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Marketing Lessons From The 2016 Presidential Election: Contextualizing Identity

AcxiomNovember 30, 2016

Do you leverage consumer identity to drive meaningful engagement? Or are you actually eroding the customer experience because of poor identity resolution?

There has been a lot of post-election reporting on the place identity politics played in the 2016 campaign, primarily how it further divided many Americans. Today I’ll focus on how an oversimplification of identity could be a lesson for brand marketers as they evolve and ideally recalibrate their customer engagement strategies for 2017 and beyond.

A lesson that has been bandied about post-election and which may seem obvious now, is that our identity, be it our gender, religion, race etc. is not a monolith, but rather is an amalgam, and requires context. Americans, in most cases, do not vote simply based on their gender, race, sexual identity etc., Similarly, as consumers we don’t loyally respond to brand offers or engagement with a brand based only on these same simple identity markers.

For example, if a big box store only knows I’m a 45-year old married female, and markets to me solely based on that, I’m likely to be marketed to as a female yes, but likely also as a mother. Based on census percentages that’s a good “guess,” but they’d be wrong in my case. Multiply this across all of us with these markers who are not mothers. Many of us are educated career women with higher buying power, so this isn’t a mistake brands want to make.

Just like the 2016 presidential election often failed to contextualize identity, treating it like a monolith, you as marketers don’t want to fall in this trap. The repercussions could lessen your competitive edge in a world where you’re not just competing with other brands in your industry, but with brands that have mastered contextual engagement. Consider the digital-first disruptors that have changed the game in terms of a consumer’s expectations, be it Amazon, Uber, Venmo or Airbnb, to name a few.

Marketers, let’s make 2017 the year of contextualizing identity to drive the kind of meaningful, valuable and seamless engagement consumers are demanding, I recommend focusing on four things to in the age of the customer, where expectations are high and context is king.

  1. Market to People, not Fuzzy “Identities.” True people-based marketing across channels requires going beyond marketing to identities in silos based on cookies, browsing history, device IDs and online and offline purchases. All these elements are driving fragmentation across the enterprise and eroding the customer experience. As marketers this is the equivalent of treating a consumer as a micro-monolith based on a point-in-time piece of data. Marketers must be able to reconcile all these signals and create a single, accurate view of a consumer that contextualizes his or her identity. Equally important, marketers must connect the signals on customers across all channels and devices, as well as across time – such as life events like getting married, having a child, moving, etc. This provides context for meaningful engagement in the right channel, with the right offer, at the right time. This requires solving for identity resolution, defined as: a way of matching the different identifiers stored by both online and offline channels, systems and data sources so you can tie them all back to the same person. This ensures you can accurately map back to an individual to drive contextual engagement.
  2. Invest in the New Data Economy. Marketers must have a data strategy beyond their own data, and a key component is how to partner with other brands across industries as well as publishers to better understand customers outside the time spent with your brand. Consider an automaker having access to data on a car owner that tells them the owner is expecting a child. This offers a huge opportunity to market to a customer based on a significant life event – again, an example of the importance and value of context. For this to be truly game changing, brands must be able to do this at scale. This scale, going beyond a handful of second-party data relationships, is now possible with the innovations in API-driven audiences. Marketers should be looking to a trusted marketing data partner with expertise in API-driven services to curate the data and drive a scalable business model.
  3. Adopt an Open and Integrated Approach. Solving for identity resolution across the enterprise becomes truly valuable when you leverage it across your lines of business to ensure all the signals – intent, transactions, etc. – are harnessed for insight across the company. Otherwise it’s likely one line of business is optimizing based on this data, only to be stymied by a non-relevant offer from another line of business that tells the customer, “I don’t know you.” So it’s critical brands integrate marketing and ad tech environments to harness those signals to share insights across the enterprise.
  4. Prioritize Consumer Privacy and Data Governance. Contextualizing identity to drive meaningful customer engagement requires rigorous processes and policies around safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII), your invaluable CRM data, and ensuring anonymous data identified back to PII is de-identified. This is paramount to ensure you’re recognizing customers in ways that are acceptable to them, and never crossing the line of creepy or nefarious use. As marketers we’re all familiar with examples of brands getting this wrong and the damage it does to both the brand and bottom line. That’s why marketers should invest in a data safe haven that protects against exposure of the data being shared and integrated for activation.

As we head into 2017, let’s heed the lessons from the 2016 presidential election about the importance of leveraging identity in a way that tells consumers you know them and in a way that they like. Getting identity right is all about consistently and contextually recognizing your customers wherever they are, understanding their wants and needs and knowing when they’re in market. Showing consumers you don’t just recognize them, you know them is gold – taking you beyond a winning campaign to a meaningful relationship.