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Making Sense of Identity

Kyle Hollaway Last Updated June 11th, 2020
Making Sense of Identity

Identity is referenced everywhere – from Industry key note speeches, trade articles, blog posts and vendor marketing materials. But the nagging question that isn’t readily answered is, “What does that REALLY mean?” There are so many applications or use cases pertaining to Identity and/or people-based marketing that it is hard to make sense of all the hype. A significant contributing factor is that Identity isn’t a singular concept, but rather a spectrum of associated capabilities that are central to today’s Martech/Adtech ecosystem and other vertical solutions as well.

Identity affects all business types and includes non-marketing use cases such as continuity of care for patients in Healthcare and engagement with constituents in the Government space. Identity resolution is foundational to delivering a unified audience layer within an enterprise. Utilizing a common identity graph helps drive the accuracy and efficiency of the audience layer, thus enabling a seamless customer experience.

Joe Stanhope of Forrester wrote in The Strategic Role of Identity Resolution that “the ability to accurately identify a customer is the most basic assumption made at every step of the marketing process – whether it is deliberately considered or not – making accurate identity resolution the literal foundation for all marketing activities”1 and that “Identity resolution is a key enabler for contextual marketing.”2

Simplistically, there are three primary aspects to defining and categorizing Identity Resolution –  CERTAINTY, CONSISTENCY and CONNECTIVITY. When presented in these terms it becomes much clearer and you can begin to comprehend the various nuances to the Identity landscape.

  • CERTAINTY. In some cases, Identity is tied to how certain you are of the person’s (or entity’s) identity. This comes into focus in security and access applications where there is a mandate to authenticate and validate the entities identity with certainty. Control is a key factor. It is imperative that there be a high degree of confidence that the entity is known. This is a lesser aspect in the Martech and Adtech ecosystems and tends to be relegated more to operational systems. This aspect is often referred to as Identity Management and/or Identity and Access Management (IAM). You may have heard of Determistic matching and Probablistic matching. Both are used to resolve identity; determistic matching is when an exact comparison is used between fields, probabilistic has less certainty as it is a likelihood of a match based on an algorithm. Both techniques are used across the spectrum in various solutions so understanding how an identity is being resolved will help you determine your level of certainty.
  • CONSISTENCY. Most consumers want to be recognized whether at their favorite retailer or with a trusted service provider. Having a consistent and fully-informed customer journey throughout a brand engagement is a growing requirement for the modern consumer. This has driven a growing focus on 1-to-1 personalized marketing capabilities (aka people-based marketing) in the modern customer engagement model where the primary concern is the ability to consistently identify the customer (or prospect) regardless of the time, location or touchpoint. The key is to correctly identify the customer every time. This is the foundational capability that every marketer strives to master and is the lynchpin to an effective omnichannel solution. Per a recent report by, nearly 60% of respondents said their various channels were only marginally integrated or not integrated at all2. Eric Lunt of Signal stated that a brand’s ability to “continuously recognize their customers in any channel, at any touchpoint” was a strategic imperative for 2017.4 Similarly the Winterberry Group observed that “Only 8.9 percent of panelists said they consistently recognize customer audience members across all of the media channels at their disposal.”5 This aspect is known as Identity Resolution.
  • CONNECTIVITY. The past 3-5 years have seen explosive growth in the complexity and variability of customer touchpoints. People-based marketing in 2010 was built around traditional name and address information. It was about a Person and a Place. With the increased regulations and sensitivity around digital privacy and the proliferation of automated anonymous advertising technology it has become increasingly difficult to connect all the dots and to market to an audience. Being able to effectively connect a known persona or identity to the anonymous representations in the digital advertising ecosystem is essential. The ability to onboard and activate 1st and 3rd party data for digital campaigns is critical to the modern marketer. This aspect can be termed Identity Association.

While every Identity solution addresses each of the three aspects, its position along the spectrum drives a heightened focus on one aspect or the other. For instance, with access management related solutions at one end of the spectrum, the key aspect is Certainty. This focus is not compromised for the sake of extended Connectivity. Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum digital advertising platforms may focus on Connectivity (aka reach) with the expectation due to the anonymous nature of the platforms that Certainty of the identity isn’t as critical. Business requirements and regulatory constraints are the drivers dictating the Identity focus for each solution.

Next time you are looking to address an identity related question or opportunity, remember that it comes down to the 3 C’s of the Identity Spectrum – Certainty, Consistency or Connectivity. Acxiom has long championed these aspects of Identity and has a spectrum of solutions that help our partners and clients make sense of this frequently-referenced term. Go here to learn more about Acxiom Identity Resolution capabilities.

  1. “The Strategic Role of Identity Resolution” by Joe Stanhope, Forrester®, October 17, 2016, pg. 2
  2. “The Strategic Role of Identity Resolution” by Joe Stanhope, Forrester®, October 17, 2016, Cover
  3. “Marketing Technology 2017” by Nicole Perrin, eMarketer®, February 2017, pg. 6.
  4. “2 Strategic Imperatives for 2017 Marketing” by Eric Lunt, April 18, 2017, pg. 2
  5. “From Theory to Practice: A Roadmap to Omnichannel Activation” by Jonathan Marguiles, Winterberry Group, November 2016, pg. 5

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