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Why Email Has Become our Digital ID, and How Digital Marketers Can Leverage it for Omnichannel [Experts Weigh In]

Michael Becker
Michael Becker

Email is the most effective digital communication channel and delivers the highest ROI (email marketing generates $38 for every $1 spent) of any marketing tactic. It’s also the key to unlocking a consumer’s entire Internet-based life and, thus, your omnichannel marketing strategy – but it all starts with the Digital ID.

The Digital ID is your pot of gold when it comes to understanding customers’ online behavior. It’s the centerpiece of who they are on the Internet – a lens into nearly every crucial aspect of their digital footprint.

Essentially a customer’s email address, the Digital ID can help you understand where customers have been spending time online, what they’re purchasing, and even what they’re likely to purchase in the future.

An email-first mentality is the gateway for any company that wants to be “omnichannel” and, ultimately, fulfill their customers’ insatiable desire for personalized browsing, shopping, and overall brand experiences.

And it’s all based on consumer movement, data generation, and the Digital ID.

What is the Digital ID?

Before we jump into what, exactly, the Digital ID is, let’s look at why it matters. In today’s digital universe, consumer technology has changed the game for digital marketers.

Email is the one constant amid a sea of movement

If there’s one word to describe the ebb and flow of behavior and consumption of popular consumer technology, apps, and devices, it’s movement.

We move from seeing a review for a movie on our iPhone to watching it on Netflix via our iPad.

We move from reading a story on our tablet to seeing who’s tweeting about it on Twitter or commenting on Facebook.

We price compare items on mobile, then move “in-app” for specific item research, hop on a desktop for a more immersive experience, and back again.

Usage of digital devices continues to grow year-over-year. (Source: Kleiner Perkins via eMarketer)

Among all this change, there’s one constant: our email address. It’s effectively the social security number of our digital lives, a data-generating engine – and for marketers that want to get to omnichannel, the lynchpin.

Email is not dead—it’s our unique online identifier

The number of email users worldwide is forecasted to rise to 2.9 billion by 2019, and, according to Pew Research, 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it on an average day.

Regardless of what you may’ve heard, email is not dead. It’s the best way to remain relevant, targeted, and attention-grabbing going into 2018.


“The biggest email marketing challenge for 2018 continues to be relevancy. Consumers are more sophisticated today. They have no problem unsubscribing, marking something as spam, or even setting up a fake email. Companies must deliver highly targeted, highly relevant email content to get and keep attention…Email may be an “old” channel, but it’s not dead.”

 Brenda Stoltz • Founder & Chief Strategist, Ariad Partners • @BSStoltz


Email-driven behavior is the data source progressive-thinking digital marketers use to gather a wealth of information to take advantage of the #1 opportunity and challenge that email enables: personalization.Like the social security number is used to label and track individuals (offline), email has become our unique digital identity.


“Both the biggest opportunity and challenge for email marketing is personalization. Email personalization is based upon the unique ID of the individual (the email address)—and as such, you’re personalizing the experience to the individual, not to the computer (via cookies). Ultimately, marketers can better personalize the web experience based, first, on email. Email is the easiest channel to personalize on a 1:1 basis; though it still isn’t “easy.” Personalization is a strategy, made up of covert and overt personalization tactics. Marketers are often tempted to let the technology dictate strategy—however, we need to ensure that we, the marketer, take the reins and create a meaningful and relevant experience for our customers. Remain in charge of your strategy and allow the technology to bring it to life.”

 Kath Pay • CEO & Founder, Holistic Email Marketing • @kathpay


Email is probably more common in your digital life than you may even realize.

Email is the core of everything we do online. It’s how we:

  • log into accounts, portals, and dashboards;
  • register for webinars, workshops, and courses;
  • subscribe to blogs, podcasts, company updates, promotional notifications, and loyalty programs;
  • sign up for events or social programs;
  • download mobile apps, PDFs, guides, and the like; and
  • make purchases of almost any kind, whether online, via an app, or in-store.

“Email addresses are our Digital IDs, but our behavior is omnichannel. When I go into a store and buy a sweater, they bring up the point-of-sale system and ask if I’d like a digital receipt. I say “yes, please” and give them my email address. I go buy something on a website – the way I login, register, and get my receipt is with my email address. I take a flight from Atlanta to London, and I receive flight confirmation details via my email address. I download an app from the Apple store and I enter my Apple ID – which is predicated on my email address…The question all marketers need to be asking right now is: how am I using email as the foundation of my omnichannel strategy?

