In today’s cutthroat ecommerce market, retailers must do whatever it takes to stay competitive. But with a deluge of flashy display ads, email promotions and sponsored content pelting consumers from all directions, it’s difficult to stand out. It doesn’t have to be this way. As it turns out, online retailers can rise above the competitive noise by leveraging customer identity to personalize marketing communications and user experiences. The consequent benefit? A “velvet rope” experience for consumers, and a boost for brands.

Dump Third-Party Data and Get Personal

Retailers can start to attract consumers by reaching out to them directly. But this doesn’t mean sending out mass email promotions. Unwanted, generic email offers are an annoyance borne of the digital age and perpetuated by outdated, inaccurate and otherwise questionably obtained third-party data. As consumers, we’ve all received these irrelevant emails and held marathon “delete sessions” to get rid of them. Yet, despite experiencing low conversion rates, retailers continue to send out these one-size-fits-all email correspondences. This frustrates consumers and drains retailers’ resources. A few years ago, a survey conducted by Kognitio Research found that companies waste $3.8 billion per year on irrelevant email marketing campaigns. That’s a lot of cash to toss in the virtual circular file.

Not surprisingly, consumers feel important when a brand “knows” who they are and where their interests lay. Sixty-one percent of consumers have positive feelings about a brand when marketing messages are personalized in every interaction, according to a Responsys survey. Personalized communication begins with a seamless registration and login process for the consumer, using either customized site registration forms or by leveraging an existing social account. If a user registers using a standard registration flow, he or she may answer questions along the way to personalize the experience. Using progressive profiling, that information is captured over time and used to create a complete, detailed user record.

Opting to register using an existing social network identity is another path to personalization. In this instance, rich identity data is accessed from the customer’s social profile and aggregated to create a profile on the website or application he or she is logging into. Social login has historically been a popular authentication method for consumers. Facebook comprised 61% of social logins in Q4 2014, followed by Google+ at 22% and Yahoo! at 6%, as reported by Gigya’s customer implementations. Regardless of the registration vehicle of choice, the information provided in this initial customer acquisition stage is permission-based, first-party data — the most reliable, up-to-date and accurate customer information available.

Perpetuating the Velvet-Rope Experience

With the customer’s identity established through the responsible collection of first-party data, retailers can keep the velvet-rope experience going in every interaction. Customer insights dashboards allow retailers to segment users based on preferences divulged in their social profiles or through the custom registration form fields. For example, if a customer registers using his or her Facebook identity, the retailer can customize email offers according to the Facebook pages he or she “likes.” Similarly, the customer’s identity data can be used to tailor his or her website experience with product recommendations and surfaced content that appeal to his or her tastes. In this way, it’s easy to see how personalization affects customer engagement.

Customer identity data is one of the most valuable assets today’s retailers have, especially in their quest to win and keep loyal customers. Ultimately, a retailer’s ability to leverage this data and make the user experience personal will help create meaningful customer relationships and increase sales.

This article originally appeared on Multichannel Merchant

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