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Connecting After Cookies: How Identity Matching powers people-based marketing

April 9, 2021
By Lizzie Hoffman

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Email marketers know identity matching is a necessary tool for connecting customers across channels. In short, it provides the fuel for them to deliver people-based marketing powered by accurate, complete and connected information about people. But what is people-based marketing, and how can marketers use identity matching solutions in a post-cookie world?

Defining people-based marketing

At its core, people-based marketing is all about, you guessed it, people; the people that are consuming content delivered by publishers and the people who brands are advertising and marketing to throughout the customer journey.

What makes people-based marketing so powerful is that it allows publishers and marketers to reach real people not pixels and proxies. Just to clarify, people-based marketing, or logged in media channels and addressable media, uses an individual's (hashed) email address as the main identifier for targeting, optimization and attribution; this is much more powerful and accurate than relying on 3rd party cookies.

If you look at walled gardens like Google, Facebook and Amazon, you'll learn that people-based marketing helps them outperform their competitors and capture nearly 70% of all digital ad spend. But, you don’t have to be a walled garden to take advantage of people-based marketing.

The industry has an opportunity to build beautiful gardens that are open, transparent and treat consumers better than expected while protecting their privacy.

What's data's role in people-based marketing?

Every successful marketing strategy starts with creating a single view of the customer. In order to deliver the right message at the different stages of the buyer’s journey, you have to recognize a customer when they interact with you at those different stages, and you need the right data to do that.

Identity resolution allows marketers to identify individual consumers across the devices or channels they are using to interact with your brand. For example, we helped one client link the names and postal addresses of people that visited their stores with the corresponding emails on their email list. That way, they could see when an email drove a purchase in the store and then update their messaging after the purchase had been made.

Keep it coherent and cohesive

With people-based marketing, you want to break down channel silos and avoid unnecessarily differentiating customer experiences in their different interactions with your brand; your goal is to provide a consistent and coherent experience across those interactions. Don’t treat your best customers like strangers.

One example of this consistent and coherent experience is a brand using technology to recognize customers that have returned to their website without logging back in. By retrieving the context of that customer's prior interactions and triggering abandoned browse or abandoned cart messages, the customer enjoys a cohesive, consistent brand engagement each and every time.

Get out your graphs

To achieve that single view of customers across different screens and platforms, you need many identifiers (data); this could be a combination of email address, cookies, device ID’s, mobile ad ID’s, universal ID’s and postal address to name a few. Having many or all of those ID’s on customers makes it possible to build and leverage an identity or customer graph.

Most companies will keep and maintain their graph within a CDP (customer data platform), and it’s the ID Graph that makes it possible to identify where people are in their customer journey so that you can support them appropriately in that journey.
It’s also key to making sure your creative or messaging is relevant and compelling.

For instance, a brand can identify net new customers, opt them out of seeing advertising and focus on onboarding messaging that works best for new customers. So while there's no good reason deliver more ad impressions, it's still smart to talk about how the brand leads with its purpose and engages in corporate social responsibility. This is the messaging that may drive up loyalty among new customers, but you'll only know what speaks to their wants and needs if you have a complete customer profile.

Building the complete customer profile

By knowing more about who a customer is, you can personalize messaging based on their characteristics and you can also put their behavior into context. So you want to start by gathering what information you can directly from a customer, every step of the way, such as asking for birthdate in your preference center or having your call center ask for a customer’s zip code.

For any gaps you have in your database, you can use a 3rd party service to fill them in. For example, a clothing e-tailer might use 3rd party data to fill in age, gender and income data for their customers. Let’s say someone buys men’s pants - based on behavior alone, your best guess is the buyer is male. However, if you know that the buyer is actually female and 38, now you have the context to say that she’s probably making a purchase for her significant other.

This is what impacts how you’re going to communicate with her and what other products you may feature to her. Let’s also think about first time visitors stop by your site. You won’t have a history of interactions to use to tailor your messaging, so if you can collect or append 3rd party profile information, you can create relevant, personalized messaging that speaks to the customer right from the start.

