Marketing today is different because consumers behave differently than in the past. They expect relevancy and are empowered with both access to information and platforms to praise or complain. As a result, according to Russell Loarridge of Janrain, marketing is moving away from untargeted push-messaging to building customer relationships through personalised experiences. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

One-to-one marketing requires identity. Only by being able to view the customer as an individual, through some unique identifier, is it possible to personalise a customer's experience. Yet, in today's cross-channel world, it is necessary to consolidate and manage data from multiple channels to gain a more holistic view of the customer. And this unified customer identity is necessary to deliver consistent and coordinated experiences across all customer touchpoints.

Those organisations that know their customers - and know them well - will be best suited to thrive. They will deliver relevant content to their customers at the right time and place because they know who they are, what they want, and when they want it. Those companies that rely on limited customer data and a fragmented customer identity will discover their customers have moved on to build relationships with companies that offer them what they want.

Three key challenges
Before we can understand how organisations can create this unified customer identity, it's important to understand some of the context around three key challenges that today's marketers face:

  1. The fragmented customer journey has disjointed marketing
    The customer journey has become incredibly dynamic, moving across channels and devices that continue to multiply. And for each new channel consumers adopt, marketers are expected to follow with an appropriate engagement strategy. As a result, marketing departments and technology have become specialised and even disjointed.

    In order to provide coordinated experiences across customer touchpoints, marketers need to understand who customers are, what they need, and when they need it. And, most importantly, they must be able to act on this insight.

  2. Consumers have more identities than ever, creating data silos
    With the adoption of each new channel, consumers create a new identity and new data. Ten years ago, this was largely limited to an email address, phone number, physical address, and perhaps a loyalty number. Cookies and IP addresses were also used, although primarily for advertising. However, with the advent of social media and mobile devices in particular, the number of these unique 'identities' has spiralled out of control.

    Most companies today are engaging with audiences on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Yelp, WhatsApp, Line, Reddit, Flickr, blogs, and private communities. Meanwhile, time spent on phones and tablets has surpassed time spent on PCs, and we are at the advent of a surge of new connected devices, like our cars, watches, glasses, home thermostat, and more. Plus, 86% of time spent on mobile devices is on apps rather than traditional browsing[i], meaning it's harder to tie together a series of actions that an individual takes.

    Each of these channels represents a new identity and data silo. Although consumers are spending more time and creating more data on these channels, using the data is a significant challenge without the context of a consolidated identity. It would be valuable, for example, to learn that a Twitter user is interested in a product or service and then put him into a related email campaign. Yet to do that requires a connection between two identities: Twitter and email. And to date, most companies lack the ability to consolidate identity across channels in this way.

    Although 87% of CMOs expect to integrate customer touchpoints across all channels within five years, it comes as no surprise that only 16% say they do so today[ii]. Gartner recently found that 89% of companies plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016[iii]. Companies will have to address the proliferation of these identities and customer silos before they can hope to provide an integrated customer experience across all touchpoints.

  3. Marketers have lots of data but lack context
    With the explosion of customer data in CRM, eCommerce, web analytics, loyalty databases, social listening and other systems, enterprises have troves of information about their customers. And while each marketing silo has some kind of mission related to big data, each typically pursues it individually. As a result, companies often understand customers in only a limited context and rarely holistically as individuals.

"Consumers are sharing and creating more data about themselves than ever across these channels, which represents an opportunity to know who they are and what they care about better than ever before. However, as long as customer data is disconnected, its potential value remains locked exclusively inside the originating silo," concluded Loarridge.