Almost three-quarters (72%) of the UK’s digital population are using multiple devices online, switching frequently between smartphones, tablets, laptops, and connected TVs, as well as a variety of browser and app environments.

Cookies are unable to track this continual movement as they recognise consumers as unique users per device and/or browser, therefore treating consumers as unique individuals each time they switch. Brands need a solution that stitches together these ‘unique user’ interactions and identifies a consumer across all platforms and environments to fully understand the consumer journey.

Cross-device identification that combines ID (cookie and device) and non-ID based targeting is being hailed as the answer, so how does this technology work and how can marketers use it to their advantage?

Here are the answers to the industry’s most pressing questions about cross-device identification:

How does cross-device identification work?

Cross-device identification combines multiple targeting and measurement solutions from various partners including media companies, publishers, ad exchanges, and third-party solutions, as well as data direct from advertisers.

The technology works by assigning each unique user a universal ID that links all stationary and mobile devices, as well as all web and app environments accessed by that consumer. It connects cookie-based, cookieless, and cross-device signals across multiple channels and devices in a deterministic and/or probabilistic fashion.

Deterministic solutions use hashed or encoded email addresses, usernames, user IDs (cookie or device) to recognise a unique user across the devices and environments where they are used.

Probabilistic solutions bring additional value and support deterministic recognition by means of mathematical models – using other variables such as browser settings, fonts installed, etc. that can be grouped together in order to create a level of certainty for single consumer identification.

How has the cross-device identification landscape evolved?

The cookie-based industry faces a number of challenges and various solutions have emerged to tackle these individually, but each has its own limitations. Mobile-specific solutions address the challenge of identifying mobile users but these only enable mobile-to-mobile and desktop-to-mobile tracking, which limits audience reach and scale.

Standalone ID management solutions are potentially very costly and introduce additional latency and loss, which may lead to data being dispersed across multiple parties and not necessarily working across and within cookieless environments. First-party cookie solutions on their own may not provide sufficient scale and coverage and not necessarily a link between different devices.

To address the limitations of these individual solutions, a full cross-device identification and measurement system is needed – ideally built into a programmatic marketing operating system.

How will brands benefit from cross-device identification?

Cross-device identification allows a holistic view of the customer across devices and environments, resulting in improved targeting, attribution, analytics, and optimisation.

The ability to pinpoint where a user is on the path to purchase or brand awareness enables marketers to engage the user on their preferred device with a highly engaging message that meets their needs and intent, providing true value for both prospecting and remarketing activities.

Cross-device identification enables the recognition of new users as well as incremental possibilities, which prevents media dollars being wasted on serving prospecting ads to existing customers and limits accidental internet browsing disturbance that may result from the misidentification of an already brand-loyal user.

For example, if a user has already visited a brand website on their laptop and is ready for retargeting, they shouldn’t be exposed to prospecting messages for new users on their other devices. In this instance, messaging across all devices should be co-ordinated to re-engage the user.

Finally, cross-device identification allows marketers to run smarter campaigns, employing global frequency capping to prevent ads becoming annoying and more effectively rewarding high-performing marketing tactics.

How can marketers choose technology that is privacy compliant?

To ensure privacy compliance, marketers should look for industry-leading solutions that comply with consumer privacy standards and local government privacy regulations, as well as global industry guidelines.

The chosen solution should offer robust opt-out mechanisms that respect consumer choices above and beyond the levels that industry standards require. This opt-out mechanism should be significantly more persistent than traditional cookie-based opt-out methods and also work in cookieless environments.

When an individual opts out, this should be respected across all devices associated with that user or their universal ID. For example, if a user opts out on their tablet this must also be complied with on their smartphone and laptop.

With the continued increase in the number of devices, apps, and browsers being used by consumers, cross-device measurement and identification systems provide an unprecedented opportunity for marketers to stitch together the path to purchase in a way that respects individual privacy and choice, reaching consumers on their preferred device with messaging that speaks to their individual needs.

Anna Grodecka-Grad, Director, Programmatic Strategy & Optimisation

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