Today, we are increasingly surrounded by devices and interfaces. We have smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, smart cars and smart home appliances. With every person expected to own up to 20 connected devices by the year 2020, the Internet of Things (IoT) provides every marketer with the opportunity to derive business insight from a networked fabric of devices, data, people, and processes.

The growth of the IoT has profound implications for customer identity. Previously, brands could market to a device with a degree of confidence that they were talking to the same consumer. As customers increasingly interact more with more ‘Things’ that are used by many people, the link with the identity of the end user is eroded. To make the most of the Internet of Things opportunity, it is vital that marketers can understand the identity of this end user.

Take, for example, internet-connected TVs. IAB research suggests that 78% of US adults who watch TV use another device while watching TV and the smartphone is the predominant second screen. However, who exactly is watching the TV at any given time? Marketers do not really know because it is currently still difficult for brands to personalise advertising based on who is in front of the TV. While a single user often uses a website, and even more often a mobile app, a connected TV can be watched by one person or many.

Brands have tried to solve this problem before, through partnerships with mobile apps such as Shazam, but Customer ID mapping will allow for a more comprehensive solution. Mapping users’ devices with a household to a TV ID allows messaging to be personalised based on their activity on other devices. If you can bring profiles on the user’s devices, especially mobiles, then it is also easy to build a strong idea of the customer that is watching the TV.

Another breakthrough IoT device is the ‘connected speaker’ and the virtual assistants that live on those devices, such as Amazon’s Echo speaker with Alexa baked in. Amazon has built an open API that allows brands to build Alexa “skills.” Skills are mini voice apps that allow the end user to use voice to user services, such as “Alexa call me an Uber” or “Alexa play me some relaxing music on Spotify.”

Customer identity matters here too. Of course, it is important that the Uber being ordered be paid for by the right person. Different household members may also have very different ideas of what constitutes ‘relaxing music.’ For this reason, Amazon allows you to set up an ‘Amazon Household’ and add users to it. This process still feels rather clumsy – Alexa requires you to remember whose profile you are using at a given time, breaking the seamlessness of the user experience.

Connected cars are also showing significant promise. Google, Apple and tech providers like Cisco all provide platforms for car manufacturers to integrate with, allowing cars to get smart. In some ways, customer identity for cars is more straightforward, as identifying the driver will nearly always be done deterministically.

However, there is still the challenge of knowing who else is in the car, a potentially important factor in customising the experience. For example, imagine if it was possible to identify that a partner was in the market for a holiday, and replace radio ads with information about that destination? This level of retargeting is becoming a reality as identity technology is increasingly sophisticated and able to deliver with increased accuracy which customer is using a connected device.

Identity and IoT will also have a major role in the retail store of the future. A retailers’ interactions with its customer used to end at the point of sale. That is no longer the case. Today, by managing and analysing the real-time data that IoT devices provide (for example smart and interactive point of sale material), companies can gain new insight into how their products are performing, consumer trends and purchase behaviour, and how that ties back to individual users.

These are just some examples of how identity in a world of internet-connected devices is evolving, forcing marketers to keep up. Marketers that can stay ahead of the curve, however, should be able to leverage significant first-mover advantages and enjoy a wealth of new opportunities for creating the sophisticated and personalised experiences that customers demand.

The key, as ever when looking at new technology, is not to get too caught up in the technology and for the marketer to stay rooted in the customer experience.

Ed Chater

Ed Chater


CMO/CSO, Adbrain