David Keens on How the Identity Space is Evolving

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David Keens, Principal Marketing Technologist at Acxiom, explores how the identity space is evolving, what new technologies are emerging in today’s changing consumer landscape, and how identity experts can work with CDPs to secure a true single view of the customer.

"How the Identity Space is Evolving" with Davd Keens_Full version from Acxiom UK on Vimeo.

Full Video Transcript

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is David Keens. I’ve worked at Acxiom for 20 years as a Marketing Technologist. So my role involves linking clients and brands, and their business needs with how marketing technology and advertising technology can support them. So really helping them deliver the customer experiences they want, from that combination of data and technology that’s available in the marketplace.

How can MadTech keep pace with emerging technologies in a changing consumer world?

Consumers really expect an engagement from brands to be frictionless, to be personalised, to be relevant. It’s that whole thing of brands remembering information and interactions across different channels, and being able to leverage that wherever they meet the consumer. And there’s nothing more frustrating than when you engage with a brand and it’s forgotten that you’ve just purchased something from them, or you had a really bad experience a couple of months back, and they treat you like a new customer. Or when you see a Financial Services brand advertise at you a ‘new customers only’ offer, and you’ve been a loyal mortgage customer for 20 years and wondering why you don’t get such great treatment.

So that ability to personalise at a one to one level is, is so important today. And it’s that combination of technology and data that enables it to happen. Regardless of the channel, really whether its own channels like a brand’s own web property or messaging that they might send out as direct marketing, but also paid media; how do you make sure that the advertising that the person sees is equally relevant and fits into that customer experience you want to deliver.

Online and offline as well. A lot of channels that in the past would have been thought of as not being addressable are becoming increasingly addressable, such as television. The science behind the placement of outdoor display advertising again, becoming far more sophisticated. We’re not quite at that ‘Minority Report’ kind of future yet where, as you walk past the billboard on the tube, it knows who you are.

But the digital outdoor displays are becoming increasingly addressable; to different times of day, different populations passing them by. So all of this is upping that expectation that consumers feel on personalisation. And that’s largely why we’ve seen such a rapid growth in emerging solutions and platforms such as customer data platforms (CDPs) that have a real accent on how brands can leverage their first party data, use it, integrate it together, build audiences from it and execute marketing and advertising, and how that has to happen virtually in real-time so that you can respond in that moment with the consumer interaction.

What are your thoughts on the real-time customer insight capabilities that CDPs offer to deliver a seamless customer experience?

Research continues to suggest that cross-device and cross-channel matching is really key to that customer experience. We believe that CDPs and other platforms are more reliant on external support, to solve this wider identity resolution problem and insight puzzle. I’m not a big believer in kind of the ‘one platform is a magic silver bullet that’s going to solve this problem’ for all of the use cases that clients might have. Many brands, especially when they’ve got large complex ecosystems that have evolved over decades of having to deal with data about their customers, they’ve got capabilities that they’ve already got there. And CDPs have a really strong role to play in that, but they’re not going to remove the need for complex marketing ecosystems. We also believe that there’s a lag time behind where CDPs can be at with their technology. And with maybe more bespoke approaches to identity resolution might be to meet a brand’s own requirements. So if you really want to get at the forefront and get a competitive advantage of identity, then having a plugin identity resolution function within your marketing ecosystem is going to give you maybe a significant opportunity. We also partner with as many CDP vendors as practical, really to make sure we can boost their capability, and get them as relevant as possible to brand use cases.

What technology considerations are required for such platform collaborations to work?

The first really is associated with data latency. The brand wants to put meaningful content in front of a consumer in real-time. So for example, next click, or even within a page dynamically refreshing as the consumer interacts with it, then you’ve really gotta be careful about how long it takes to do everything, to make that personalisation possible; sourcing the data, assigning an identity to the consumer, bringing different data sources together, potentially feeding that through a decision algorithm and then finally selecting content or creative or messaging that’s relevant, and then bringing that back to the consumer. If that takes seconds, that can be the difference between a consumer staying with you in that brand experience or, or getting bored, distracted, closing the window and going somewhere else. So that idea of making sure that things happen as quickly as possible within a tolerable time for the consumer experience.

