In an era of multi-device ownership, the opportunity to identify, engage, acquire and retain customers more efficiently and effectively across multiple digital devices, sounds great for brands, doesn’t it? Brands can even track consumers as they switch connection points from WiFi to 3G, or from a personal hotspot to a dongle. So why isn’t cross-device a staple part of brands’ advertising campaigns yet?
Cross-device or “probabilistic targeting” can sound a little like a science project using various algorithms and technology platforms to piece together elements of a consumer’s digital profile. However, this method of targeting is nothing new. TV, Out of Home, print and radio are the oldest forms of “probabilistic” targeting, Brands have grown comfortable targeting their consumers based on the same methodology and inaccuracies that mobile is often labelled with. Do you really have any idea who is in the room when your TVC is screened? You are simply inferring from the genre of TV program that your target consumer is likely to be in front of the TV at that point. Now, just as traditional media has been planned and/or bought probabilistically for years, it has also been measured with a concoction of assumptions and audience surveys to demonstrate that brands’ advertising dollars drove sales. But how do you really know that a consumer was exposed to your TVC or happened to stumble across your print ad on the commute to work and then subsequently purchased your product? Understanding how media – not just mobile, but desktop and traditional media too – drops in and out of the consumer buying process is very much a work in progress. Although in the meantime, it’s encouraging to see the “last click wins” mentality of desktop finally being challenged by brands.
Perhaps the biggest red herring with cross-device is the belief that the golden bullet for brands is being able to sequentially serve and frequency-cap messaging across multiple screens to individual users. Setting the scale issue aside, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a consumer didn’t want to see your ad on one screen, then they may well not want to see it on two or three others. So should brands focus instead on cross-device consumer experiences rather than advertising? This is a lesson Facebook learned after failing with its initial HTML 5 and responsive web designs to try and provide content at scale for its billions of users. It realized that native applications had to be the way forward and trying to use non-native web technology designed for desktop and not mobile would fail. Take the latest Windows OS: Windows 10 enables users to work with documents in Office in a Universal App format, allowing you to pick up documents where you left off across devices. This is not in-site advertising but just a great user experience – provided you are working across a Windows PC, Lumia Phone and a Surface Pro 3. Surely, this is where brands should be focussing their attention and providing personalized content and services to users on any screen of their choosing.
When thinking about consumer preference, for certain audiences, is cross-device advertising even really relevant? Let’s take “millennials” for whom mobile is the “first screen” and increasingly the only screen via which they communicate and transact. What is the role of cross-device for them? Take the mobile app Line for example; in Japan, no longer do young people swap email addresses or even phone numbers; they swap Line IDs. Line has become the default form of communication for youngsters in countries like Taiwan, Japan and Thailand. In the US, it already has 27 million subscribers and counting, right in Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat’s backyard. For this generation, their world very much revolves around one device as they hop from one app to another.
As human beings, our default setting is one of comfort. Just as we flock to Starbucks for its standardization, so do brands embrace traditional media for its familiarity. With mobile, there is still too much unknown for some. Targeting on a probabilistic basis is like telling your chief marketing officer that you’ll “probably” hit your KPIs for the quarter. Working toward industry standards on key issues such as cross device measurement and creating a standard universal ID will enable us to more effectively prove the value of mobile.
Brands also need to take a step back and get some perspective. No different to the current mobile hot topic of “location”, cross-device is simply another data point for brands to leverage – another way of building up their consumer profiles. Brands must use data to build a relationship with their target audience; not send out coupons, SMS and mobile banners wildly to every cookie or device ID they can get their hands on, in the hope that a certain percentage will convert into a download, sale, test drive or product demo. Consumers are smarter than that; they expect more. They deserve more. Your consumers are not cookies, devices or advertiser IDs, latitudes/longitudes or deal IDs – they are people.