Companies Find Gold in Identity Resolution

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It’s no secret that customers are using a myriad of channels and devices today to access customer service, to research companies and their products, and to make purchases. The growing number of contact sources, including web, social media, Internet of Things devices, text, phone, and email, make it challenging—if not nearly impossible—for companies to create one “golden record” that accurately identifies each unique customer across each and every touchpoint. The daunting task is made even harder by the fact that companies are likely to have more than one customer named John Smith, for example, in their databases.

Luckily, a technique and underlying technology that was originally developed to detect theft and fraud is now being applied to other business processes, helping marketers, sales reps, and customer service agents alike do their jobs more efficiently. Called identity resolution, it is a process through which customer information is searched, analyzed, and matched across disparate information warehouses. Using probability, scoring, and a series of complex algorithms, identity resolution combines multiple customer identifiers, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and Twitter handles, across devices and touchpoints with other data elements collected along the way to build a cohesive, omnichannel view of each individual consumer. Some of these other data sources could include online news sites, purchase transactions, surveys, email providers, public records, and device ID providers.

Beyond just connecting email addresses and cell phone numbers to a single user, identity resolution allows companies to identify multiple devices that belong to the same person. Marketers can then track that user across devices and, in so doing, gain greater insight into his communication preferences and behaviors. Even if she remains anonymous, tying multiple devices to her can still be a powerful marketing tool to personalize interactions based on factors like geolocation, time of day, and weather conditions.

At its most advanced levels, identity resolution can even distinguish between users when devices like TVs or desktop computers are shared by entire households. The technology, ideally, could distinguish between the teenager streaming a music video and his father booking a family vacation on the same computer.

The majority of consumers don’t just appreciate but outright demand that companies know who they are as individuals and demonstrate a clear understanding of their needs and priorities, RedPoint Global and the Harris Poll concluded in a joint report, “Addressing the Gaps in Customer Experience,” released recently. According to the research, 63 percent of consumers stress that personalization is now part of the standard service they expect, and 61 percent assume relevant data about them will be at companies’ fingertips.

It’s been a slow and arduous process, but “companies are just now getting on board with putting all of this together,” says Dean Abbott, cofounder and chief data scientist at SmarterHQ, providers of a multichannel behavioral marketing platform.

Though some companies might be inclined to build the golden records themselves and might have the internal resources to do so, there are several third-party solutions designed to help with identity resolution. Some of these solutions work across only certain contact types (i.e., all web-based or all mobile communications), while others are designed to work across all channels.


With many consumers relying on their smartphones as the first point of contact with companies, those communications are a natural point to start building universal identifiers, says Rob Friedman, executive vice president of Digital Envoy, a provider of business intelligence based largely on fixed and mobile IP addresses.

Though IP addresses by themselves don’t provide complete identity resolution, that data can be joined with other information, such as address or home phone (if different), gathered when a person orders a product for a more complete identity resolution, according to Friedman.

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