Adapt or fail: The shifting nature and evolution of customer identity
In the past, the customer journey was thought to be, or at least accepted as, primarily linear — meaning customers followed a predictable path to purchase over and over.
For example, an individual might see a commercial, research the product online and head into the store to purchase it. It was the same templated process for decades, though the awareness and research stages might have occurred through alternative channels. Brands advertised to prospects and customers in a similar fashion. After all, why would you deviate from the touch points where the customers were most likely to interact with you?
And for decades this process (mostly) worked. However, with the advancement of technology, such as smartphones and tablets, I've observed that consumer behavior has shifted dramatically, and the customer journey is no longer treated as linear. People jump from device to device, consume information through dozens of channels and can access digital content from almost anywhere in the world.
The customer journey now more closely resembles the corkboard and intertwined yarn TV detectives use to connect points of interest to solve a case: The point A to point B road map no longer exists. The way people interact with brands is all over the map. But in a world driven by the customer, brand marketers need to connect these hundreds of customer touch points to better understand their target audiences and deliver more relevant messages across multiple channels. I believe more relevant messages can lead to a more powerful customer experience and, in some cases, customer loyalty.
The key is identity. While it might seem straightforward, the path to proper identity resolution is riddled with complexities. Nowadays, brands can learn how their customers prefer to be contacted, their interests beyond the brand and the touch points most likely to influence purchase behavior. The list goes on. And most of the information is a result of the hundreds of digital touch points that customers create every day.
My company specializes in analyzing data to understand these types of digital touch points, and I've seen that brands can use the information in a meaningful way for customers. But, some still struggle to organize and make sense of it all.
So, how do brands overcome the challenge?
Making Sense Of Your Data
The marketing ecosystem has changed. It’s become more about the customer, and rightfully so. The customer needs to be at the heart of every marketing strategy. In order to achieve that goal, marketers need to understand the customer.
There are a number of ways to begin understanding your customers, but I've seen that many brands tend to automatically rely on a multitude of third-party data sources to help fill in the gaps. The mindset is the more data, the better. But in reality, it’s about the quality of the underlying data.
Let’s imagine a consumer in the market for a new car: Although they might have purchased a certain brand of vehicle in the past, it doesn’t mean the brand completely understands all of the relevant nuances of the car buyer today. When you take a closer look at what the data is truly telling you, you might see that the car buyer is coming off a lease, prefers messages via email, tends to research and purchase their vehicles online, etc. By focusing on the underlying data, you are able to learn how to effectively communicate with the prospective car shopper and even market certain models that might be of particular interest to them.
So whether your brand has chosen to work with a third-party data source or you're compiling data yourself, there are two key elements to using data successfully:
• Examine all sorts of data — ranging from deterministic to probabilistic — to learn about the missing components needed to gain a better understanding of prospects and customers.
• More importantly, when partnering with a third-party source, ensure they are privacy-compliant.
Using Innovative Methods
The approach to the evolution of identity also extends beyond data. Some brands (my own included) are now opting to use advanced technology to help connect these hundreds of data points together in a more cohesive manner.
But before you begin using more innovative methods, there are a few things to keep in mind so that you're prepared for any challenges along the way. For example, it's important that you assess your infrastructure to ensure the technology functions properly. It’s also equally important for brands to have clear campaign goals and objectives to make the identity resolution process more efficient. For example, if a brand wants to reach audiences over the age of 35, there might be fewer digital touch points to connect.
Identity should be the start of every customer interaction, whether that means accurately understanding the profile of the consumers you are engaging with or crafting the ideal marketing message. The foundation continues to expand and strengthen as it evolves. Brands want to create relevant (and positive) customer experiences for individuals — and it all starts with identity.