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Why your split personality is driving marketers nuts

One-to-one marketing has long been the holy grail of marketing. To build meaningful customer relationships, we’ve been told, we have to treat people as individuals. And while that passes the logic test – after all, we see ourselves as unique human beings and not numbers – there’s just one problem with personalized marketing: Everything we’ve been taught about personalization is a lie.

In the physical world, individuals are very real. If Tom Smith comes into my pet store every Wednesday to buy dog food, I can safely assume that when someone who looks like Tom, acts like Tom and has Tom’s credentials arrives at the checkout on Wednesday with a case of dog food in hand, it’s probably Tom. Or that we’ve been invaded by body snatchers who feel an obligation to still take care of our pets.

But what happens when we change the words “pet store” to online pet store? Suddenly, it gets a lot harder to confirm that Tom is really Tom. It may be Tom’s IP address and login credentials, but what if it’s really Tom’s wife, Debbie, using the family computer to buy a scratching post for her parents’ new cat? Or what if it is Tom, but he’s logging in from a work computer and uses a corporate credit card to purchase donations for the local animal shelter? Suddenly, Tom has become a very complicated individual, even though he’s not doing anything very complicated at all.

And therein lies the problem with most marketing models. It presumes that we should market to individuals when instead we should be marketing to identities. Speaking for myself, I have a number of digital identities. I have a business email and a personal email and I have an email address I use for marketing purposes. I may use all three accounts with the same company, for different reasons, resulting in a split personality. At the same time, I may share an identity with my family for Hulu services or our Amazon Prime account, including the same telephone number for SMS notification, splitting my identity even further.

Many times, as a consumer, I split my identities because I want to keep them separate. I don’t, for example, want you to send content recommendations to my work ID based on what I browse with my personal ID. Sometimes, marketers wish I would keep my identities separate too, as when I share a device with my family, or share someone else’s login ID to access a site or a service. In these cases, companies like Netflix and Spotify have done a very good job of solving the individual/identity dilemma. They actively encourage customers to create their own personas in their applications. In Spotify, I can even create separate identities for Aaron when I’m in the mood for rock & roll and Aaron when I’m in the mood for ambient music – with the caveat that Rock & Roll Aaron is much cooler.

Given the success that companies like Netflix and Spotify have in creating great customer journeys, you might wonder why everyone doesn’t follow this model. I think it’s because marketers have been taught for so long that a single view of the customer is the marketing ideal. When companies first start using Lytics, they immediately get excited about the idea of combining all their marketing data to get a broader picture of their customers. And while having all your customer data in one place is definitely a good thing, having all of a customer’s data under one identity may not be such a good thing. Our business/personal split or account owner/user splits are just two examples. But what happens when our multiple accounts have different privacy levels? One identity may allow email marketing, the other may not, making it even more dangerous for companies to treat different identities as one individual.

So how do you create a customer journey for someone with split personalities? You treat it like the complex relationship that it is – in our case, by building an identity graph into Lytics that helps marketers create content affinities and offers not just around individuals, but around our individual identities. In a world where we can create a new identity simply by creating new login credentials, customer journeys can no longer be viewed as a single straight line. A customer journey may (and at some point probably will) intersect with family members or colleagues, or it could take parallel but different paths based on our different roles (e.g., business, personal, parent).

Personalized marketing relationships are complicated, but a graph database can help you simplify them through identity-based marketing. As for personal relationships, those are also complicated, but we can’t help you there. At least not yet.