The Most Important Thing in Marketing Isn’t VR or AI

Cross-device identity data helps automated marketing and digital advertising be much smarter because it’s not just what devices people own, but who they are, what they do and where they do things.

In recent weeks, Google and Facebook–both undeniable juggernauts in digital advertising–have gotten serious about the latest craze in technology. It has nothing to do with Pokemon Go or custom photo filters, nor does it rely on a new console or platform. During New York’s Advertising Week, both companies announced new offerings in the realm of cross-device, with Google focusing on targeting and Facebook adding new reporting capabilities. So what’s all this fuss about cross-device?

In 2014, Facebook commissioned a study that found that 53 percent of people who own two devices and 77 percent who own three devices switch between them to complete tasks or activities. Similarly, a Google study from 2012 found that 90 percent of consumers use multiple screens sequentially to accomplish a task, including 67 percent of consumers who switch devices while online shopping.

Between product research, entertainment, email, maps, social media and more, consumers’ content consumption habits are absolutely occurring across devices. In other words, this “next big thing” has been staring these companies in the face for years. So why are Facebook and Google just now getting serious about cross-device when these studies confirmed the trend years ago? Because brands and agencies are getting more serious about it.

What cross-device means today

As the capabilities of our smartphones get more and more advanced, the screens get larger, the mobile web gets optimized and the application economy matures, consumers are increasingly leading mobile-first lifestyles. But while consumers may be mobile-first, brands, agencies and marketers from every industry and vertical realize that consumers aren’t mobile-only. Enter cross-device intelligence.

Consumers are constantly switching devices, if not using multiple devices at once. Most of us are probably guilty of checking something on our phones while trying to get some work done on the laptop with the TV on in the background.

For marketers, understanding that smartphone A, tablet B, computer C, smartwatch D and smart TV E belong to the same consumer is essential. Not only can they deliver more relevant ads, but they can start to understand the consumer journey across devices and attribute purchases made on desktop to ads shown on mobile, for example.

Marketing automation, custom content, product recommendations–all sorts of online customer experience applications can become more personalized with an understanding of consumers’ cross-device identity.

In addition, reaching consumers becomes more efficient. It’s possible to reach people when they are more likely to engage with a brand and, in terms of advertising, when they are more receptive to offers and likely to convert.

Cross-device identity data helps automated marketing and digital advertising be much smarter because it’s not just what devices people own, but who they are (demographics), what they do (interests) and where they do things (location).

Where cross-device is going

Cross-device identity has already changed the way marketers think about and plan their digital budgets and how they approach targeting and measurement. And while digital is a large part of overall advertising plans, there’s another large piece of the pie that’s still largely ignored, even by Facebook’s and Google’s new offerings.

eMarketer predicts that 2016 will be the year that spending on digital ads overtakes TV spend in the U.S. But while digital and cross-device measurement have largely been solved, TV is stuck in the past. Panels and surveys are the de facto measurement tactics: Did you know that Nielsen Families still exist and, at least in some cases, still uses paper journals? (Side note: Can you imagine if digital measurement worked the way TV does? Where a random selection of consumers had to self-report in physical diaries on the websites they visited and mobile games they played, and at what time of day and locations?)

So while Facebook and Google are certainly helping the notion of cross-device identity have its moment, as an industry, there’s still work to be done. TV is still a major “device” that’s missing, and it’s hard to say that any marketer is getting an all-inclusive picture of consumers’ media time without that piece of the puzzle.

That said, “cord-cutting” is increasing. The problem marketers face when it comes to targeting and measuring linear TV is that audiences are diminishing since smart TVs and streaming devices are digitally addressable, although Google and Facebook will have a limited view into this channel.

Traditional linear TV is hardly an “emerging device,” but with marketers striving to understand consumers holistically, someday soon the targeted reach and detailed measurement capabilities of digital ads will extend into this world and deliver the silver bullet that marketers crave.

In the meantime, with Google and Facebook entering the cross-device fray and a number of independent technology companies focusing on identity solutions for the past few years, brands, agencies and enterprises need to be thinking cross-device now more than ever. The days of siloed marketing channels are quickly coming to an end.

Rahul Bafna is vice president of product management and partnerships at cross-device programmatic platform provider Drawbridge.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.