There's no doubt that "cross-device" is one of the biggest buzzwords in today's ad tech landscape, and it's gaining mindshare every day. As users are increasingly moving across their smartphones, tablets, desktops and back again, marketers are increasingly interested in following users across those devices, and are reliant on strong cross-device strategies to do so. This is a fast-evolving field, and if we look back at the last few years, we can get a better handle on where it will be in the years ahead.
Three years ago, any discussion around “cross-device” was focused on identification, or pairing users to their devices. With the original iPad and Galaxy Tab launching in 2010, and more brands releasing tablets in 2011, tablet adoption soared. There are now 200 million tablets delivered globally every year, according to Strategy Analytics, and thus the total amount of global devices has surged. Several companies were founded or moved into the field of tackling cross-device identification, and now it seems like everyone says they can do “cross-screen” or “cross-device.”
Whether identifying users using known login data (a deterministic approach), or using ad requests and other data to make predictions about user identity (a probabilistic approach), the first major step in “cross-device” was connecting the dots between users and their smartphones, tablets, and desktops. At this time, most “cross-device” campaigns were limited on targeting, scale, and post-campaign attribution.
Though serving ads on multiple devices for campaigns was commonplace three years ago, it wasn’t until two years ago that cross-device targeting and retargeting started to become available. Walled-garden environments, such as email clients, search platforms and social media networks relying on login information can’t easily scale, and mobile cookies present challenges due to limitations on iOS specifically. Add to that the myriad OS platforms and manufacturers’ device ID systems, and it’s clear why the cookie is challenged.
Ad tech companies developed new technology to circumvent these limitations, using desktop and mobile browsing data to deliver targeted and retargeted ads in mobile web and apps for the first time. Advertisers clamored to use these latest innovations to boost their engagement, CTR, and performance metrics. But the system was still missing a key piece of the puzzle.
Determining proper attribution across devices is a powerful and relatively recent development. If an end user needs a new TV and has some time to kill, they may perform a search on their mobile device, click on an ad, but quickly decide the task of purchasing a large TV is better suited for a desktop computer. At home, the user goes straight to the same website and makes a purchase. Up until recently, the vendor would assume that someone clicked on the mobile ad and did not buy, and then another user came to the site organically and made a purchase. The attribution model was broken. Today, cross-device technology cannot only be used to identify users and deliver targeted ads, but marketers can leverage the technology to attribute conversions across devices.
In a matter of just three years, the industry has moved from starting to identify users across screens, to a point where there are now programmatic platforms that are used to buy and sell ad inventory, manage targeted campaigns, and attribute conversions across devices. Imagine what we’ll see in the next three years.
Next: True Cross-Device Advertising
My prediction is that in the near future, we won’t be discussing cross-device at all. Not because the concept will fade away, but because true cross-device programmatic platforms will allow for completely device-neutral advertising. All campaigns will naturally be across all devices, including today’s TV, tablet, phone, and desktop mix, as well as any wearables, cars, or any other future platforms where ads are served. Plus, with dynamic creative and geo-targeting, advertising will become even more relevant and useful for consumers.
Today we live in a cross-device world, but tomorrow we’ll live in a device-neutral world. As technology and advertising evolve, the boundaries between our screens will break, and we’ll have a seamless user experience as we interact with our devices.