A People-Based Approach to Cross-Device Tracking

A Guide for Marketers

People own more devices than ever before. The average consumer owns around four connected devices and uses three or more daily to discover, explore and transact. Unfortunately, most marketers are only able to connect one of them to an actual person.

And this is a problem. Because devices don’t shop. People do.

When shopping, customers don’t think about which device they’re using, they think about the experience they’re having – and they want it to be relevant and consistent, no matter the touchpoint. Considering that nearly 80% of consumers switch devices some of the time when engaged in an activity, according to research from Adobe, and 40% of online transactions involve multiple device switches along the way, it’s easy to see why people expect brands will keep pace as they move across screens. And if they don’t, it’s certainly easy for today’s choosy customers to look to another company that can.

With the continual emergence of new connected devices, such as watches, TVs, even home appliances, people’s cross-device habits will become even more complicated. Failing to consistently recognize and appropriately relate to individuals across a growing number of addressable devices will result in erratic messaging, disconnected experiences and a negative impact on customer loyalty and retention. Not to mention, marketers will have no way to accurately evaluate, measure and optimize performance across screens — which means ad spend gets wasted, conversions get lost and budgets get even harder to justify.

Marketers must learn how to reach and engage the cross-device consumer today or else they will lose out to competitors who are already doing so.

Fortunately, there is a solution, one that cuts straight to the chase: people-based marketing. A people-based marketing approach to cross-device tracking allows brands to identify and connect with the real people behind the devices by leveraging the first-party customer data they already own.

While marketing to people may seem a simple concept to grasp, it’s one that leaves many marketers confused about where to begin. But they need to start somewhere.

Here, we lead the way.

Connecting the Dots

The cross-device habits of today’s consumers have not only changed how they shop, it’s changed what they’re in the market for – more than just a great product, they want personal, immediate and meaningful brand experiences. A tall order to fill, but one that nearly 90% of companies plan to make their primary selling point moving forward, according to a recent IBM study.

Think about the shopper’s new norm: During her morning commute, a woman checks her email on her smartphone and discovers a sale on designer sunglasses at her favorite store. She sneaks a peak of a few frames on her laptop at work, and then narrows down her choices on her tablet during lunch. On the way home, she decides on her favorite pair and loads them into her shopping cart on her phone. She waits to purchase them on her desktop at home, where she prefers to transact.

Imagine if it were always this easy. If every time the shopper switched to another device, she could pick up where she left off. Now imagine how the experience could be even better. If while she was shopping, the brand recognized her on each device, understood her intent at each stage of her buyer journey and could leverage data from her prior interactions. All this information could be used to send her relevant product suggestions, tailored promotional deals or offers to hold a desired item for her to pick up at her favorite location.

Unfortunately, for many brands, this is still just a dream. In Signal research, only 6% of marketers worldwide report having an adequate single customer view. A big reason for this is that many brands are still struggling with fragmented, siloed and outdated cookie-based technology solutions that limit their ability to identify and track individuals across all channels and devices.

Think about all the limitations facing first- and third-party cookies for desktop and mobile web regardless of browser. Cookies have never functioned well within most smartphone or tablet browsers, and their functionality is restricted, or “sandboxed,” within each app, which is where people spend nearly 85 percent of their mobile time, according to recent estimates from eMarketer.
Yet cookies are just one piece of the puzzle. Every individual is represented by many identifiers across multiple devices and channels: hashed email addresses, IP addresses, loyalty membership numbers, account usernames, mobile ad IDs, to name a few. Without the ability to map all these identifiers – and the engagement data they contain – to a single person, marketers can’t possibly understand their personal behaviors, interests or intents, let alone target them with relevant messaging at the right moment.

But with a people-based approach to cross-device tracking, achieving a unified view of the hyper-connected customer can be a reality. Because the solution isn’t about just collecting the data, it’s about how to connect the dots.

Top Benefits of a People-Based Cross-Device Tracking Strategy

When brands take a true people-based marketing approach to recognizing customers across devices, they can create more relevant engagements, improve targeting precision, enhance measurement and, as a result, boost their bottom line. Consider these four ways how:

Create addressable media campaigns.

Research from Adobe reveals that 85% of consumers prefer personalized content, such as ads tailored to their personal interests, and 81% of shoppers prefer when retail sites suggest products based on their past purchases. Yet while 81% of marketers claim they can contextually understand their customers, an IBM survey discloses that only 38% of customers agree with this. Matching a company’s first-party data with digital identities allows brands to interact with people with the right content and in the right context across addressable devices, such as mobile, tablet and, increasingly, TV.

Understand the entire customer journey.

