Cross-device technologies are the new holy grail of ad targeting. We take a closer look at the ongoing quest for the universal methodology for cross-screen & channels identification

The digital marketing world had been long dominated by the cookie –  a tiny piece of data sent from a website and stored in the user’s browser while surfing the internet. But technologies have been evolving rapidly, and with them the level of devices involvement: in today’s multiscreen world we switch from laptop to smartphone to tablet an average of 21 times in a single hour![1] This is why the cookie is no longer enough – marketers are now trying to identify users across devices, smartphones, tablets and desktops aiming to connect a single user to a specific device, and target it accordingly.  In the words of Brian Anderson from LUMA Partners, “we were talking about the cookie – now we’re talking about cross-device… it is a critical component in the marketplace in order to provide mass personalization”.[2]

Inside cross-device targeting – winners and losers

Image credit: Nathan DanielsThe post-cookie marketing landscape faces numerous new opportunities and challenges: how to target the same user across different devices? One of the main issues is privacy, which was resolved in the case of cookies with notice/consent requirements and do-not-track, while the cross-device tracking is imposing new privacy issues, due to its novel technology.

User identity across devices can be established with two methods:

  • Deterministic approach is related to the log in data, usually an email address used to log into multiple devices, for example on Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc
  • Probabilistic method on the other hand is based on device related data such as IP address, device model, OS, browser type, location etc, that are useful for creating statistical connections between devices

Some of the biggest global companies are investing into cross-device targeting trends. According to, Oracle and Adobe, two giants in marketing software and related data services, have partnered and invested in new ways to link consumers’ laptops, tablets and phones in the hopes of targeting and measuring marketing efforts in a more cohesive way across devices. Oracle is doing this through a partnership with device identity firm Drawbridge, while Adobe has built a co-op for current clients to share anonymized device ID information.

Quite reasonably, as described in deterministic approach,  Google,  Twitter and Facebook that have users sign in with one profile at every touchpoint have no issues with cross-device targeting. Google is a leader of this market, with numerous products that work across mobile and desktop, all of which use Gmail or Google Plus profile to log in.

When it comes to marketers, the recent insight by eMarketer shows that without the unique identifier, providing the data that advertisers want is often at the discretion of whichever platform or property is promising cross-device capabilities. This creates difficulties also for the measurement of these campaigns; without a universal methodology for cross-screen identification and execution, there can be no alignment between publishers and providers. A March 2015 survey conducted by cross-channel marketing firm Signal found that just 6% of marketers worldwide reported an adequate single view of customers or prospects across all devices and touchpoints.

One thing is sure: as technology advances the stakes will become higher and the players more competitive – it is surely a trend to observe carefully in 2016.