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Identity 101: Building a persistent profile

Marketers like stories—telling a compelling story about their brand is the cornerstone of everything they do. 

I also lean on storytelling to explain how we talk about identity in digital advertising. A good story that helps tell our story is the movie 50 First Dates. If you haven’t seen the movie, the main character Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss and starts every day not remembering what happened the day before.

All ends well in the romcom—because it’s a movie—but in marketing, many brands have the same communications over and over with each person, like a bad horror film.

To avoid this repetitive introduction, as a marketer, you need identity solutions that are anchored to real people, so you can create persistent connections over time. Persistency allows you to build on a conversation with each individual this month, this year, next year and beyond. If your identity solutions rely only on cookies and device IDs—both of which decay—that history is wiped out and the marketer has to start over again.

The issue is two-fold: These methods already have a limited shelf life, and then without aligning them to a real-person initially, you can’t tie that person’s new cookies and device IDs back to that same profile. All of that history is lost, inhibiting your ability to craft an ongoing dialogue and personalize interactions over a longer period of time. 

Let’s look at what persistency really is, why it matters for your marketing and how to avoid the 50 First Dates syndrome. 

Dive deeper with the guide: 5 building blocks of identity management

What is persistence in the context of identity

Persistency is the least talked about but one of the most important facets of identity management. In this context, persistence is defined as the ability to maintain lasting digital connections with every person over years.

Many companies start identity management with cookies and device IDs. Although these online formations of an ID are great ways to first identify someone, they’re just the start. They ultimately need to tie back to a real person through their offline name and address to create both validity and stability in identification. Then identification starts evolving into a profile where known attributes and behaviors are assigned. 

You can then add browsing and purchase behaviors their profile, which can be adjusted or added to throughout the buying process. This creates an increasingly richer view of each person as these observations are assigned to an individual over time. As events and behaviors become tied to a profile, they persist even as new cookies or devices are added to the customer ID. It is, and naturally should be, a dynamic process.

Identity solutions that only focus on cookies and device IDs are challenged with connecting all of the dots. They struggle to not only connect a single person to all of their cookies and device IDs, but when these identifiers expire and new ones come along, they can’t connect them back to an individual’s profile, which starts the cycle again.

Why persistence matters

Persistence matters because it provides a longitudinal view of customer behavior. You can learn more about each customer. As time passes and profiles become richer, you then have the ability to create deeper conversations with people. 

This is valuable because customer buying cycles can vary from weekly grocery shopping to long-term purchases for items like cars or homes.

Let’s use the auto industry as an example. Americans, on average, purchase a new car every six years. The purchase of a car is just the starting point—dealers don’t end their relationship upon the sale. They strive for an ongoing relationship with the customer for service and maintenance over many years. Vehicle service needs can vary, with shorter cycles for oil changes and slightly longer ones for tire replacement and other maintenance services.  


Varying buying cycles highlight the importance of connecting with consumers over longer periods of time: 
Beauty: up to 10 different beauty segments over 1 year
Auto: new car every 6 years + continual maintenance cycles
Cell Phones: replacement every 2-3 years
New Movers: 35 million people move every year
Grocery: average of 6-7 trips per month
Clothing: 45% 1x per month and 40% 1x every six months

The auto scenario, among others, highlights the importance of speaking to a person over time. You don’t have a crystal ball for every oil change or tire replacement, but you can create a cadence of messaging on vehicle maintenance based on past activity that keeps your brand top-of-mind for services a vehicle owner needs.

Without persistent identity, this isn’t possible—how would the brand know what car each person owns, what services they had last fall and when to send them that message about new tires? These scenarios show why it matters to have a persistent ID for each individual.

Persistence drives relevance and efficiency

Ultimately, persistency affects the quality of the message you can send to your customer and how you can manage your customer relationship over time. With the right partner, you should be able to have persistent conversations with your customers for years, picking up right where you left off.

When focusing on persistency, it’s important to ask your partners the following:

  1. What is the structure of your customer IDs—are they rooted in information about a real person? Steer clear of vendors that focus on cookies and device IDs as the main way to identify people online.
  2. How far back do your profiles go? Can you see your individual consumers back a full year? Two years? If they can only see them for the past 30-90 days, then they aren’t building persistent profiles that you can see over time.
  3. What are your persistence rates at 30 days, 90 days, 6 months or even 1-2 years? Digging into this information shows what importance they place on persistency in their profiles, which is very telling.

Ask vendors about the mechanics of their ID creation and for proof points on the longevity of consumers profiles. It’s a fairly new metric but one that matters. If your partner can capture this data for years, you’ll easily avoid the 50 First Dates syndrome in your marketing.

Want to learn more about how you can accurately identify your customers and have meaningful conversations with them for years? Download our latest guide, 5 building blocks of identity management.