The power of personalization

It's no secret; you can’t get away with one message fits all when people are bombarded with emails in their inbox and ads on the web. You have to try to wow and engage customers with personalized offers, dynamic content and relevant messages. While the holy grail is one-to-one personalization, even broad segmentation on variables such as gender and age helps.

Of course, it takes more effort to create those different campaigns, but the difference is in the results. Personalized campaigns yield higher open and click rates. Or let’s say you have a great content strategy, if you don’t have the right customer data, you could be putting them in the wrong track and sending them content that doesn’t fit them, thereby defeating your efforts.

Identity resolution and omnichannel marketing

At the same time, you can pair identity resolution with omnichannel marketing to drive loyalty. When we say omnichannel, we mean creating coherent, unified and seamless messages and experiences across your marketing channels. Again, don’t treat channels as different silos. Coordinate your messaging across them.

Companies that engage with omnichannel marketing experience 3x higher effectiveness rates (Heinz marketing), their customers spend 10% more (Harvard), and also report 23x higher customer satisfaction (Aberdeen). But you can’t put it into practice without knowing how to reach customers on different channels, and identity matching can enable that. For example, if a popular charity has an effective direct mail program but they don’t have postal addresses for all of their newsletter subscribers, identity resolution tools can fill in the postal addresses. This then allows the charity to communicate with its audience via postal in conjunction with email.

Now what about combining email with display advertising?

Identity matching and post-cookie people-based marketing

We've discussed people-based marketing in the realm of email marketing and direct mail, but advertising is really where people-based marketing will feel the biggest impact in the post-cookie world. 

Regular email marketing and search engine marketing are mostly unaffected. For our services, email hygiene doesn’t use cookies, and Email Intelligence service is based on demographics and non-cookie based behaviors. We’ve also been matching identities, primarily email to postal, for 20 years without using cookies, but there is an impact to our Website Visitor Identification service.

One of our clients is a large travel website, and we help them identify anonymous visitors to their website then send those prospects personalized emails based on the hotel, car or flight they searched. Today, that solution is based on our cookie pool where we deterministically match an email address to a cookie we have set in the visitors browser. We know that’s not going to work beyond the cookie apocalypse, and we’re moving towards using probabilistic models of identifying a visitor, based on, for example, the IP address, the device being used and the time of day.

From here, we’ll assign a confidence to how likely it is that a visitor is a particular person. Our initial results show that we’re going to identify more users than we do today, because we’re currently not identifying anyone on Safari, which already disabled 3rd party cookies, and we’ll let our customers decide what degree of accuracy they want to get.

The power of the hashed email

At TowerData, we use the email address as the central identifier across channels. It’s the predominant form of communication today; you need it to register on any property on the web, and it ties your multiple devices together. Email is the key we use when matching to postal address, MAID or cookie, and in particular we use the hashed form of the email address.

Most marketers know this, but a quick reminder on hashed email; hashing an email means using an algorithm such as MD5 or SHA256 to create a string of characters that is a unique representation of the email address that two companies can share without fear they are revealing the identify of a customer if the other party doesn’t have that email already. In a post-cookie world, we expect that there will be an increasing reliance on the email address.

Now, Google says they’re going to discourage using hashed email as an identifier. Despite this, we believe people-based marketing will remain the same. Consumers want brands to recognize them. Treating customers like strangers is not a path to success. As we continue navigating the ever-changing landscape of data, it'll still be key for brands to leverage the data you already have to target, attribute, measure, and optimize campaigns.

At the end of the day, first party data + the hashed email = ownership and better management. If you're primarily using cookie-based solutions for identity resolution, now would be a great time to start experimenting with the hashed email, but rest assured, you still have time.

If you'd like to learn more about our Identity Matching solutions, visit our site or watch our full fireside chat on the topic. If you'd rather speak to a member of our team about bringing these solutions to your brand, click the button below to schedule a call!

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