The Ultimate Guide to Identity Resolution

Marketing has become one big game of connecting the dots. With a seemingly endless amount of data available, marketers must find how to connect it to their targeted consumers. Because if they can do that, they will catch consumers’ attention and start to build brand loyalty.

But many brands struggle to make those connections because they are missing the one dot that ties all of that consumer engagement together: the customer identity. That identity tells you what a customer wants, needs, and also where they fall in the sales funnel. It’s the thing you use to deliver them amazing campaigns that will solve their problems, offer timely deals, or anticipate needs. 

Basically, that identity is what creates the connection point between all of that consumer’s interactions across the web, stores, email, mobile apps, digital ads, and beyond.

Are you ready to start forming those connections to better target your audience? Then it’s time you start using identity resolution in your marketing strategy. 

What this guide covers

Don’t worry: We’ll cover everything you need to know about this practice in our guide.

  • What is identity resolution?
  • Why it’s important
  • How do the technical components work?
  • Two main methods
  • When to use identity resolution
  • How data laws play a role
  • What’s the future look like for this marketing practice?

There’s no time like the present. So, let’s dive into what you need to know about identity resolution.

What is identity resolution?

Before you can figure out how and when to use this personalized, person-based marketing technique, you first need to know what it is.

Identity resolution is the process of combining multiple identifiers across different devices and touchpoints with data points that are collected along the way to build a more complete view of your consumers.

It gives you a clearer image of who the consumer is by putting all of their actions together. That includes tying online behavior to a consumer’s unique identity, giving marketers the information they need to target them with personalized offers designed for where they are most likely to engage in the sales funnel. 

This marketing practice is also referred to as a:

  • 360-degree customer view
  • Unified customer view

The better the campaign is tailored to the consumer, the higher the chance of them converting, meaning higher ROI. The point of identity resolution is to give you a clear online consumer identity. So, you’re able to do just that.

What is an online consumer identity?

There are several components that can factor into this identity. Here are a few of those identifiers:

  • How consumer engages and interacts on social media
  • Websites they visit
  • Online purchases
  • How consumer is viewed by companies based on purchases
  • Things they search for online
  • Chatbox queries
  • CRM data
  • Demographics
  • Email addresses
  • Customer or loyalty IDs
  • Account usernames
  • Device IDs

The type of data that can compose a consumer’s online identity is only limited by the amount of information available on them. Think of each identifier as a piece of a puzzle, and identity resolution allows you to complete that consumer puzzle.

Why identity resolution is important

We aren’t going to bury the lede here. These are four of the reasons why identity resolution is an important tool for marketers to use:

  • Helps you identify and understand anonymous website visitors
  • Establishes consistent customer experience
  • Increases marketing effectiveness
  • Sets you apart from other brands

Closer look at the benefits

This digital marketing technique has continued to grow in popularity because it helps marketers track consumer behaviors and data across different devices. That includes mobile phones, desktops, connected TVs, and other online devices. So, it helps you reach the right person at the right time with the right message.

Identity resolution will tell you if a desktop user and a mobile user are the same person, which is huge if you think about it. Not only can you track more of their data from different devices, but you can also ensure you aren’t sending them duplicate campaigns because you didn’t know it was one person on both devices.

So what?

With that information at your disposal, you can then craft personalized, targeted campaigns that are sure to resonate with the consumer. Trust us, consumers aren’t going to think it’s creepy if you tailor a campaign to their data (when it’s done correctly). Actually, people have come to expect this type of practice, so you’ll be at a disadvantage if you’re not doing this. You’re able to give them the type of marketing messages they want to receive — not ones they’ll ignore.

You’re also able to give them the right campaign at the right time. That means your messaging is perfect for where they are in the sales funnel. If they are moving through the funnel quickly, so will your campaign. Identity resolution allows you to match the consumer’s pace.

It also sets your company apart from the competition. While 66 percent of brands have had an identity resolution strategy for at least a year, the vast majority of them are struggling with at least one component:

  • 71 percent struggle to maintain accurate IDs of customers
  • 69 percent have trouble understanding what percentage of an addressable audience is active and reachable
  • 63 percent struggle with the size of their identity program or the amount of the addressable audience
  • 40 percent have difficulty ensuring opt-opt and customer privacy controls are in place

Think how big that will be for your brand if you can master identity resolution, and start putting that customer data to work.

How the technical components work

Like we’ve mentioned, identity resolution helps reconcile all of the available data points on a consumer. That includes data collected by first, second, and third parties. Once the data is collected, a composite is built that gives marketers a cohesive view of that customer’s identity and user journey. 

