What the Netflix show Inventing Anna can teach us about consumer data


What can marketers learn about data from a Netflix show fake German heiress? As part of the Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, Epsilon’s Jon Beebe makes the case for people-based identities through the lens of the hit show.

Anna Sorokin was someone different to everyone she met. The fake German heiress grifted her way into New York City’s elite, only to tumble down after several of her friends accused her of fraud. Her story captured the attention of people everywhere. In Netflix’s new show Inventing Anna, viewers catch a glimpse into the real Anna’s illustrious life.

The show has people talking, and it’s clear to see why. It has everything: money, deceit, intrigue. For digital marketers, Anna Sorokin’s double life as the larger-than-life Anna Delvey also lends itself to a great metaphor for identity, recognition and consumer data.

Born Anna Sorokin, she adopted a new moniker and clawed her way up the rungs of New York City’s higher echelon. Using her strong personality and impeccable silver tongue, she enjoyed the high life of society. She bought clothes she couldn’t afford, took vacations on someone else’s dime and dined at some of the best restaurants in the world without ever paying a bill. Netflix’s adaptation sticks close to the real-life woman but does fictionalize aspects of those in her inner circle.

Part of Anna’s allure was the perception she created – that she was one of the wealthy people constantly surrounding her. But this was false advertising. In reality, she was a penniless grifter. By trusting their emotions and perceptions of the ’product’ Anna presented, her friends were swindled into buying a set of fake goods.

Picture marketers as Anna’s friends. If we believe only what we can see on the surface about our customers, we might be inundating them with messages that don’t resonate. Sure, they may look like they can afford Louboutins, but if Skechers are more aligned with their budget, ads with high end shoes result in marketing waste.

Seeing the real customer

Recognizing people’s online and offline identities helps marketers see beyond the skin-deep website visits, clicks and impressions to understand what messages matter most to them. Just because a customer looks the part doesn’t mean they’ll respond to certain messages.

Historically, marketers have relied heavily on static, moment-in-time views of a person’s behavior online – usually in the form of a third-party identifier, like a cookie. This snapshot approach models people like Anna into a ’luxury shopper’ audience without a second glance.

As browsers such as Google Chrome begin to do away with third-party cookies (allegedly in 2023), many brands will be left in the dark about what their customers truly want or need. This makes always-on recognition and people-based identity resolution more important than ever.

People-based identity resolution is when online identifiers – such as cookies and email addresses – and devices are matched with validated, offline transactions.

Across all their personal devices, most people in the US have multiple email addresses and use them for different reasons: junk mail, work, school, online purchases, family and friends, or social logins. By weaving these identifiers, devices and transactions together, then removing directly identifiable information, a people-based identity is created.

This gives marketers the opportunity to deliver a meaningful customer experience as they connect with the person they’re trying to reach, complete with all of the hints and signals of their actual needs and interests along the way. So, even when Anna was looking at bungalows in the Maldives, people-based identity recognizes that such interests are simply aspirations.

And, if you’re working with the right partner, you should be able to see from the consumer, and the strength of the signals they’re sending you, that they’re not really in-market for Upper East Side luxury hotels.

Solving for the issues of the day

Connectivity and scalability: On average, consumers have at least five digital touchpoints. Finding customers across channels – and being able to tie back insights from all their online and offline signals – builds stronger profiles and, in turn, creates a stronger customer experience. It also helps resolve profiles that appear to be two people but are truly one (avoiding your own Sorokin versus Delvey scenario).

Preferences: Recognizing people across devices helps marketers ensure people’s privacy, channel and frequency preferences are always in play. Too many brands still rely on unstable or incomplete data, like an outdated email address or just one of the many devices, thus respecting consumer preferences goes out the window when the customer arrives on a new device, cookie or unfamiliar email address.

Longevity: People change. Every day, there are trillions of consumer interactions both online and offline. Not only do you want to accurately be able to identify a consumer, you want to maintain those lasting connections so when they do change, you’re already ahead of the curve. Even if a consumer is checking out row boats today, marketers can reasonably tell if and when they’re ready to start cruising on a yacht.

With these working together, that’s when the magic happens.

Why does it all matter?

Unlike Anna, marketers don’t have to trick people to give them what they want. Respecting and protecting consumers should be top of mind for all marketers. With strong identity resolution that protects consumer data across ID-based and name-based formats, marketers can have the best of both worlds: the ability to create meaningful customer experiences while maintaining important privacy measures that protect consumers.

When a brand can recognize people, not just single email addresses, cookies or devices, intelligence persists over time at the individual level, versus just over the short-lived life of a cookie or modeled segmentation. This doesn’t just benefit the brands. Customers don’t like receiving messages that mean nothing to them. When inefficient, targeted ads are annoying and bothersome, and create negative touchpoints for both the brand sending the message and the customer receiving it. On the flip side, when messages are done right, brands can establish consumer loyalty that’s mutually beneficial.

Take hold of your data today

With the endless amount of consumer data out there, it’s a challenge to grab it, sort it and match it to all the right people, and message them one-to-one. The future will only bring us more data and more ways to reach people, and consumers will continue to want seamless experiences with privacy protection – which means you need to flawlessly share the right messages with them.

People-based identity resolution is the critical foundation of the marketing that your customers expect. And the job is never done. It demands continuous improvement, even if it’s just a little bit, every day. Don’t be fooled by the Anna Delveys of the world when you’re trying to reach the Anna Sorokins – make your marketing better through strong (and real) identity.

Jon Beebe is senior vice-president of marketing and customer experience at Epsilon.

For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.