.g., email) to inbound digital channels (e.g., first-party website) to digital media (e.g., display).

When the technology stack is informed by identity, hyper-personalization can be realized.

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Marketing is being revolutionized by brands that deliver hyper-personalized experiences. These brands all share an intense focus on identity as a core component of their overall customer strategy. Consumer expectation for personalization is rising. Brands who invest and solve for identity will be at a competitive advantage relative to their peers. However, the goal of hyper-personalization fueled by identity requires the right strategy and investment. Organizations must focus on putting the identity at the center of the customer strategy. They must take ownership of identity through a private identity graph to provide the flexibility, transparency, and compliance framework to support their use cases. They must also inform technology, specifically the technology supporting personalization, through identity. Brands that can execute on this identity strategy framework will be best positioned to thrive in the hyper-personalized world.