 Allen Nance • Chief Marketing Officer, Emarsys • @AllenNance


Whew – that’s a lot. But it goes to show how email is truly the sun of our digital universe. All the other planets orbit around email.

Marketers thinking about omnichannel can get there most effectively by using email addresses to first build flourishing, data-driven customer profiles.

This one channel provides access to a widely used unique identifier for each of your customers that you can use to start building your wider omnichannel strategy: the Digital ID.

Digital ID = user’s email address (a.k.a treasure chest!)

As we’ve established by now, a Digital ID is essentially a person’s email address, and is widely required as the main form of digital user verification.

By starting with a user’s email address, marketers can note online behavior, the devices a consumer prefers to use, the times they’re most receptive to emails, and dozens of other metrics closely tied to online behavior.

After enough interactions, you can then begin forecasting future actions, making inferences about customer preferences, and predicting future purchases.

In an age where web visitors retargeted with personalized display ads are 70% more likely to convert on your website, it’s critical for marketers to offer up desirable, personalized content. Use Digital IDs as a prime indicator of where people have been to predict where they’re going and what they’re interested in.

Free Download: Omnichannel Marketing Excellence Starts with Email First [Whitepaper]

How to Use Email as the Foundation of Your Omnichannel Strategy

Now that we’ve covered the value of the Digital ID, let’s dive into how it can be used to as the first step in your path to a successful omnichannel marketing strategy.

The trick to omnichannel is to use email as the starting point. From there, you can collect and organize data about customers, it, then expand into building a personalized web experience, a thriving mobile program, and a robust social retargeting strategy.

In short, start with email.

Still, it’s crucial to make email as robust, personalized, and optimized as possible before launching into other channels. Like a new relationship, you don’t want to rush into omnichannel.

Because of email’s promise as the number one marketing ROI channel and its wide-reaching, global capability, setting up email effectively is the most potent omnichannel roadmap to invest in for maximum ROI.

 Pro Tip: Consider your goal. The eventual goal of most digital marketing or B2C approaches is to achieve a true omnichannel strategy, armed with personalized capabilities to maximize revenue – the ability to provide a consistent experience regardless of which channels customers are using at any given moment. The best practice is typically to start with one channel. While we don’t recommend using only email, we do advise most companies we help to start there. The most successful brands we work with began with an email-first strategy, then amplified and expanded their efforts once they were ready.

With email at the center of your strategy, you can start to collect data and apply it to other channels, like your website (Source)

Email marketing experts share the value of an email-first, email-centric omnichannel approach

Let’s look at three ways you can use the Digital ID to actually improve and scale your e-commerce marketing strategy: personalization, deliverability, and retargeting.

1. Increase personalization

More than 73% of customers today are looking for some level of personalization from the brands with whom they regularly interact.

The Digital ID is crucial to hyper-personalized, 1:1 relationship-building.

By building unified profiles around each customer’s Digital ID, marketers can gain actionable insights about how each person tends to behave online and prefers to interact.

Once you can start to mix and match email behavior with web behavior, you can quickly start to get really granular, and more effectively target content, products, ads, incentives and more to each customer on the individual level.


“Behavioral triggered emails are both relevant and effective. The email address is the key to get from anonymous clicks to actionable campaigns (via customer data profiles). What many marketers haven’t realized is that with the email address, you can “stitch” historical anonymous behaviour to the user’s profile. Say, for instance, a visitor browses your website, and adds a product to their cart without logging in. Web behavior is stored in a cookie or logged through device fingerprinting. If their email is collected in a subsequent session, the marketer can use the information from those cookies to start sending more targeted emails – like an abandoned cart email – from day one.”

 Jordie van Rijn • Independent Email Marketing Automation Consultant @jvanrijn


These kinds of personalized incentives, product recommendations, and time-optimized offers are most effective when you begin by collecting data with email at the center. 

2. Improve email deliverability

It’s critical that your marketing messages are actually reaching the intended recipient.

Email is arguably the best way to achieve and measure whether your message was received by a consumer. But it also presents its own challenges.

Just because you hit “send” doesn’t mean the email is necessarily landing in the intended inbox. In fact, some 20% of emails never reach their destination – of the 12,000 emails the average B2C brand sends out each month, around 2,400 never reach the intended recipient (eliminating any chance of action).

