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What is identity resolution?

You have probably heard the terms customer data integration (CDI), ID stitching, and ID management all thrown around somewhat interchangeably. The reality is these are all pieces of the pie known as ID resolution. For clarity’s sake, ID resolution can be defined as a process to match and link together identifiers across systems, devices, and touchpoints. The goal is to arrive at a unified profile of an individual that can be leveraged to drive personalized experiences across channels and platforms. Concepts involved in identity resolution include data/ID matching and linking, the prioritization of data/IDs across difference sources, the creation of an identity graph with a unique identifier for each individual, confidence scoring, and the ability to translate this unique identifier into platform specific identifiers for activation.

Why is identity resolution important?

There is no shortage of reading material out there on the growing importance of identity resolution. The quickly approaching irrelevance of the third-party cookie is, first and foremost, on marketers’ minds as we turned the corner on 2020 and headed into 2021. Of course, the expansion of privacy regulation effectively created more risk for brands that do not pay close attention to identity resolution by creating inconsistent, and sometimes questionable, customer experiences. Also, at play is the continued importance of walled gardens in the commerce ecosystem which necessitates first-party data to create that connected customer experience.

As if that weren’t enough, the main reason you should care about identity resolution is because your customers do. They expect to see value in exchange for their data and that value isn’t always present. According to a Microsoft and iProspect report, only 15% of customers feel they are getting good value in exchange for granting access to their data. Not surprisingly, this is exactly in line with the Association of National Advertisers who found that only 15% of brands are able to identify audiences accurately and consistently across channels.

Connected customer identities create connected customer experiences. By connecting those customer experiences to your customer identities, this accelerates the ability to examine and learn from customer interactions with your brand. For all these reasons, identity resolution is at the very foundation of Merkle’s marketing technology stack framework and it is the reason why we keep customer identity top of mind in every technology implementation or system integration we deliver.

The path to full scale identity resolution

Now that we’ve established the meaning of identity resolution and why it is so important to your business, let’s discuss the path to get there. A warning here, don’t be fooled into thinking that one product or piece of technology is going to solve identity resolution across your customer experience. It won’t. There is no silver bullet. This takes roll-up-your-sleeves work; the ability to think through the different ways customers are interacting with your brand, how they are being identified at each of those touch points, and how engagements, attached to that identifier, will be brought back to a “source of truth” and resolved to inform the customer’s profile.

Stage 1


Stage 1 is about making sure each channel or customer interaction point captures and makes available identity signals relevant to that channel only. Let’s take email, for example. Is there a single source of truth for email addresses on file, or is there data being captured and potentially even living in multiple places without any linkage, e.g., website subscribes, sweepstakes sign ups, in-store sign ups, etc.? Look out for silos that may exist by technology platform and/or by organizational structure. If this is the case in your organization, start by aligning channel data first.

Stage 2


Stage 2 builds on intra-channel identity by synchronizing or allowing for the exchange of data across more than one channel. This typically starts with “known” channels like email, direct mail, and SMS. Questions that should be addressed are: Can you connect email addresses and potential names? Are you capturing your email program with terrestrial addresses and with mobile phone numbers? Are you capturing in your SMS program? Does all this data flow back to a common location that can arbitrate all this disparate data and turn it into a single picture of your individual customers? Can you resolve IDs from the different source systems to an individual? Can the systems that drive those programs leverage this shared information to coordinate messaging across those channels and connect signals coming back from your customers across those channels to produce a more holistic view of an individual for your brand? This is the stage where most marketers are at, currently.

Stage 3


Stage 3 is almost utopia as new channels emerge, privacy regulation expands, and customer sentiment on data privacy shifts. But, that does not mean we should stop chasing it. Expanding identity resolution to “lesser known” channels like owned web properties, paid media, social, and in-store are where many marketers are focusing their attention now with priority on digital given the monumental shifts in consumer behavior driven by the pandemic. Increasing the channels and touch points considered in identity resolution directly correlates with the complexity you will need to solve, with each system typically bringing their own ID to the mix. This complexity is what makes stacks like that of Adobe or Salesforce appealing to explore.

Waking up at night in a cold sweat thinking you are behind the curve? Don’t fear, you are not alone. Earlier in this post, I mentioned that only 15% of brands are able to identify audiences across channels. That leaves 85% who are either in stage 1 or venturing into stage 2, at best. While you will not get to stage 3 in a day, focusing on identity in each incremental conversation will allow you to move down this path.

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