Four Steps to Building an Identity-Based Marketing Strategy

Why an identity-based approach is the future of marketing in a post-cookie world

By Kyle Hollaway, Tracy YoungLincoln


Alma Haser/Getty Images

Nothing embodies change as much as today's marketing and advertising technology ecosystem. Seemingly every day, existing players are consolidated and new players emerge.

Broadly, martech refers to the ecosystem of tools used to automate, measure, and amplify marketing efforts to reach specific customers and customer segments. The category covers advertising and social media tools, email, and content marketing software. Adtech focuses on the very top of the sales funnel and building inbound marketing campaigns. It uses a system built on the cookie to tie together the open marketplace of media platforms and content platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

But the cookie — on which so much of adtech relies — is on its way out. With the cookie's deprecation, how can marketers unify martech and adtech? How do they approach their media and marketing spend in a way that is channel agnostic? A consumer identity solution is central to answering both questions. In fact, the concept of identity is key to how agencies and brands can design for the next generation of human signals for voice, artificial intelligence, and the idea of data mobility.

The only way to future-proof against the evolving adtech-martech ecosystem and potentially new legislative requirements around privacy and consumer data protection is to design a marketing strategy with an identity-based approach at its center. Identity-based marketing can build a future that helps brands better understand their businesses and the people they serve and safely port all data across all experience journeys.


What's in an Identity?

The industry will say that a consumer identity is all about signals — those fragments of data that point to or describe a unique individual. Consumer attributes, such as names, addresses, emails, mobile numbers, CRM data, and loyalty and account IDs, are the foundational elements of identity. But today, one's identity extends across hashed emails, device IDs, mobile ad IDs, cookies, and biometric data such as fingerprints, retina scans, and voice prints.

Even so, an identity is more than the sum of these signals. An identity is about context. It's about the journey. It's about culture, insights, and intent. An identity-based approach is about gathering the data, understanding it, and acting on what one learns.

Whether "recognizing" a working mother as she comes through the drive-through and helping make her visit easier and quicker or recommending the next-best action for an authenticated e-commerce shopper, each point of contact and each interaction accumulates to form an identity that helps to build a real relationship between a brand and a customer. Appropriately and ethically tying data to that moment of interaction to make informed decisions is what identity-based marketing is really all about.

It's this type of change in thinking that puts the person at the center. But marketers shouldn't misunderstand this concept. Creating a single, federated ID that ties the signals together and accurately associates the right data in the moment, to enable exceptional experiences that solidify real brand-consumer relationships, isn't easy. In fact, it's very complex. It has to be built and managed over time. Doing so successfully requires starting with four critical building blocks:

1. Optimize.

As the adage goes, garbage in, garbage out. Marketers should start with a solid foundation of data that is clean, correct, consistent, complete, and current.

An identity-based effort can only be as good as the quality of the data it relies on, and accurate data is foundational to any successful engagement with customers. Marketers must ensure the data is complete. It may also be necessary to augment first-party data with additional signals by appending emails, phone numbers, and missing address information, among others.

2. Resolve.

The next step is to resolve an identity through partnerships.

This step is akin to asking a spouse who someone is just before meeting them again; it provides a reference point for the relationship. Marketers will need to integrate with referential identity-graph providers to get a third-party perspective on identity data, then feed that data into a private, brand-specific identity graph, augmenting the data with first-party insights and knowledge only available to the brand.

3. Enrich.

Once optimized and resolved, marketers will need to enrich the identity with additional data. This includes first-, second-, and third-party data to understand the consumer's context, journey, and culture, all of which factor into the identity model.

This step allows marketers to layer in insights on demographics, TV viewing habits, media consumption patterns, lifestyle characteristics, and shopping, purchase, and search behaviors to build a more complete understanding of the consumer's intent and interests.

4. Comply.

Finally, marketers will need to ensure they comply with consumer privacy regulations and each consumer's privacy preferences.

Marketers will need to layer in a framework for compliance that honors consumer choice and builds trust for the brand. Doing so also allows an organization to nimbly respond to newly introduced and evolving regulations while maintaining compliant services.

To meet compliance requirements for individual access, brands need the capability to verify that individuals are who they say they are (separate from marketing activities) when considering identity holistically.


The Identity Resolution

Developing an identity-based marketing strategy is not a linear, one-time process. This approach is an on-going, iterative learning process that will evolve over time to build richer and deeper relationships.

An identity-centric approach allows brands and people to have a continuous, two-way conversation that goes beyond marketing. It applies to analytics, operations, customer service, and data governance.

A positive, ongoing relationship between a brand and a person doesn't happen in siloed conversations. To work, it must be seamless across channels, frictionless at the point of engagement, and deeply intuitive. A successful identity-based approach is built on using data and past brand experiences to anticipate a person's individual needs, and then meeting them — each and every time.

Building real, lasting relationships requires marketers to understand the individual. When brands get identity marketing right, everyone wins.

Kyle Hollaway is the head of the global identity practice at Acxiom and Tracy YoungLincoln is the EVP of global client solutions and success at Kinesso. Acxiom and Kinesso are partners in the ANA Data Tech Partner Program. You can email Kyle and Tracy at and



You must be logged in to submit a comment.

comments (1)


June 25, 2020 10:58pm ET

Very well written. Would love if you dwell a little more into the process of moving from enrich to comply. This is where marketers need help in processing and implementing and this is where innovation needs to happen