The key factor in the deliverability rate of your emails is not the content of the message, the sender, the call-to-action, the subject, or any one single component. Successful delivery of your brand’s email is subject to the individual user’s Internet service provider (ISP) and their guidelines for accepting email. ISPs each have unique ways of protecting their customers from spam – their own set of bounce codes and policies.

The most personalized email design and content means nothing if it isn’t hitting the intended inbox because of ISP guidelines. If your messages aren’t making it to your recipient, you’re missing out on significant revenue opportunities.

The answer?

Track the user’s ISP via their Digital ID, and gain an understanding of which kinds of emails will and won’t make it through the filters. Doing so will help you manipulate emails to maximize the chances of each email hitting the right inbox every time, thus improving revenue generated via email.

3. Retarget on other channels

Deliverability refers only to the successful transport of your email to your customer.

Open rate, engagement, and conversion is an entirely different beast. Even when marketers successfully send emails, the majority of intended recipients never read them. So despite average open rates from 20 to 30%, your message is likely still going unread. What can marketers do to bridge the gap?

This is where the scope, utility, and cross-channel usability of the Digital ID truly shines.

Data collected about how a customer reacted (or didn’t react) to an email can be used to inform continued efforts to re-engage across other, more effective channels for that individual. How might this work, exactly?


“Email data might show that a customer opened your message, clicked on your offer, but failed to convert. You can then re-market to that person using SMS notifications or CRM ads, increasing recall and giving them another opportunity to convert. Email addresses are a key customer identifier and that email is a key engagement channel. Brands should use their email database to power digital ads, including the targeting of lookalikes, and use the performance of email subject lines, calls-to-actions, and other content to inform the words and images used in ads, catalogs, and elsewhere. At the same time, pull product reviews, social media posts, and other earned media into your emails. The de-siloing of email marketing is a major trend. Make sure you’re integrating email with your other marketing channels, and vice versa.”

 Chad S. White • Research Director, Litmus & Author of Email Marketing Rules • @chadswhite


All data collected in an individual’s Digital ID helps to build their unified profile, thus allowing for increasingly more relevant and effective interactions over time and channels – for an omnichannel marketing (and, for your customer, shopping) experience.


“The email address is key to unlocking a wealth of information about consumers. Aside from email marketing, the email address can be used for postal appending (to gather the consumer’s mailing address), social appending (to gather a consumer’s social channel profiles), and for serving targeted ads. With an email address, a marketer has an arsenal of options to learn the who, what, where, and when about each consumer, and can use that information for more targeted and relevant messaging. An email address with accompanying profile data can be used to create personalized segments and message content, which results in a more relevant message. And increased relevancy means increased conversions.

But that’s also the biggest challenge – crafting messaging and using data and recipient behavior to create a personalized experience. While platforms are improving to help marketers with this task, it still requires a lot of effort to collect data, establish strategy and workflows, set up campaigns and automations, test, integrate tracking methods, deliver, and analyze results. Still, recipients have acknowledged that more personalization generates better engagement and responses, and if marketers can deliver that level of relevant messaging, their results should be impressive.”

 Adam Q. Holden-Bache • Email Marketing Expert & Author of How to Win at B2B Email Marketing • @AdamHoldenBache


The ability to unify all available data about a customer, and retarget them across all channels is all made possible only by data stemming from their email addresses.

Final Thoughts

An omnichannel strategy is the goal, but email is the key to getting there. If omnichannel is the roof under which all a customer’s shopping experiences are housed, email is the foundation that those experiences must be built upon.

For us, as marketers, to go beyond using “omnichannel” as a buzzword, we must start to build out our entire channel strategy around a unifying element, a central piece of information that serves as a gateway to understanding our customers – that’s the Digital ID.

The pinnacle of email marketing success today is truly optimizing via automating – leveraging, augmenting, and ultimately trusting technology to target customers as individuals.

I believe omnichannel excellence is more than achievable for every company regardless of size, stature, or resources. The path to omnichannel is more about strategy than anything, and that begins with email, leveraging the Digital ID at the core.

Digital marketers who use email addresses as the central unique identifier for each customer, build up information around it as data is accumulated, then use that information to deliver personalized brand interactions across multiple channels are primed for a breakout 2018 and beyond.

► Email is the killer app of the Internet…it works – but it’s only the tip of the omnichannel iceberg. Continue your learning journey (including step-by-step diagrams) on how you can use the Digital ID to transform your web, mobile, and social customer experience in Omnichannel Marketing Excellence Starts with Email.

This article originally appeared on JeffBullas.com, here. This version has been adapted for Emarsys.com.

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