We believe 2017 will prove this further, as brands that take a customer-centric approach will pull quickly ahead of competitors by leveraging customer identity management to drive new revenue, differentiate themselves in the market through great customer experience, and keep up with stringent new government requirements for data protection and privacy. However, getting this right means balancing experiences with transparent interactions and constant vigilance against fraud.

Let’s dig into five major trends we see growing this year and our predictions for how organisations will respond.

1. Holistic customer profiles

The potential to power a truly omni-channel customer experience relies on marketers’ ability to recognise and engage each customer in a consistent way across their entire journey. Doing that requires the right approach to customer identity.

Right now, your customer profiles may be fragmented. When you store and manage individual sets of customer data in different CRM, CMS, DMP or other solutions, your customers’ identities end up scattered throughout your stack, preventing you from building consistent user profiles. In this case, you simply cannot engage customers across channels in the consistent and relevant manner they expect or ensure that they give consent for what data is collected and have control of how it is used.

An increased focus on one-to-one marketing is why the CIM category is growing so quickly. An end-to-end customer identity platform unifies disparate marketing systems by acting as the single source of truth for customer identity, enabling more accurate and complete user profiles that can be built and managed over time.

Connecting marketing systems to a centralised customer identity hub enables marketers to gain deeper customer insights, deliver more personalised content and product recommendations, and establish trust with users. CIM allows you to manage all your customers ‒ both known and unknown ‒ in one place and across their entire lifecycle. Over time, every attribute that you collect for each user becomes part of a holistic profile that is accurate and complete, driving better results for all of your marketing systems.

2. Customer identity built progressively

To be competitive, you must establish direct digital relationships with your customers. Traditionally, doing this meant coaxing consumers to fill out forms to establish online accounts or subscriptions. But people are increasingly wary of giving out personal information.

To combat this, businesses will increasingly need to incentivise users with simple value propositions and the smallest possible ask. A single piece of information is all that’s needed to get the ball rolling. With contact established, you can then move the conversation forward by using behavioural insights about individuals to offer something of value to encourage them to return. When they do, there’s a new opportunity for you to exchange value for information. A discount for their postal address, a free trial for a social referral, points for joining a loyalty program ‒ the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

In 2017, businesses that stick with this kind of trust-based, value-exchange approach will not only attract more customers but also create lifetime brand loyalists who sing the praises of these brands to the world.

3. Elimination of the ‘creepy factor’ 

We’ve all experienced having bought something on one e-commerce site only to have that brand follow you around the internet for weeks, surfacing ads for a product you already own. This kind of ‘personalisation’ has traditionally been driven by marketers using browser cookies and mobile IDs to track behaviour or with third-party lists purchased from data brokers. But this is changing fast. Increasingly, today’s consumers are voting with their feet, driving a trend away from the cookie and towards the login.

Besides the growing cost of consumer mistrust, increasing concerns over individuals’ right to privacy are driving more stringent consumer data privacy and protection regulations. This combination of the opportunity to leverage first-party identity data to bring laser-like focus to personalisation in the customer experience, combined with strict new data privacy regulations, is driving a radical shift in many businesses’ digital strategies.

4. The impact of GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a 261-page document that will change the way nearly every business handles consumer data within the EU region when it takes effect in May 2018. In 2017, many business leaders will realise that the biggest hurdle they face is creating a central repository for storing and managing consumer data. To overcome this, businesses will look to cloud-based customer identity platforms to centralise, manage and store personal data.

Best-in-breed SaaS customer identity platforms help tackle many of the toughest challenges for GDPR compliance. Managing consumer data centrally in a cloud platform also makes it easier to ensure the right opt-ins are received and provides a one-stop-shop for consumers to manage their profile data across your business. This ensures that you can leverage this data across your marketing technology stack, maintain visibility over trans-border data transfers and more easily handle auditing and reporting.

5. Help customers help themselves

It’s become eminently clear that cybercriminals have realised the immense value of consumers’ online accounts. With massive losses possible for those that don’t act, what can businesses do to protect customers from their own bad habits?

One approach is to use multifactor authentication where a customer needs to couple something they know, like a password, with something they have, such as a token or mobile phone, or something they are, for instance a fingerprint. The key is that these other factors aren’t reusable or replicable and can’t be pilfered on the internet.

But can we go even further? What if when activities like login irregularities are detected, another layer of security could be enabled? This type of security is only possible for cloud providers that centrally manage very large numbers of customer identities and have visibility across all of them at once. Expect to see more of this type of network-level security in 2017. By combining innovative technologies with good old common sense, 2017 will see us working together to make our digital world a safer place.

We’re only beginning to see businesses realise the full value and potential of customer identity. Across the board, brands are realising that establishing direct, two-way relationships with their audience can create the person-to-person customer relationships that we all prefer via cloud technologies and big data. This also creates a massive asset for companies that must be managed and protected on behalf of customers.

Going forward, expect to see the most successful companies crafting the perfect blend of transformational customer experiences ‒ game changers that can cause tectonic shifts in even well-established industries ‒ with a light touch and a firm commitment to establishing and maintaining trust with customers and a strong focus on protecting their data and privacy.