The death of identity: Knowing your customer in the age of data privacy

“Know your customer” is one of the foundational concepts of business. In the digital age, companies have learned much about their customers by forming individual profiles from third-party cookies, social content, purchased demographics and more. But in the face of growing demands for privacy, businesses have the opportunity to overhaul their relationship with customer data to focus solely on first-party data and patterns of behavior.

Companies have employed digital analytics, advertising and marketing solutions to track customers and connect their behaviors across touch points. This enabled the creation of data profiles, which have been leveraged to deliver personalized experiences that resonate through relevance and context.

Now, however, this practice of profiling and identifying customers is increasingly coming under scrutiny. Regulators are adopting new data and consumer privacy legislation, most recently seen with the Colorado Privacy Act. Moreover, Apple’s privacy implementations in iOS 14.8 and iOS 15 have been adopted by an estimated 96% of users, who have opted to stop apps from tracking their activity for ad targeting. And Google has announced it will no longer support third-party cookies and will stop tracking on an individual basis altogether through its Chrome browser.

While these developments threaten to upend how digital marketing is performed today, they signal a necessary, and effective, shift in the ways brands will understand their customers in the future. Prioritizing individual profiles is far from the fastest or most effective way to understand and address customers’ intentions, needs and struggles. Brands don’t need to know who; they need to know what and why.

Thanks to rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), companies can process and interpret first-party data in real time and develop actionable behavioral intelligence.

Pattern analysis as a way forward

The security industry, which I’ve been involved in for 35 years, provides a template for the path forward. Historically, security professionals have sought to pinpoint individuals’ signatures in order to identify, thwart or at least prosecute bad actors. However, the last few years have marked the rise of some incredibly promising companies and approaches that leverage patterns of signals to proactively surface and stop threats before they happen.