U.S. consumers now spend 51% of their online time on mobile devices, compared to 42% for desktop and laptop computers, cites Mary Meeker’s annual report. This means marketers are missing a huge piece of the puzzle if they’re still relying on the cookie-based technologies of yesterday. By being able to see customer behaviors across devices, marketers can discover and appropriately react to individual wants, needs and behaviors across screens at each stage of the buyer journey.

Target more precisely.

Say a marketer only wants to serve and ad to a particular individual five times over the course of a campaign. Without the ability to recognize this same person across three devices, the brand risks inundating the shopper with the same ad 15 times. Most likely, the shopper will turn a blind eye to the ad after the first few tries. And most certainly, the brand is unable to to tell which device and channel had the most impact. A people-based approach to cross-device tracking allows marketers to reach customers with more precision and relevance, reducing wasted ad spend and over-saturation while improving brand presence.

Create seamless brand experiences.

Consider the weekend golfer who’s been browsing new drivers from his favorite sports retailer on his home PC for the past month. Frustrated on the greens one day, he pulls up the retailer’s site on his mobile phone, only to discover the last few weeks spent with this brand were for naught — none of his searches are saved, the site is cumbersome to navigate, he can’t find the content he wants and he keeps getting served ads for discounted iron sets. Now, he’s really irked, as are many in the same situation: Forrester research reveals nearly 75% of consumers feel negative toward the brand when the experience is inconsistent. Recognizing customers as they switch among devices allows brands to speak in the same voice and continue the same conversation throughout the path to purchase.

4 Keys to Creating a People-Based Cross-Device Tracking Strategy

Just as relying on cookies is irrelevant, so is just collecting a bunch of device IDs. This is why it is imperative that marketers seek to build connections at the personal level. Following are four key considerations for doing so.

1. Focus on deterministic matching.
Knowing is always better than guessing. In any interaction a brand has with a consumer, any number of associated personal identifiers are present: email addresses, physical addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, various device IDs, advertiser IDs, account usernames, brand loyalty numbers and an ever-evolving array of cookies. Collecting and mapping all of these first-party identifiers to a single person enables marketers – or their partners – to create an identity graph, or ID graph. By connecting the identity graph to the digital environment via deterministic identifiers, like log-ins, marketers can recognize and relate to a customer across screens with relevancy and value, allowing brands to tie impressions back to sales at the individual level.

2. Get up-to-speed on customer IDs.
Marketers should understand all the different sources they can use for personal identification (hashed email addresses, social identity, cookies, IP addresses, etc.) and evaluate their resources for collecting and combining them into a single customer profile. They should also understand what specific identifiers map consumer identity within specific channels: i.e., first- and third-party cookies for desktop and mobile web; Apple and Google advertising IDs for mobile apps and tablets. When brands can see which devices and channels their customers most frequently use to engage with them, they can optimize their marketing strategies accordingly.

3. Continue to analyze and optimize data resources.
One of the greatest benefits of cross-device tracking is advanced measurement. Yet many companies have significant gaps in their ID collection. Brands should consistently audit their data resources, determine their weaknesses and take steps to fill in the holes – both internally and with their technology, media and analytic partners. The greater the ability to identify a consumer across multiple devices, the deeper the insights into the customer journey. By understanding behavior before conversion, marketers can discover new opportunities to measure performance, test different approaches and optimize campaigns.

4. Keep privacy top of mind.
With digital dominating the path to purchase, consumers are increasingly focused on the privacy of their data. But a recent Columbia University studies uncovers that 75% of customers are willing to share personal information with brands they trust in exchange for a product or service they value. Marketers need to be vigilant about keeping that trust by protecting customer data—or risk losing those relationships. They should know where their data is coming from, how it’s being used and how it’s being protected. And they need to make sure their cross-device technology partners are also doing everything in their power to protect individual privacy and ensure consumers maintain control over their personal data.

The Path Ahead

In 2016, Gartner estimated that 6.4 billion connected things were in use worldwide — by 2020, it’s predicted this number will jump to 20.8 billion. For marketers who fail to implement cross-device tracking strategies that allow them to see the people behind the ever-evolving screen of choice, the forecast isn’t bright.

With nearly 90% of executives in the Forbes Global top 500 companies claiming improved customer experiences will be the key battleground over the coming years, a people-based approach to cross-device tracking is critical for any brand’s success. As technology continues to advance, cross-device capabilities will spread into areas not yet considered, opening up marketing opportunities brands cannot quite yet imagine. Only with a cross-device strategy that focuses on identifying and relating to real people, not a device type or screen size, will brands be prepared to reach the right people with the right messages on whatever latest, greatest thing comes next.