As digital technology becomes more integrated into modern life, digital identity is becoming increasingly important. Alex Willcock, CEO of VisualDNA, looks at the role of personalisation as the lines between online and offline become increasingly blurred.
Every major digital brand is focusing on personalisation in one form or another, whether it’s to improve their own communication, or to build up an inventory of consumer profiles which can be sold to advertisers. Whatever the motivation, there are a huge range of applications for personalised content, branding and sales pitches.
The common goal for everyone involved in digital personalisation to understand more about our individual digital identities – and the more detailed the personal insight, the more valuable the data becomes. At present our digital identities are highly dispersed depending on the footprint we leave behind as we travel around the web. Almost every digital interaction we undertake, from our social media activities, our use of search engines and buying habits is helping to create an online persona for each of us.
There’s also huge crossover into the physical world; where we’ve been, what we did while we were there, where we are going and who we were with – these are all layers of our digital identity – recorded and at various stages played back to us in the form of personalised content, bespoke deals and (seemingly) unique contact.
At present, all the sites and online services we use regularly have a distinct view of us – so, Facebook, Amazon, Google and the rest each have an idea of who we are and what we do, and would probably love to know more. Then there’s the advertising networks and the entire advertising ecosystem. They all have their cookies hooked into us, all with their own understanding of who we are and what we like. But none of these players, no matter how big they are actually understand the whole person for any of us – they know about different parts of our behaviour but they don’t know the entire picture.
That’s where the idea of controlling the development of our digital identity comes into play, and how it can guide the way brands approach personalisation in the future. A true digital identity is a detailed, rounded and accurate view of our online persona – not based on incomplete inference, but grounded in factual preferences which reflect who we truly are. For businesses, digital identity represents a new kind of customer currency – insight so valuable that it allows us to understand and predict the needs and wants of customers in a way not seen since the heyday of the corner shop, where the shopkeeper would know each of his customers personally.
For consumers, the power and value of digital identity comes with owning and managing it – most consumers allow their digital identities to grow as a passive record of their life online, without really appreciating that all the opinions, habits and behaviours we display online are there to be managed and exploited. But ultimately your digital identity belongs to you – it’s something to be developed and protected.
Those who take control will see huge improvements in their life online. They will be able to manage the type and scope of personalisation which brands and advertisers can present to them, operating as their own personal ‘recommendation engine’ to take with them wherever they go online. It will mean that the power of personalisation will not be a back room service provided by organisations, it will rest with us as consumers to exploit as we see fit. It will literally become a parallel self that never forgets, never sleeps, always remembers, is always awake and switched on to finding what is right for us right now and storing ideas that may be right for us in the future.
By Alex Willcock