Introduction to unified user profiles

Unified user profiles offer one single, centralized view of a user’s data. They display data that are typically scattered across channels, apps, and devices to paint one clear picture of all a user’s interactions with a brand. Unified user profiles are extremely valuable for building products and marketing to users, but can be difficult to create.

Illustration of two colleagues analyzing cohorts of users with unified user profiles

Why are unified user profiles so great?

Unified user profiles allow teams to treat users as individuals. Having all the data in one place allows analytics teams to take more accurate measurements, marketers to target more valuable potential customers, and product teams to build more useful services.

The “unified” part of unified profiles is important because most data is highly fragmented. In the digital world, users interact with companies across many channels, apps, and devices. An individual might visit a brand’s website on desktop, return later on the mobile web, and access the site a third time through an app on their tablet. Consumers expect to be treated as one individual across all three touch points but unless they sign into an account each time, their data is fragmented, and the brand is left to think they are three separate individuals. If a user sees the same welcome message several times, they might feel that the brand is out of touch.

Unified user profiles gather users’ data in one place to solve the problem of data fragmentation. An analytics platform that offers unified profiles can be used to tie all the separate data repositories together, resolve conflicts, and provide teams with additional insight.

Without an analytics platform, building unified user profiles can be extremely challenging. A brand with a website and an app, for example, would have to build five or more different tracking systems from scratch. For the web, it would have to track users via cookies, pixel tags, and the standard for online navigation, HTTP and URL. The brand would then have to build four mobile app tracking systems: one for iOS, one for Android, and one for each of the iOS and Android app stores.

Analytics platforms offer pre-built solutions for tracking users across devices to make unified user profiles cost-effective and attainable. Once unified user profiles are in place, teams can:

Treat users like individuals across devices

Brands can personalize experiences as users move through various channels, apps, and devices. A user that subscribed to a newsletter on one device, for example, wouldn’t receive a redundant message to subscribe again on a second device. A user that created an account on mobile wouldn’t be prompted to create a new account on desktop.

An improved cross-device experience can increase user retention and satisfaction. It can also help marketers personalize their outreach. By tracking a user’s likes and dislikes across channels and devices, marketing teams can know when to message users, what to say, and what offers will increase purchases or engagement.

Understand users’ journeys

Brands that track user data across devices can view their users’ complete buyer journeys. These brands can see which devices or channels users prefer, what actions they perform there, and where they run into problems.

A company without unified user profiles has less insight. It might not know that most people that discover its app within the app store choose not to download it. If the company knew, its marketing team could tweak the copy. The company also wouldn’t be able to tell that web users who download its mobile app remain customers for twice as long as those who don’t. If the company knew, its product team could push more web users to download the mobile app.

Subscription-based media company STARZ PLAY used Mixpanel’s product analytics to create unified user profiles. The team discovered that many of its users use Facebook, and prefer easier signup options. By adding a Facebook login to landing pages and offers, STARZ PLAY drove 300 percent more signups.

Team analyzing unified data of its users from multiple sources

How to create unified user profiles

To create unified user profiles, teams can either build their own tracking systems–a complex and costly engineering challenge–or they can purchase an analytics platform that offers unified profiles as part of its service. Most analytics platforms will come with pre-built integrations to the most common systems such as websites, apps, and CRMs, as well as APIs for less common data sources.

With an analytics platform, brands must decide what data channels they want to track. Data can be divided into first-party, second-party, or third-party categories depending on whether it was captured by the company itself, a partner, or an unrelated third-party. Within each of these categories are data channels:

Types of first-party data:

  • Website visits
  • Application usage
  • Mobile app downloads, usage
  • Social media data
  • Customer satisfaction data

Types of second-party data:

  • ​Registration data from a shared webinar
  • Attendance data from a conference

Types of third-party data:

  • ​App store data
  • Intent data from a provider
  • Demographic data from a provider
  • Technographic data from a provider
  • Advertising data
  • Customer reviews

Teams can integrate their desired channels into the analytics platform and then decide which actions are valuable for each. For example, is it worth tracking user visits, clicks, logins, shares, likes, or subscriptions, or all of the above?

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