How stop-and-go onboarding goes off the rails

Given the breakneck speed at which new engagement channels emerge and the dubious incentives that drive manufactured scale and reach, it’s no wonder that the ad tech world is notorious for over-promising and under-delivering. The latest example of waving the “Mission Accomplished” banner too soon is happening in the cozy tie-up between onboarding solutions and the DMPs that rely on them as a stopgap to stem the flow of media dollars into the Facebook and Google duopoly.

The promise of onboarding is great, as highlighted in recent reports from Forrester and Winterberry. However, both reports outline approaches that operate within the confines of standard ‘finite’ onboarding, which treats customer identity matching as a singular, distinct process, rather than powering continuous profiles that are always available, and get richer with every engagement — a fundamental flaw that leaves marketers facing enormous gaps in their ability to engage customers coherently, consistently and immediately across channels.

Until consumers put down their phones, disconnect from the internet and stop watching TV, sometimes all at once — which they won’t — the imperative to stay connected across all touchpoints will not rest. Marketing technology must therefore advance from enabling a series of one-off campaigns to facilitate an ongoing, constantly evolving and identity-driven relationship with an engaged, always-on consumer. Which is why the brands with the most at stake are re-evaluating their investments in siloed campaigns based on rapidly decaying cookies and leveraging partnerships that can deliver continuous engagement based on a persistent view of customer identity.

To be fair, the technical differences separating a persistent deterministic ID from standard cookie-based onboarding don’t matter as much when judged within the finite perspective of a single campaign. But they are absolutely critical to the broader relationship between brands and customers. Instead of fostering engagement that builds and deepens over time, it’s all about what can be accomplished within the status quo of campaign-based technology. Sure, there are technical differences that can make the most of the status quo… but making the most of status quo solutions is the equivalent of ducking your head in the sand.

For brands to maintain meaningful, lifelong relationships with their customers, identity resolution needs to be a persistent and ongoing process. With a continuous approach to identity, a brand can build a dynamic, multi-dimensional profile that unifies individual customer data around a single identifier that it owns and controls, expanding and enriching the profile with each subsequent interaction, whether online or off.

For example, imagine a quick service restaurant brand that needs to retain core customers, reengage lapsed patrons and convert casual customers to regulars. Its problem isn’t awareness; it’s engagement. With a continuous identity approach, the chain can build comprehensive customer profiles that begin taking shape with an individual’s first authenticated visit, when he purchases a cheeseburger and logs into a QSR location’s Wi-Fi network. Consider the implications here: not only does the login create a durable and persistent customer identifier, but the order also indicates a preference for beef, a cornerstone for future targeting efforts.

When the same customer returns 30 days later, purchasing a children’s meal and redeeming a coupon via the chain’s mobile application, the profile updates in real time, recording that he has a family and is a value seeker. Moreover, the chain now knows the customer has downloaded its app, meaning it no longer needs to target him with app install advertisements — not only sharpening its targeting focus, but also sounding the death knell for ad waste (a scourge costing brands billions each year).

With persistent customer identity, each and every interaction fills in blanks in the customer profile. Compare that to conventional onboarding approaches, which fragment customer data by campaign and vendor with no unifying ID, meaning marketers miss key actions and preference indicators depending on where and how the customer engages with their brand. No less problematic, if the campaign employs short-lived, cookie-based identifiers, customers are once again lost if the promotion stretches beyond 30 or 45 days. So the brand is back at square one, struggling to acquire new customers — even though it costs 16 times more to bring a new customer up to the level of profitability of the one the campaign just squandered.

Analysts may ask how to make the most of onboarding, but marketers need to look past the technology and ask “How can I make the most of every customer engagement?” and work their approach back from there. The always-on consumer needs an always-on relationship, but the technology to make it possible can’t be built on an operating model consisting of finite campaigns. Marketers who go that route can forget about raising the “Mission Accomplished” banner. They won’t be waving anything but the white flag.

Blane Simms is the chief innovation officer for Signal

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Blain Simms

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