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Programmatic 101: The Art and The Science of Cross-Device Targeting

Each month, Basis Technologies’ Programmatic 101 series tackles a different facet of programmatic advertising—from best practices for buyers, to competitors in the space, to trends you should know. Check out last month’s post to learn about the rise of the private marketplace (PMP)!

Voice-activated speakers, smart watches, connected TVs, tablets, and cell phones: With more devices than ever with which to reach consumers, why do they feel harder than ever to track?

According to a 2020 survey, the average American has access to more than 10 connected devices in their household. As our device ownership grows, advertisers are tasked with understanding consumer journeys across platforms, channels, and devices that don’t exactly speak to each other.

How do they do it? Enter cross-device targeting.

What Is Cross-Device Targeting and How Does It Work?

Cross-device targeting refers to the process of targeting one user across their multiple devices. You may be familiar with cross-device targeting if you’ve ever done sequential creative messaging, layered third-party audiences onto CTV inventory, or wanted to expand the reach of a hyperlocal campaign.

There are two main methods to tap into when it comes to cross-device tracking: deterministic and probabilistic data.

Deterministic data relies on a one-to-one match between devices through login data. Any company that requires a consumer to log in can create a deterministic data set—because no matter what device a user logs in with, their login information remains the same. While deterministic data is highly accurate, its scale is limited, as it relies on one data point to match consumers to devices.

Probabilistic data, on the other hand, is based on a variety of data points such as device type, operating system, browsing history, and IP address. Data companies use advanced audience models to see if they can confidently predict a group of devices—or device graph—that belongs to the same user. Probabilistic data isn’t limited in terms of scale, making it most advertisers’ first choice when it comes to cross-device targeting.

Benefits of Cross-Device Targeting

There are countless benefits to reaching a consumer at the various devices they interact with throughout their days, but here are the big three:

1. Increase Scale

When advertisers elect to use cross-device targeting, they get access to more touchpoints (and more impressions) with highly qualified users. For example, let’s say you’re working on an e-commerce strategy and know that if a potential customer lands on your website they are fifty percent more likely to convert. With cross-device, you can re-engage with customers via multiple devices, ensuring that your brand is top of mind and increasing the probability that they’ll convert.

2. Improve Attribution

The ever-increasing complexity of our industry makes it quite difficult to track a potential customer from the first ad to the last ad they’re served. Walled gardens, a lack of cookie data, and the surge in screen ownership all make it difficult for marketers to answer questions like:

  • What’s the ideal frequency for a campaign?
  • What platform or creative type is driving purchases?
  • What should a media mix look like for an awareness versus a conversion campaign?

When advertisers tap into cross-device tracking, they can use device graphs to better understand a consumer’s action path. Understanding that customer journey is priceless information for marketers because it leads to smarter planning and optimizations.

3. Provide Moments of Personalization

One of the most powerful tools digital advertisers have is the ability to serve the right ad, in the right place, at the right time. Advertisers can take advantage of a device graph to control how their brand story is being told and customize their messaging depending on what part of the funnel a user is in. 

When To Use Cross-Device Targeting

Here are some common scenarios where cross-device targeting often makes sense:

  • Running connected tv inventory with a need to layer on third-party data
  • Selling a product with a long sales cycle
  • Launching a new product
  • Working with small geographies or first-party audiences
  • Tapping into hyperlocal inventory with a need for additional scale
  • Executing a dynamic creative strategy

Of course, each strategy is unique, and there are plenty of ways to get creative with cross-device targeting. In other words, now that we’ve covered the basic science of this marketing tool—the art is up to you!

Want a deeper dive into how marketers can track consumers across devices? Check out Basis Technologies’ Data Essentials certification.