If you are like me, while I am at the office on my desktop computer, I also have my phone out for in-app browsing. Since the rise of smartphone and tablet usage, marketers have been focused on reaching users across their different devices to serve relevant content and ads. With the advance of technology and access to more useful data, cross-device advertising has become more accurate.
What is cross-device tracking?
As defined by DigiDay, cross-device tracking “describes the myriad ways platforms, publishers and ad tech companies try to identify Internet users across smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.” Once identified, advertisers are able to target or retarget the users with relevant ads as they switch from device to device throughout the day. This also allows advertisers to personalize the ads based on the actions that users have taken on various devices rather than treating them as different users.
Wait… What? How can they do that?
There are two approaches to determine that devices belong to a specific user. Some are more accurate than others. According to Tom Phillips, CEO at marketing technology company Dstillery, the two approaches are called “deterministic” and “probabilistic” (DigiDay). The deterministic approach is by log-in association. According to Conversant, a tech and media company that specializes in data profiles, this is where “a user’s devices are linked when they log in to the same site or app from multiple devices.” This likely applies to anyone with multiple devices. For instance, I am always logged in to Facebook and Gmail on my iPhone, desktop and tablet. It creates a seamless user experience (and who wants to constantly log in to their accounts?), but it also allows for cross-device tracking. This is the most accurate way to associate devices with a specific user. The probabilistic approach is based on statistics. This is where information is gathered from multiple devices to indicate that several devices probably belong to the same user. One example of this, as discussed in a white paper by Jules Polonetsky and Stacey Gray from Future of Privacy Forum, is if you are connected to Wi-Fi at home on both your phone and your desktop, both devices would be associated with the same IP address inferring that the same person is using both devices.
Cross-device advertising allows advertisers and brands to reach their audience anytime, anywhere with relative ads. Banners do not have enough real estate to tell a story; however, with cross-device advertising, advertisers are able to hit a user throughout the day on all devices with a sequential ad campaign, thereby encouraging them through a sales funnel or reaching them with messaging they are more likely to execute on particular devices based on web traffic data.