Today we hit a major milestone at SheerID, one that I’ve envisioned since we first started the company—giving all college students, everywhere in the world, access to exclusive experiences designed for them by the brands they love.
The process is simple yet powerful. The brand creates a gated student offer, our digital student verification platform confirms a student’s eligibility to receive it, and the SheerID platform fulfills the request. Student verification ensures the exchange is secure and the offer is truly exclusive—providing tremendous value for the student and the brand.
Brands now have one vendor they can work with to verify eligibility globally. You can read about what we announced in today’s press release.
This is a big step forward for the company—and for the industry. I’d like to take a few moments to talk about why.
Exclusive Experiences Are the Next Generation of Digital Marketing
Leading brands—from streaming and media giants like Spotify, Comcast, and YouTube, to retailers like Target and Nike—are recognizing that marketing is moving beyond behavioral personalization and into providing exclusive experiences that only they can deliver. And they’re doing this based on a person’s identity.
Rooting promotions in a person’s identity is a superior way to capture customers’ attention, because how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us is our single most defining attribute. Erik Erikson, the renowned developmental psychologist, said “…there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.”
Honoring someone for who they are is a moving experience and a powerful way to launch a brand relationship, particularly with students. College students are universally understood, valued, and revered, and—quite literally—the next generation of consumers.
Take Gen Z, for example. They are two billion strong worldwide with over $140 billion in spending power in the US alone. Research from MNI Targeted Media predicts that by 2020 they will account for more than 40% of all consumers, making Gen Z one of the most influential groups in modern history. And they have high demands for the brands they care about. As digital natives, students prefer mobile experiences, expect instant gratification, and most importantly, they value their privacy.
Consumers Should Be Able to Control Their Data
Gen Z is the most privacy-sensitive generation: 87% of Gen Zers report that keeping their personal information private is more important to them than popularity measures (e.g. getting “likes”) on social media. We also know that they are actively policing the data they share. They’re deleting social media accounts, changing privacy settings, and—in some cases—even creating false accounts to prevent being tracked.
Young consumers are making it clear what they want, and brands who listen and respect their privacy will genuinely connect with them. But the status quo is still largely failing consumers. Major ad networks and social platforms claim to be the “good stewards” of consumer data, but they’re not. They are perpetuating uninvited targeting, and it’s getting downright creepy.
While it made sense for ad platforms to manage social identities and logins from a convenience and scale standpoint, we now see the inherent conflict in having a single provider that manages consumer data and then sells it to the highest bidder. It’s been used for their own gain, and the post-Cambridge Analytica environment reeks of the fallout.
Here at SheerID, we believe in a world where people’s digital data rights are respected and under their own control, particularly around information—which in today’s global economy has become a highly valuable currency. But personal data isn’t a commodity to buy and sell without regard for the person it represents. Our data is a deep expression of who we are, and people should have their identity under their full control.
The Best Stewards of Data Are the People It Belongs to
We believe customers should control their data, and our consent-based student verification process supports this.
Instead of having to log into one central repository—which is a problem because it’s prone to hackers—students opt in to gated offers by providing a few pieces of easy-to-remember information, like email and the college or university they attend. SheerID then does a quick, sub-second lookup based on over one billion attributes across nearly 9,000 authoritative data sources to confirm enrollment at an accredited higher education institution in one of the 191 UN-recognized countries.
Compared to behavioral tracking, which consumers are increasingly resisting, our approach to student verification meets students’ expectations for how they want brands to engage them. Only 32% of Gen Zers are willing to share a social security number, while most (about 80%) are willing to share their full name and an email address to access an exclusive offer.
Digital student verification also respects students’ privacy by being temporal. When a student chooses to participate in special programs designed just for them, they can say, “yes, please, look up my data.” It happens in the moment, and then it’s done. Once the student redeems the offer, the brand can be invited to stay engaged on the student’s terms.
Privacy-Friendly Personalization Is Now Possible
Marketers are challenged on a daily basis to personalize marketing programs without violating data privacy. We think exclusivity is the way forward—invited personalization is powerful and valuable to all involved.
We see it time and time again: when you create things that are exclusive, it makes the recipient feel seen—rewarded, honored, excited, and special. By recognizing the person on the other side of the purchase—and respecting their rights to control their data—exclusivity marketing goes beyond the transaction to infuse more meaning into the exchange. It creates an authentic customer relationship. This is especially important when connecting with students, who represent our future.
This approach also embraces current regulations being introduced, enabling brands to stay up to speed—and even ahead of—modern privacy guidelines like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act.
Global student verification is a major announcement for our company. But it’s also a big step forward for society, as brands seek out better ways to break through the noise and spark authentic relationships with consumers, while also respecting their privacy.