Customer Identity in the Digital Age

How people identify themselves varies greatly from person to person. Some people define themselves by their physical traits, others by their locations, and still others by a belief system or perhaps a social connection. In the world of digital marketing, a person’s ID certainly can include all of these attributes. But to make an impact—and eventually a sale—marketers have to go deeper in how they identify current and potential customers.

Identity in the digital age was the topic of conversation this week at AdTruth‘s and Experian‘s Digital Identity Forum in New York. Panelists not only discussed how to define identity in the 21st century, but they also tackled some of the challenges marketers are facing in identifying customers, addressing security concerns, and creating each person a single, uniform ID—no matter the device or platform.

Panelists kicked off the discussion by trying to provide a valuable definition of identity for marketers. With each pundit’s answer came a different definition. “ID for a marketer is simply currency,” said Eric Litman, chairman and CEO of Medialets, a mobile ad serving and measurement platform. Digital ID, according to Litman, is the identifiable attribute that has “value for a marketing campaign.” So with that definition in mind, a consumer’s ID can change from campaign to campaign and platform to platform. For some marketers, that currency might be identifiable information from a recent mobile search—data that can allow marketers to present more relevant messages that also are tailored toward the shopper’s device. For others, the ID currency may be location data from a social media check in. “In the digital world, mobile so often defines the person’s ID,” Litman said.

Bob Walczak, general manger and VP of product at programmatic advertising platform PubMatic, zeroed in on one thing to define identity: the what. “Identity is the what of a person. What you’re doing at the time of transaction. And of course, it’s what you’re buying,” Walczak said to an audience of more than 200 attendees. He later added another W: “It can also be where you are. That can be included in a customer’s identity.”

Expanding on top of that definition was Nick Nyhan, chief digital officer of Kantar and CEO of WPP‘s Data Alliance. “ID to me is the who,” Nyhan explained. “The who is the demographics; the PII [or personally identifiable information]. That includes things like a consumer’s name, address—even device. And what [he or she] buys.”

Of course, with the topic of cyber identification, there’s always the underlying conversation about security. “With security, [marketers] have to always attempt to grow, improve, and enhance,” Walczak said. “Otherwise, you’ll begin to move backwards, and [eventually] will have to start all over again.” And when it comes to security in the digital space, Nyhan said, ID protection is about making customers feel secure. “Consumers questions [about identity] are important,” he explained. “Whether [marketers feel] they’re founded or not, marketers have to address the concerns of customers.”

As the discussion began to wind down, panelists mulled over how today’s trove of tech gadgets are affecting marketers’ campaign strategies. “Devices allow you to get through all of the data—rather than marketing off of a broad set of data,” Litman said. “Nowadays, you can market [with] a much more granular set of information.”

In closing, PubMatic’s Bob Walczak stressed that when it comes to customer identity in the digital age, marketers need to make the most of all of the personally identifiable information that they have: “Remember, it’s not about just creating a [customer] ID. It’s what you do with it.”

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