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If you don’t know who your customers are, how can you provide them with relevant, meaningful and interesting communications?

To be successful, marketers must learn to manage their customers’ identities—and that means much more than having a CRM.

Identity management is really about addressability of the consumer—being able to anonymously recognize your customers across channels and devices. In the days when the wired web was the primary way content was consumed, cookies were the primary ID. They worked … better than nothing. Device IDs were a step forward, but their utility was limited by the fact that they identify the machines people use, but not actual people.

Today, the web-based cookie is dying, as more consumers add cookie- and ad-blocking to their browsers while they shift to cookie-free mobile devices.

Meanwhile, the opportunity and challenge for marketers is to reach customers throughout the day and night, and in context with current activities. That’s because digital channels are almost a constant part of consumers’ lives, especially when it comes to younger people. In our most recent 2017 Consumer Digital Usage & Behavior Study, we found that 92 percent of all 19- to 34-year-olds use a smartphone; 84 percent use a laptop computer; and 56 percent use a tablet. And, according to Nielsen, 91 percent of adults have a mobile phone within arm’s reach 24 hours a day.

Addressability today

The term “addressability” has become more complex in our multi-device, multi-channel world. It’s no longer about whether you have a way to reach an individual. Instead, it’s about having a unified view of a customer across channels.

As consumers access content, information and services digitally, they are creating a digital identity—the sum of all these interactions plus the meaning or insight that can be derived from them. This digital identity is increasingly accessible to marketers, thanks to big-data analytics and the interconnections among different data sources.

The basis of identity

Social media services represent one aspect of digital identity; on these sites, users volunteer a great deal of personal information directly, via the profiles they create, as well as indirectly, via their actions—what posts they view, like, share or comment on. Other online behavior, such as the purchases and website visits, can offer a wealth of information.

A newer layer of the digital identity will come through the internet of things. When appropriate and permitted by a consumer’s opt-in, IoT data will help marketers understand a person’s health, daily routine or behaviors at specific times.

But the most basic form of this digital identity remains the email address. Even 74 percent of teenagers use email and consider it part of daily life, according to Adestra research. And the email address is by far the most commonly used method for identifying oneself when signing into an app or social media account.

Quality counts

Because email is the golden key to consumers’ identity—online and offline—it’s incumbent on marketers to emphasize quality over quantity in data capture. One way to accomplish this is to use the double opt-in strategy. (For a fuller discussion, read How to master the art of email acquisition). If double opt-in is not being done, don’t worry, your goal is getting the primary email address. So make sure you’re actually providing an equal or greater value exchange for that primary email address. That means showing the benefits, samples and other advantages that drive value and return.

Valuable identity

According to the Boston Consulting Group, the value created through digital identity could deliver €330 billion in annual economic benefit for organizations in Europe by 2020. Individual consumers could benefit as well, BCG said, via the time they save using self-service, online applications and potentially lower prices from companies that gain efficiency from using personal data.

Once you achieve this unified view and have created a profile that’s rich with first- and third-party data, you can move to First-Person Marketing strategies. The more robust this profile is, the more personal and relevant your marketing can be, across all channels.