Identity gap

Think of it as solving the “identity gap.” You know people are visiting your site, putting items in your cart, and engaging with you. But, you don’t know who they are without identification resolution technology.

Identity resolution software and technology use an identity graph, which is a profile store that keeps all of the known identifiers that correlate with individual customers. The identity graph uses the identifiers (mentioned above) and connects them to the customer’s profile.

Two main methods

Each identity resolution vendor or service has its own model for identity graphs. So, the specifics vary. Generally, there are two approaches for accomplishing identity resolution:

  • Deterministic: Resolve identity based on what you know to be true, merging new data into a customer record by searching for matches among the data you already have
  • Probabilistic: Resolve identity based on what you predict to be true, using predictive algorithms to understand who your customers likely are

Data is plotted against an identity graph to identify individual customers. Information — like their device ID, email address, phone number, and other cookie data — is matched to other data in the graph using algorithms and patterns to create a likelihood or probabilistic match.

The system then uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to become smarter and make better guesses at matches. 

When a consumer makes an action that requires them to verify their identity, like if they make a purchase using an online payment option, the guess goes from probabilistic to deterministic, which means it’s exact.

No matter the approach, here’s the basic process involved with identity resolution:

  • Data onboarding: Process of uploading offline customer data (ex. CRM) into an online platform to match with consumers’ online identifiers
  • Identity graph: Database that keeps all of the online and offline identifiers related to those consumers
  • Activation: Connect consumers’ digital profiles to other endpoints like ads, analytics tools, etc.

Marketers use a variety of tools and platforms to reconcile users’ identities. That includes simple customer relationship management (CRM) systems, customer data platforms, to full-contact identity resolution tools like Remember, a 360-degree view of the customer is only as good as the quality of each individual degree.

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When to use identity resolution

You’ve collected their data and matched it with the consumer to get a better idea of who they are and what they want. That’s great! But, what do you do with that amazing data?

There are dozens of ways you can put this new information to great use and start boosting your ROI.

Examples of what you can do

  • Send them reminders. If they’ve looked at your service, product, or event that will soon be gone — or is about to go on sale — let them know with a timely reminder. That’s useful information and can also encourage them to make the purchase by adding a sense of urgency.

  • Take them back to their cart. Abandoned carts are a huge problem for ecommerce companies — to the tune of $18 billion lost in yearly sales revenue due to it. So, if you see someone has left products behind, send them an abandoned cart email series to encourage them to head back.

  • Suppress lists. After someone has made a purchase, downloaded your lead magnet, or done whatever it was you wanted them to do, you can suppress them from retargeting ads: 34 percent of consumers think the best way retailers can improve retargeting is by better understanding when shoppers are no longer interested in a product or company. So, show them you get it.
  • Send targeted email campaigns. Of course, you can always plug them into your email campaign. Be sure to use their consumer identity to put them in the best email segment for them. For example, if they visited your page on recipes, send them emails with more recipes or cooking tips. The more targeted the content, the better.

Does that all sound too good to be true? Let’s look at the fine print for identity resolution.

Is identity resolution legal?

Yes, and it’s a very common marketing strategy. However, how you use the data collected during identity resolution might have a few strings attached.

For example, if you identify anonymous traffic on your website and want to send them targeted emails (which is also known as email-based retargeting), you can do that in the United States because it’s CAN-SPAM compliant. However, you can’t email users who haven’t opted into your messages in Europe or Canada because of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). uses email-based retargeting to identify up to 35 percent of anonymous website traffic and then matches those identified visitors to a database of several hundred million partner opt-ins. Here’s some more information on how and why email-based retargeting is legal:

Future of identity resolution


The battle for data will continue for the foreseeable future. The demand for personalized, targeted campaigns is only going to increase going forward. Marketers want to give their audience a customized experience that’s relevant and useful, and consumers want that valuable information — instead of random campaigns that don’t apply to them.

Identity resolution allows you to:

  • Know who your audience is
  • Better segment them
  • Effectively tailor your marketing strategies

If you want to get an elusive view of the customer, you must instead look inward and get a better grip with the fundamentals of identity resolution. That might seem counterintuitive. But, mastering the basics is the next big trend in customer data.

This marketing solution isn’t going anywhere (except up). So, you better figure out how to incorporate identity resolution into your strategy. To compete on the Internet, which has become increasingly individualized, brands have to get their own access to comprehensive stores of data to build their identity graphs. If you don’t, your audience will find another brand that does.

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