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How to Prepare for a Cross-Device Tracking Future: Part I

By Jerelle Gainey in Analytics & Information on June 11th, 2015

Our three part series on cross-device tracking and measurement will provide an overview of this technology, the challenges that remain and how you can begin to leverage it to move your business forward.

Cross-device Advertising technology is the future of digital advertising. In today’s tech savvy world, being able to deliver the right message, to the right device, at the right time is priceless.

Part 1: Getting Started

Cross-device targeting and tracking, the holy grail of digital advertising, has been generating lots of excitement in the ad technology space, as it should. The importance of the ability to target and measure interactions across the many screens and devices today’s typical consumer uses is indeed important.  According to research from Google, 67% of people begin shopping on one device and continue on another.  In today’s world of cookie-based measurement, each device misleadingly represents a different person, whereas the cross-device world leverages user identification tags capable of recognizing an individual across multiple devices. This multi-device engagement path will be represented as what it is: one person using a different device at different stages in the purchase funnel.  The ability to measure this activity accurately enables proper multi-channel attribution and message personalization.  However, before going too far down the path of explaining the importance of cross-device technology, let’s start with an overview.

Fundamentals of Cross-Device Tracking

According to Comscore, mobile devices make up 60% of the time spent on digital vs. 40% on desktop.  Furthermore, traditional desktop tracking methodologies using cookies have limited utility in mobile and app-driven environments.  The combination of these two factors is hastening the death of the cookie and ushering in the age of the cross-device digital ID.

Cross-device tracking centers on the use of a digital ID that persists from device to device, rather than a cookie that is typically limited to a single browser.  There are various common methods of creating a digital ID, but for the purposes of this blog, we are focusing on two main methods - deterministic and probabilistic.

A. Deterministic

This is using authenticated user data (a user signing into a service such as Google, Facebook, etc.) to link a user to create a digital ID.  Deterministic method is typically highly accurate, but will be scrutinized more closely (from a privacy perspective) due to its use of personally identifiable information to form the basis of the digital ID.  Additionally, deterministic methods can be limited to the scale of the platform providing the authentication service.

B. Probabilistic

This is using various device data points such as type of device, IP address, operating system, location data, content consumption patterns, etc. to make statistical inferences to create the digital ID that can link an individual to multiple devices.  This approach enables greater scale than deterministic methods, but the accuracy is subject to the proprietary algorithms and statistical models used to create the IDs.

Why Is Cross-Device Tracking Important?

Cross-device tracking enables marketers to serve specific, relevant and targeted messages to a specific user on a specific device and to properly attribute those exposures and conversion events to the appropriate device and channel.  This enables deeper analysis of the true impact of the various marketing channels.  

For example, when analyzing multi-channel reports, cross-device technology may reveal the impact that mobile has on introducing new users (creating category awareness) to the purchase funnel and the role that desktop plays in the user making a final purchase.  When relying solely on cookies, these engagements would appear as two separate users leading to an undervaluing of the mobile channel and an overvaluing of desktop.

Cross-device advertising allows enables marketers to optimize messages for the specific channel and determine which channels are truly driving engagement.  Consumers act differently on different devices, and the ability for brands to target a specific message to a consumer based on where they are in the purchase funnel and the device they are using is a game changer.  This more targeted message will lead to greater conversion rates.

The bottom line is that cross-device technology saves companies money in the long run by enabling more efficient media buys and reducing wasted impressions.

Cross-Device Challenges

As we are just entering the “Digital ID” era, there are still some challenges to work out.  As is the case with cookies, we expect both self-regulatory and government regulatory action will soon target some of the practices currently being used to enable digital IDs to protect user privacy.  The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) issued a compliance warning to clarify that its Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising were applicable irrespective of the technology.  The FTC has announced its intent to take a closer look at cross-device technology in November of this year.

There is no universal method of identifying “people” across multiple screens.  The lack of standardization yields digital IDs that will vary from provider to provider. As previously mentioned, two major methods, deterministic and probabilistic, may yield different results and will definitely differ in scalability.  Leveraging both methods somewhat mitigates this issue.

Data is the key to enabling cross-device ad technology and tracking, and currently advertisers are leading the charge in leveraging this data for their proprietary solutions.  This limits marketers’ ability to leverage this data across all media channels or publishers.  Facebook’s Atlas Ad Serving solution is taking a leading role in empowering marketers to use cross-device tracking across all their digital media channels via their recently updated platform.

Check back soon for Part II, a technical discussion on cross-device targeting and attribution, where we’ll expand on the technical aspects of implementing cross-device technology to enhance user targeting and attribution.

Interested in putting cross-device technology to work for your brand?

Get in touch with us today to get started!