closeup of cell phone with online shopping cart on screen photo

This blog post was originally published
in AdExchanger on April 11, 2016.

The notion of an “always-on” consumer has triggered a lot of interest and attention in cross-device identity. If you’re a marketer trying to reach your best consumer segments with the most relevant messages, you know you can’t treat different devices as different people.

Cross-device identity speaks directly to the explosion of digital interactions, and it’s clear that making these device-to-device connections is a necessary ingredient of modern digital marketing.

Yet connecting online-to-offline interactions often leads to blind spots, creating an incomplete picture that may threaten the marketer-customer relationship.

How much impact do cross-device interactions really have on the customer journey? Digital touchpoints are just one part of how customers interact (and transact) with a brand.

Only 41.4% of total media expenditures will go toward digital formats by 2019, while voice communications represent 77% of interactions in contact centers. And just 7.3% of 2015 worldwide retail sales occurred via digital channels.

Unless marketers can reconcile the many customer identifiers from offline interactions with those of the digital world, they may end up with gaps in your customer journeys. These blind spots will result in disjointed journeys and a poor consumer experience that can drive consumers to tune out and purchase elsewhere.

Tracking The Blind Spots

Consider the journey of Carla, a married professional looking to book her next vacation. Commuting by train to work, she checks out YouTube on her mobile phone and sees a pre-roll ad promoting a Caribbean family-themed cruise. During her lunch hour, she visits the cruise line’s website on her work desktop PC. In the evening, she reads a few reviews on a travel site from her home tablet.

Up to this point, a cross-device identity would have been able to follow Carla’s journey. But the first blind spot crops up the next day when Carla’s journey moves to the offline world. She uses her mobile phone to search for the cruise line on Google and calls to ask about pricing and itineraries. She waits close to 10 minutes until she finally reaches an agent. She must rehash all of her plans, dates and preferences, much like she did during her first visit to the cruise line’s website.

Carla discusses her research with her husband, so he looks at the cruise line offer on the tablet they both share at home. However, he is interrupted by a TV ad from a competing cruise operator offering a new route. He calls Carla and tells her to book on this other line. Three days later, Carla still sees (and ignores) retargeting ads on her work PC from the first cruise line that didn’t win her business.

Both Marketers And Consumers Lose

For marketers, the maze of interactions that span from digital to offline and from offline to digital alter the consumer’s path to purchase in such a way that relying only on cross-device identities doesn’t work. During Carla’s journey, the cruise line’s marketers viewed two different consumers – two irreconcilable journeys that cost them Carla’s business. In addition, they continued spending on retargeting ads days after Carla purchased from a competitor.

For Carla, these blind spots cast an unfriendly image on the brand. She experienced extended wait times and an impersonal, cookie-cutter experience during her call.

Carla’s experience shows why nearly 80% of consumers say the average brand doesn’t understand them as individuals.

The Omnichannel Identity: Marketer’s Peripheral Vision

Today’s marketers need to go back to basics and think beyond the shiny new object of cross-device identities. Cookies, mobile device IDs, email addresses and even user registrations in apps or on websites just capture the digital side of the consumer. Real people do much more than live inside a screen.

Like our cruise line, marketers who rely solely on cross-device identity may make bad assumptions about consumer preferences and risk investing multimillion-dollar budgets in the wrong marketing mix.

Marketers need to blend digital and offline consumer identities into an omnichannel identity, with transparency and a respect for consumer privacy.

Building an omnichannel identity is not short of challenges. Brands need to pay careful attention to the quality and recency of source data used to derive linkages between identifiers. They must recognize that individuals act within the context of a household and independently of the household. Brands must also employ a strict privacy policy that protects consumers and their personally identifiable information and implement clear processes to respect consumer choice.

For marketers, an omnichannel approach to identity drives better planning, analysis and optimization at every step along the customer journey. For consumers, it promises more integrated and delightful experiences. And that is just the start.