The very notion of identity is a unique and intimate concept, one that evokes a deep and personal reaction from all of us. Identity has gone through centuries of discovery and exploration, and labels for such have been continuously disrupted by social structures, governments and now technology.
Between names, places of residence, birth dates, financial status and more, means of identification have been constantly experimented with. The digital revolution over the last couple decades has again changed how we are identified, where online we are defined by cookies, advertising identifiers and other hexadecimal character strings. And the dynamism of identity is only compounding with additional devices and channels entering our connected world.
These additional means of identifying ourselves have created entirely new companies and business models around identity management and protection services. However, the fragility of such services has become more apparent. It’s clear that the fundamental pillars of how identity has been defined, built and utilized in our society up until now are ripe for disruption and re-definition. Today we have reached a juncture where the best option for a more robust and secure moniker must be technology-aided, a solution that bundles our digital and physical identifiers. In turn, this can lead to additional benefits for consumers in the form of rich, multi-channel experiences.
Just look to Malaysia, where the MyKad identity card includes biometrics and a computer chip, enabling it to be used as a digital wallet and driver’s license, a tool to verify and encrypt banking and utility transactions and even for email authentication, all of which is based on a technology-backed identity solution. The problem is that individual governments can’t create such solutions on their own, which puts the onus on the largest global enterprises. But today we don’t have enough of those companies to properly police each other, let alone agree on universal standards and decentralization.
It seems there are two opposing forces coming to a head driving the need to rethink identity. The greater economic need for better identity solutions, defined as more secure and ubiquitous, has never been greater. Simultaneously, data has been greatly consolidated behind the walls of a few main players: In the U.S., it’s concentrated in the hands of the largest social network, dominant search platform and leading ecommerce property.
Amazon is just one example of how a single player has come to own the online commerce of individuals, with nearly half of all online commerce in the U.S. going through that platform—not to mention its reach into the offline world via its Whole Foods acquisition. This is a company that has an overarching sense of who I am, where I live, what I buy and how I pay for it, arguably a deeper sense of my identity than almost any other single company has.
Right now, independent players are at a disadvantage and are shut out of a ubiquitous identity value proposition. We don’t need a David that can face the Goliaths; we just need more Goliaths to compete, innovate and create even greater value for end consumers.
Much like Visa and Mastercard are hubs of financial services, telcos and operators stand to become hubs for consumer-trusted identity solutions and could be the dark horses in this race. These companies provide services to hundreds of millions of consumers, though often across touchpoints that aren’t connected.
Take AT&T. The mobility services arm and TV arm each have subscribers, but the two businesses under the greater AT&T umbrella each have disparate pools of consumer knowledge. Not to mention WarnerMedia subscribers. However, with artificial intelligence, those existing pieces can be triangulated to create a consumer-trusted identity solution. And when combined with the layer of content that these operators already provide, these solutions can bring added value to customers in the form of seamless, personalized content and unforeseen applications across every communication channel.
We are in the early days of what identity technology can be. The true value of identity is realized in more personalized and secure experiences for consumers. While today’s smartphones have digital wallets, RFID and a handful of other technologies, it’s not hard to imagine tomorrow’s phones becoming the global identity platform of record.
A smartphone with an ingrained identity layer, combined with the always-on content that mobile devices enable, will deliver an entirely new generation of content and applications that we can only imagine today. The AT&T and WarnerMedia merger heralds a new direction for consumer-safe identity and the services it will enable for all of us. Marketers are now poised to carry the torch of innovation in partnership with these newer platforms.
Enterprises, government agencies and end users will adopt these new technologies, but marketers stand to accelerate adoption though unique experiences. Consumers today have come to expect personalization of every aspect of their experience. While this is being addressed in other facets of the consumer experience, marketers need to start planning for a reality rooted in identity.