customer placing an order.
Identity resolution lets you connect your audience members to their devices, which allows you create a better picture of who each customer is. PHOTO: QuickOrder on Unsplash

Working in data marketing, you’ve likely heard all about getting to know your customers. However, the topic of identity resolution adds a new angle to these questions: Who makes up your customer audience? And what exactly do they want?

On a superficial level, identity resolution is what it sounds like: resolving a customer’s identity. Looking deeper, it’s also about discovering individual identity by connecting your audience members to their devices, and using those connections to build a fuller, more informed picture of who that audience member is. When it comes to created targeted, personalized experiences, it’s becoming increasingly vital. After all, if you do not know who your customer is, how can you create relevant experiences or engage with them appropriately?

Think of it this way: If you want to make plans with a friend, you might text them or call them from your mobile phone. They have a record of your number on their device, so when they get your message, they know that it’s you.

Say you were unable to use your mobile device, so you call them from a landline or send an email. If they do not have that number or your email address stored, they might not instantly recognize that it’s you using an unrecognized form of communication.

The same goes for brand interaction. A customer may look at your website frequently on his or her laptop or their tablet. Drawing from the data you have collected on their browsing history, you’re able to recommend products and services to deepen their experience of your brand.

What if they start scrolling through your webpage from a smartphone instead? You might not automatically know that that interaction is coming from a regular visitor. As a result, you won’t be able to make use of the data gathered from that interaction to more effectively market to them down the line.

This is why analysts at Forrester refer to ID resolution as “the connective tissue for cross-channel insights and engagement.”

Connecting Devices to an Individual

Sometimes, connecting devices to audience members is relatively straightforward. For example, maybe the individual will log in to the account they normally use on their laptop from their phone. This gives you reasonable confidence that the different devices belong to the same person. This is deterministic resolution -- identity resolution based on data you can be sure of, but it’s not always that easy.

Sometimes, marketers find themselves making educated guesses based on the geographic location of the device or the behavior exhibited by the device’s owner. Alternatively, marketers might use the OS or manufacturer of the device, or other information gathered from third-party sources to piece together their conclusion. Linking an individual and a device this way is probabilistic resolution. It requires some sleuthing and guesswork, and is not without its shortcomings. For example, it can mean a household with multiple devices receiving retargeting ads based on each other’s browsing habits as they share an IP address. 

Why Is Discovering Device Identity So Important?

Consumers have an average of 3.6 connected devices per person and are likely to browse online or interact with brands using multiple devices, like a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Not only does connecting these devices provide you with broader insight as to what a customer is looking at, or how they behave when on your site, it provides you with new marketing avenues. It lets you send updates on items and discounts via multiple channels, and helps you discover the ways your customer is most comfortable interacting with your brand.

For example, identity resolution can help to achieve the following:

  • Target messages across devices: If an individual uses a tablet more often than a laptop, you can send marketing messages to a specific device
  • Maintain the customer experience: You can link identities across touchpoints and channels to track the customer journey and provide consistent treatment
  • Exclude customers from campaigns: Ensure the relevant people get the relevant message, such as suppressing discount offer ads to customers who have made a purchase
  • Make better business decisions: Using consistent and accurate customer data.

How Can I Ensure Success With Identity Resolution?

Probably the easiest option for brands looking to connect with customers across multiple devices is to address it up front. Encourage your audience to create accounts on your site, and suggest they include an email and a phone number when creating it. Explain to them exactly how this helps you serve them better.

If your brand has an app, let your audience know. Suggest they download your app to get deals on the go. It can even be as simple as asking your audience to participate in a quick survey while their order is being processed, asking what devices they’re most comfortable using to interact with brands.

Not only does this help you determine the identity of your customers’ devices, it also helps the customer feel in control of their brand experience. We all know that data-based marketing can feel creepy when it’s not done right. In building a multichannel experience for audience interaction, you want your customers to feel engaged, not stalked.