Identity in the Sky: The promise of email

I recently flew to Portland out of LaGuardia. In order to buy the ticket, I needed to create an account with the airline and log in to receive my boarding information, my confirmation number and my seat number. Sitting at the center of that login was my email address.

Mock showing that you need an email to create an account

My flight to Portland from New York had one stop: Houston. It saved me 95$. That is who you are dealing with reading the rest of this blog post. Houston’s airport is named after George Bush. I wasn’t spending too much time there.

The airline I flew had TV monitors in the seats in front of you. The TV foisted video upon you unless you paid for a “pass” (in order to get satellite programming). And the videos that the airline displayed were advertisements, incremental revenue for the airline.

I was a captive audience. And I was receiving video advertisements for sites in Houston, a city I was not spending time in. Because I was just transferring there to go to Portland.

But it begets the question of Identity, something we’re thinking about a lot here at LiveIntent. For all intents and purposes, the in-flight TV was just another connected device that I, Adam Berkowitz, was engaging with. I was still the same person, but my device had changed. And the marketing material being served on my connected device didn’t have anything to do with who I was, what I was doing, what my intent was: in essence, the connected device foisted upon me served ads based on the plane’s identity (a flying sardine can going to Houston), not mine (someone connecting in Houston to go to Portland.)

What if there was a universal identifier for me as I sat in that airline seat, staring at that connected TV? What if the airline could serve everyone on the plane content that spoke to their identity, that spoke to their intent? What would it take to create a connective tissue to the airline seat that enables the airline to serve content that actually aligns with the identity of the individual in the seat?

Of course, for us, that connective tissue is email. I’m using my email address as confirmation and to receive my receipt that clearly says I’m going to Portland, so the airline has it. I’ve signed up for TimeOut Portland’s email newsletter, so the company serving ads in the airline’s TV knows to serve me marketing that appeals to yuppies. I subscribe to the local Williamette Week newsletter, so the connected device can infer that I live in Portland. We’ve made AirBnB reservations (using my email as the login) for a rustic Yurt on the Oregon Coast for New Year’s, so the TV would know I’m eventually going to be in need of treatment for tetanus.

And that’s part of the promise of the new age of email. It sits at the center of the online experience, like it always had, but now it morphs into so much more. The email address itself acts as my online identity, signifying my presence on platform after platform, experience after experience. When I’m online, I’m identified, nearly irrespective of the medium or the channel, by my email address. Email has gone from primarily being about sending and receiving email to becoming the fulcrum for Identity in a changing ecosystem.

Without this identifier, advertisers are throwing their money into the ether. The ad served has no significance for me, and that’s a waste of money and an opportunity for the advertiser. They’d be horrified (or, depressingly resigned to this sub-optimal reality) if they knew these ads for Houston were served to someone with no intent for spending time in Houston. But, when advertisers embrace the concept of Identity, they have a salve for advertising at things instead of marketing to people.

My Identity is the constant. The device I use? Fleeting. The connective tissue that makes the content served on each of my devices? It’s email. It’s the cornerstone of my modern transactions, and it’s the way that marketers, in the future, will be able to tackle the world of cross device and cross-platform challenges.

The market is already seeing more and more brands adopt traditional media businesses, and United Airlines this month announced they were doing the same. It’s just a matter of time before all airlines adopt an Identity-centric approach, and sitting at the center of that will be the airline’s own email newsletters and alerts, their own fount of first-party data that can’t be disintermediated.

LiveIntent’s fastest growing customer is the brand who sends email. Let us know if you’re ready to make the leap to controlling your destiny by transforming your email property from a cost center into a profit center, and the springboard for a post third-party cookie world.