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What are Anchor Keys and How Can Marketers Find them?

ID Resolution is the strategy and process for leveraging all of the keys and IDs in your system. It is the processes supporting identity in your ecosystem to more quickly and easily identify people and assign them a unique and persistent ID immediately usable for marketing activation. While this is all about identity and assigning that “one customer centric ID” across your entire customer portfolio, there are a number of keys and IDs that will play a key role.

System and customer keys can sometimes resemble boat anchors. Boat anchors hold boats in place. However, they don't actually hold the boat in one spot. Anchors can shift a little bit overtime. They can drag across the mud and slowly move the boat out of place, although not very far and not very fast.   Also, a strong current can pick the anchor up and move it significantly in a short period of time. The force from that current might actually land the anchor in a better, stronger, and more stable spot.  

Customer keys can act in a similar way. For the most part they “stay in place”. They can experience “key drift” where some of the keys will slowly change overtime, or possibly be duplicated. They can also change drastically in a short period of time from a system shock where many keys can become corrupt, change, or become inaccurate.

An early task of your strategy and process should be finding all of your keys and IDs and identifying which of the keys on which you can rely. Every system will have one or more keys or IDs.  Most individuals in those systems will have a key or ID assigned to them. These keys and IDs become part of your ID Resolution strategy and process. Part of this process is identifying systems that have customer data, determining how you can identify those people and the key IDs that are assigned to those people and being passed between systems.

What is an “anchor key”?   

An anchor key is a key or ID that is determined to be accurate, stable, reliable, and could be one critical data element of all the data elements and processes that will be part of your overall ID resolution strategy. However, it will not be and should not be your unique and persistent customer ID moving forward.

How do you find an anchor key? 

An anchor key can be IDs used in operational systems to uniquely identify your customer. They can also be a customer ID from a legacy marketing database, or an ID you generated from third-party vendor partners who are experts at generating unique customer IDs. While this is mostly supporting marketing initiatives, you will be looking at source and operational systems for these types of keys, and secondarily marketing systems.

But what makes an anchor key different from all the other keys, IDs, and indexes that you use in your ecosystem to identify customers’ products and events?  While there is no exact set of rules to do this, there are some guidelines that can be very helpful in this process. 

What should you look for in an anchor key?

As you begin to analyze your systems, find keys and IDs that contain most, if not all, of the following criteria:

Today, in the current state, keys:

  •  Are unique to individuals in the system it supports
  • Cover a significant portion of your customer base
  •  Don’t change, or at least is a slowly changing dimension and does not change often

Looking towards the future:

  • The system this key is in will still be around for a while
  • The organization will continue to invest in the system that contains and manages the key
  • These systems should change more slowly while ID Resolution is supporting marketing (and marketing tends to change pretty quickly)
  • The MarTech team can have a say or, at least, will be informed of any system changes, key, or ID changes
  • It will not be your unique ID moving forward

ID Resolution is a very complicated but important topic. Whether you are looking at this in the short- term or long-term, you would be smart to be thinking about it today. The end game will be a very robust ID strategy supported by a Core ID Resolution Solution that is driven by critical ID Resolution components that will provide a competitive edge. In the meantime, there are some things you can do now to get started. You can begin to take inventory and identify all your keys and IDs and begin seeing if you have an “anchor key” in your ecosystem.   

When you start your ID Resolution voyage there are many things that you will need to take with you and take into account. When you do this, make sure you take your “anchor” with you.

Want to learn more? Check out our other MarTech blog posts here.