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Identity Resolution Demystified

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identity resolution

We’ve talked a bit about Google’s announcement, and it’s a really big deal.

Warning: This probably won’t be the last post related to the topic.

As a result of Google’s announcement, we’ve seen an increasing interest in how we handle identity resolution. It’s a great thing to wonder about because it’s timely and #complicated.

What Is Identity Resolution?

Identity resolution is the process of taking a large pool of data from multiple sources and assigning a universal identifier to group activities by individual users and business entities. Oftentimes, interactions with companies begin as anonymous activities. When the end user identifies themselves or IP business data is enriched, complex logic is used to work backward and identify the entity behind different activities.

People use a lot of different devices. They may click on links from their smartphone during their commute, interact with social media content on their laptop at the office, and click on an ad in between streaming content in the evening at home on their tablet. Each of those activities is interesting to your company, but determining those activities are coming from the same person is tricky.

As tricky as it is, it’s worth the effort. Identity resolution is necessary to get the most out of your first-party (owned) data.

The more we understand about buyer behavior, the more intelligent we can be about developing campaign strategies and content. Using complex logic, we can get much closer to understanding the different user profiles hitting our website and the content they prefer to interact with. This also allows us to tie campaign efforts to our CRM sales data.

Identity resolution gets easier the further prospects move down the digital funnel and closer to first-party data. The farther targeting and digital language are up the funnel, the less exact it becomes—meaning you start to target profiles or “audiences’ versus actual people. To confound this even more, increased privacy restrictions on “identify bridging” force us to be more general when we target at the top of the funnel unless we can hand over exact identifiers from our first-party data.

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It’s critically important to get first-party or “Owned Property” identification working seamlessly to target specifically. This is where a customer data platform (CDP) comes in.

What Is Changing?

Cookies have played a huge role in identifying users across digital platforms and within domains. These text-only files are deposited on a user’s browser and used as an alternative identifier. This enables companies to cater a user’s experience by their browsing history on their domain. Instead of just presenting the same information to every user, these cookies track which pages and pieces of content someone interacts with and present personalized content that matches their preferences.

Cookies are also how we grab information, like UTM parameters or hashed email, from the URL string.

Third-party cookies are a cookie deposited in a browser that’s generated from a different domain than the site a person is visiting. These cookies can transfer information back to the originating domain about which sites a person subsequently visits by assigning an id that stays consistent across domains. This is how many retargeting advertising companies are able to present ads to your target on publisher domains after they land on your website.

In 2017, Apple released the first version of ITP (intelligent tracking protection), and Safari began blocking third-party cookies. The first-party cookie lifespan was also drastically reduced—from 2 years to seven days. In September of 2019, Firefox followed suit with ETP (enhanced tracking protection) with the same functionality restrictions.

In March of 2021, Google announced that third-party cookies are gone as of 2022 and they will not support alternative means of identity verification. They are also floating the idea of limiting their cookie lifespan.

What Does This Mean for Identity Resolution?

Identity resolution has always been difficult, but now it’s far more important.

Advertisers and publishers that survive the third-party cookie-pocalypse will rely on your first-party data or more general demographic data to target people. Although, people are inventive. I’m sure we’ll see new tactics popping up.

It also will be more important to enrich IP address data. Because more than half of web users have a truncated first-party cookie lifespan, the odds of resolving their identity through form fills decreases. This doesn’t mean people should start gating more content again. People don’t have the patience for that. It means you should start using IP address data to at least get firmographic information—if the cookie expires before the end user identifies themself with a form fill, you can at least capture business entity activity to signal a company’s interest in your product (ABM or MQA scoring).

Google Chrome still has a very long cookie lifespan and accounts for over half the browser market share. You’ll need a data warehouse capable of storing large amounts of web data and then use logic to tie those interactions to a user id once they identify themselves, or at the very least, a company id for MQA scoring.

How Does CaliberMind Approach Identity Resolution?

We’ll go through how CaliberMind approaches identity resolution today because it applies to most use cases.

Web Data Resolution

We collect all web data using a weblogging script that generates a first-party cookie. This cookie contains a unique ID that will follow people across the customer’s domain, so multiple activities across pages can be traced back to a single user.

We know some users never identify themselves, but sometimes we can enrich the data with IP lookups and fold the activity into ABM scoring. This was more effective before the pandemic hit, but we assume at least some people will go back to working from an office full time in the not-too-distant future and device ID tracking could play a role in filling the gaps.

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Page visits and identify visits (like form fills or chat interactions) are streamed in real time to our customer data platform’s (CDP) underlying data warehouse via client-side or server-side JavaScript.

Advanced Data Management

It’s not uncommon for users to have multiple email addresses. We set up a process to identify when a single contact is in the system multiple times with different email addresses and combine those records into a single contact record with multiple email address fields.

We then assign a primary email address (usually the address that shares the company’s domain) and a unique identifier.

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We also look at domains and locations to perform lead to account matching. We recommend customers minimize their lead object usage and adopt a lead conversion process upon creation if possible. If not, we can just link leads to accounts via a lookup field and aggregate the activity data for ABM scoring in our CDP.

The Universal Identifier

A universal identifier is applied to every person and account in CaliberMind’s CDP. Anonymous visitors also get unique IDs. When commonalities are found across data platforms, the same ID is applied to the person so their activities can be counted across all of those platforms. This allows us to consider activities that don’t exist in your CRM when calculating MQA scoring, marketing attribution, and campaign effectiveness.

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Closing the Loop

At a minimum, we use Flows to push ABM scores and other key data into your CRM and/or marketing automation platform. We can also use flows to deduplicate your source system information and merge records.

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To be fully transparent, no one has all of the answers yet—and it’s not getting easier for marketers! For example, the best practice for URL tracking has always been to add “UTM' parameters” on your page URLS when advertising. For example, the highlighted portion of the URL string below:

http://www.calibermind.com/example?utm_campaign=Chain+Based+Attribution&utm_source=google&utm_medium=retargeting&utm_term=webinar&campaign_id=604882793&ad_id=82740663

As it turns out, including these strings in a browser-based cookie will actually now decrease the time in which the cookie expires! This can obscure advertising conversion data upstream. We are seeing certain browsers, like Safari and Firefox, expire these cookies in as little as one day. (Think of all the times you’ve researched a purchase and then slept on it to buy it the next day).

To combat privacy policies imposed by the big web vendors, we are seeing new best practices emerge around using server-side cookies to circumvent some of these restrictions. This is opening a whole new slew of best practices. CaliberMind will continue to be a trusted adviser to our customers and stay on the leading edge of new industry best practices—especially when it comes to collecting and garnering insights from your first-party data.

One thing is certain. Identity Resolution will continue to play a key role for demand generation and performance marketing professionals.

We’ll keep you posted as things change. Let us know if we can help you in your data journey!

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