Just two decades ago, the notion of a "customer journey" was limited to how a customer traversed the aisles of retail stores. The path to conversion and the checkout counter was short, straight, and narrow. A customer saw a mass-media advertisement for a product and went to a local store to buy it.

The Internet, of course, changed all that. Today's plethora of online, mobile, and social channels has created an often circuitous path-to-purchase as consumers use a variety of channels to research, explore, connect, and buy.

How can marketers keep up with this quick-shifting, multiscreen, channel-hopping shopper? Knowing customers in a single channel is no longer good enough. Knowing and recognizing your customers at every point of interaction is a must.

To see true, one-on-one marketing success, marketers must develop a full, holistic view of their customers that leads to a rich bounty of insights.

Marketers know this cross-channel perspective goes hand in hand with the business benefits that come from a broad and deep understanding of the customer journey. Nine in 10 marketers rank cross-channel identity and a unified customer view as critical to helping them to meet their marketing goals, according to Signal's recent study, "Preparing for Cross-Channel Success: Solving the Identify Puzzle."

Here are four important ways that cross-channel identity helps marketers drive business benefits to boost the bottom line.

1. A cross-channel identity is the key to truly knowing your customers

Consumers expect the brands they buy from to provide a seamless experience from start to finish, no matter which or how many channels they choose. Cross-channel identity solutions can help unlock the deep customer understanding—of behavior, channel choice, and communication preferences—required to provide the frictionless exploration that consumers want. Because of the latest cross-channel technologies, you can use your own first-party data to create deep and rich profiles of your customers to understand their individual journeys and deliver optimal experiences across all touchpoints.

2. It will unleash the next big leap in marketing ROI

For two decades, marketers have invested heavily in every corner of the digital space. They have pushed the envelope with new social media tools, attention-getting interactive ads, mobile apps, and other innovations.

Unfortunately, though, single channel optimization can only get you so far.

Marketers are rapidly realizing there's little to be gained working on a silo-by-silo basis, so they have turned their attention to connecting customer signals and interactions across devices and channels to create the next large gain in marketing ROI. By resolving cross-channel identity to uncover unprecedented insights at the customer level, brands can be more efficient, judicious, and productive in targeting their in-market customers.

3. An always-on single view of the customer unlocks deep insights into the customer journey

Online engagement used to be a simple matter. During the desktop-focused first decade of digital marketing, third-party cookies on website pages provided the connectivity that marketers needed to evaluate campaign effectiveness.

But now, consumer engagement is so fragmented across channels and devices that marketers struggle to get to an accurate view of their customer reach (the number of customers exposed to your messaging) and frequency (the average number of ad exposures per person).

So, how can you accurately measure the ROI on each of your marketing channels to fine-tune your media spend? By capturing and joining disparate data across multiple channels, marketers can take their attribution reporting to a whole new level.

4. It helps brands retain customers and build loyalty

Marketers who want to delight consumers and build loyal relationships must provide what customers increasingly expect and demand: a seamless, personalized, targeted shopping experience across channels, including desktop, mobile, email, social, and in-store.

The key to winning shoppers' hearts, minds, and money for the long haul? Creating coherent experiences; being sensitive to the way the customer likes to shop; and interacting in the right channel; and responding to intent signals—when customers are in the market to buy.

Discovering Cross-Channel Customer Identity Is a Must-Do

The business benefits of managing cross-channel identity are clear. The single customer view can help boost everything from customer understanding to efficiency and long-term loyalty.

For marketers, gaining deep, data-driven insights across channels has been a slow and challenging task. More than half of marketers (56%) say they're dissatisfied or neutral with how far they've come. Siloed and fragmented data, a complex technology stack, and problems merging profile fragments have kept most marketers stuck at the starting line.

By making cross-channel identity a top strategic priority this year, you can take big steps toward increased engagement, loyalty, and conversions, while creating the seamless customer experience that will delight customers and keep them coming back for more.

The brands that work to solve the customer identity puzzle will find it worth every ounce of effort. They will be rewarded and empowered to provide customers with the "wow" factor they want and expect, which will translate directly to the bottom line.

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Four Ways a Cross-Channel Identity Helps Your Bottom Line

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image of Marc Kiven

Marc Kiven is founder and chief revenue officer at Signal, a global cross-channel marketing technology company.

LinkedIn: Marc Kiven