identity resolution

What is identity resolution?

Identity resolution is a data management process that links a customer's online behavior to their unique identity by gathering different data sets and identifying non-obvious relationships. People often access the same site in various ways (from a cell phone, computer, tablet, etc.), thus creating an array of different identities. Identity resolution works to link all these separate identities to one customer. This process is essential to people-based marketing, which focuses on the ability to provide customers with a cohesive experience by tracking a single user across various devices and channels.

Identity resolution allows marketers to recognize a specific buyer, gain insight into their behaviors and generate a personalized campaign for the customer, giving companies who use identity resolution a competitive advantage.

Uses of identity resolution

The identity resolution process primarily benefits marketers who are seeking to engage with their consumer through personalized interactions. Since identity resolution ties an array of online identities to one customer, the business can more clearly see where that person is in the buying process. If the customer had started looking at the product while on their phone and then later returned to the site on the computer to complete the purchase, then data onboarding will reveal that these two points of contact were made by the same person.

Data onboarding refers to the movement of offline data to an online environment in order to connect offline customer records with online users. A data management platform (DMP) is used to collect and analyze all the separate data, grouping it into one place. The connection and information provided by data onboarding informs the business that they have succeeded in turning the lead into a customer and they can focus their marketing strategy on maintaining a relationship with this specific consumer rather than continuing their initial attempts to capture a first-time buyer.

Data onboarding also helps a marketing company observe patterns in the buyer's behavior and link the customer to a unique ID that can be tied to internal company information across marketing, service and sales. This would not be possible with a scattered data set.

As marketers gain a better understanding of the customer, their behaviors and journey, they can further customize their campaigns, make targeted ads and avoid personalization errors.

What is the ID graph?

At the core of the identity resolution process is the identity graph (or ID graph). An ID graph is a database (DB) that connects a customer's profile to all the known personally identifiable information (PII) for that specific consumer. The different identities of a consumer may include the following:

These identities are gathered in the customer profile with other descriptive data and then linked to the customer's behavioral data (such as past purchases). All this information is consensually given by the consumer, stored in the ID graph and used for identity resolution.

The customer profiles are initially made with probabilistic matching, which means algorithms and patterns are used to make an educated guess that links one customer to its various devices, identities or other data within the ID graph. The system then uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to improve their guesses and make better matches. When the consumer finally verifies their identity through an action, such as paying with a credit card, then the match is determined.

The identity resolution process has succeeded in matching a consumer to their various online identities and marketers can progress with a personalized plan of action based on the individual's habits and behaviors.

Some marketing companies rely on third-party ID graphs. However, increasing restrictions on the use of personal data continue to build the border between what a company can and cannot use from the third party source. In order to have total access to the customer's behaviors and journey, the company must create and maintain its own ID graph.

Data laws that affect identity resolution

Most states have elected to enact data disposal laws that demand companies destroy personal information so that it is no longer legible.

However, other data laws differ from state to state. Some examples in the private sector include:

  • California. In California, data laws apply to manufacturers of connected devices. The laws state that devices must be equipped with security features that match the function of the device and the information it collects, transmits or contains. The security features must be designed to shield the device and any information from unauthorized access, use, destruction, modification and disclosure. California also has laws that apply to any business that licenses, owns or maintains personal information and third party contractors. These laws require the businesses and contractors to implement and maintain security practices and procedures fitting the nature of the information.
  • Delaware. Delaware data laws apply to any person who manages business in the state and licenses, owns or maintains personal information. Delaware's law states that these people must implement and maintain security practices and procedures that will block unauthorized possession, use, modification, destruction and disclosure of personal information that is collected through regular business activities.
  • Minnesota. In Minnesota, data laws apply to all internet service providers (ISPs). The laws require providers to take steps to preserve the privacy and security of a user's PII.

Various government agencies require citizens to provide huge amounts of PII, such as driver's license and Social Security numbers. As a result, all states have security measure in place to protect this sensitive data and the systems it's held in.

However, only a little over half of the states require by statute that state government agencies implement security measures to ensure protection of the data they hold and, once again, the laws differ from state to state.

Some examples of states with data laws for the government sector include the following:

  • Arizona, where the laws apply to state budget units and state agencies;
  • Massachusetts, where data laws apply to the legislative and judicial branches, the attorney general and state secretary, treasurer and auditor; and
  • Washington, where the laws apply to state agencies, but include certain conditions for the legislature, judiciary and institutions of higher education.

The future of identity resolution

Identity resolution continues to grow in importance for marketers as consumers use an increasing array of devices and channels throughout the day. As technology evolves, it becomes progressively difficult to keep track of one customer's various identities and, therefore, more difficult to create a personalized campaign. Identity resolution makes this feasible once again by linking the varied information and creating a singular, clear identity for each consumer.

The use of identity resolution and people-based marketing is a competitive field for corporations as technology, data and analytics continue to evolve. However, while identity resolution can be extremely beneficial for the development of marketing strategies, it also poses security risks to citizens' personal information.

In recent years, some U.S. state legislatures have adopted data laws that attempt to control data security practices in both the private and government sectors. It is expected that more states will continue to implement and maintain these data laws as the collection and use of personally identifiable information grows.

Editor's note: This article was written in 2019. TechTarget editors revised it in 2023 to improve the reader experience.

This was last updated in February 2023

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