So really a big challenge with the technology. There’s Moore’s law in the technology space, that idea of speed doubling, continually that exponential scale. And while that tends to hold, there’s still the need to then adopt those technologies and leverage them within the use cases and the customer experiences that you have. So it’s achievable, I’ve witnessed it myself. We’ve got clients that manage it, but it’s not trivial. It still takes a lot of engineering work to make these things happen in real-time and to solve that latency problem. Part of the reason why it’s not trivial to solve is the volume of data, the volume of interactions. And almost also, sorting the wheat from the chaff, which of those interactions are key points in the consumer journey that influence what’s happening next, and which are just bounces on your home page, that disappear again, that really aren’t relevant. So the number of interactions that brands have with their mobile apps, with their website. One of our clients at Acxiom is Heathrow Airport. And when something happens at the airport, like bad weather causing flight delays, we see massive leaps up in the number of interactions that their mobile app and website have to deal with at those moments. And then at four in the morning when there’s no flights departing or arriving, or during a situation like we’ve been in recently, where there’s huge disruption in the travel market, that really scales back down again.

So it’s about ability to cope with those massive spikes of volume. There’s a great example from the Superbowl a few years back, when a soft drinks brand decided to have an interactive game as part of their app at the halftime break, and they didn’t quite consider the scale that that would reach to, and their systems couldn’t cope. There’s nothing worse for that brand perception, than promising something, and then not being able to scale to cope with it. So latency and volume. That leads me to that third challenge, which is around the data infrastructure. Although cloud providers and modern technology options mean that the uptime and availability of infrastructure can be far easier to achieve, to reach those high levels of resilience. It also creates concerns. Many brands are still worried about putting data about their customer, that vital asset, out into a cloud platform. So that might help you with the volume and latency problems, but you’ve got to make sure it complies with how you, the brand wants to manage the data about your customers and have the appropriate levels of security and have confidence it’s going to be managed in a way that’s appropriate.

So those three considerations; latency, volume and that availability, security consideration. I think are some key aspects that all brands would want to consider.

How do you see the identity space evolving? What opportunities can a sophisticated collaboration between CDPs and identity experts bring?

We’re at a moment of a lot of innovation in the identity space. There’s an intersection happening currently of the kind of benefits of the technology growth that I’ve spoken about, but also the pressures of regulation and legislation coming in. There’s been GDPR in the European Union in recent years, but we’re also seeing regulation evolve very rapidly in the US market. And in other markets too, all these regulations coming together, put a lot of pressure on how brands manage their first party data, how it’s permissioned, how it’s appropriately controlled, how it’s  held securely, how this is done transparently. And I think that’s also spurring innovation in the identity space as well. And then finally, I think you’ve got that input of what’s happening from technology platforms, such as Google and Apple. So recently, Apple announced they’re increasing their focus on, tracking protection within their Safari browser, Google last year made its announcement on how it would be changing its support for third party cookies. So those three vectors of technology expansion, of legislation, and of, how do you make advertising relevant if you can’t identify a consumer in the ways that you have done before? I think it’s a really interesting moment for innovation in the identity space.

Understanding the CDP landscape

So when we look at customer data platforms, they tend to have four key areas of functionality:

  • The collection of data, so that brings data together and ingests it and integrates it within the data platform.

  • Unification functionality, so how can the customer data platform create a unified customer profile and how can it manage that profile ongoing over time.

  • CDPs also have analyse functionality, this is how can you analyse your data about your customers? How can you do real-time segmentation and decisioning? How can you perhaps leverage artificial intelligence, algorithms and techniques in doing that?

  • And then finally CDPs have activate functionality. How can you do marketing and advertising activation from that segmentation analysis that you have performed?

So when we look at these four areas, focusing in on unify. Unify is where the Acxiom capability for Real Identity is a real benefit. It advances and extends what CDPs can do themselves and helps brands build their own first party identity graph using their own rules and data that sits outside of the CDP, under the brand’s control, but also can be leveraged within the CDP, fuelling that analysis and activation functionality.

Now, we find this to be really beneficial when we look at the complexity of the marketing ecosystem that most brands operate in today. There may be the customer relationship management or call centre systems that might feed data into the CDP. There could be a Data Lake that feeds data into the CDP. But there’s almost certainly parts of that ecosystem that aren’t going to be connected to the CDP, especially on day one. It could be a legacy billing platform. It could be that random Data Lake that the research team has kept hidden from IT for a few years, but still exists and still has some customer data inside it. All of those would benefit from having that consistent identity for the consumer, as part of their data set on how they can work the CRM system, how it fuels the customer interactions when you phone in to the contact centre, the analysis Data Lake that’s off on a limb there. That also, if that can have that same identity for the customer, it can achieve far greater benefit to the organisation.