Establishing Identity in a Cross-Device World

Written by Tim Edmundson

Jan 17, 2019 8 Min Read

People just don’t use the internet like they used to. If you go back 15 years ago, people were primarily using desktops. Now you wake up, check your phone, browse around a bit, maybe switch to a tablet while eating breakfast, and then it’s off to work where you’re on your laptop doing business and browsing cat memes. We’re a cross-device people now.

That’s why cross-device capabilities are so important to marketers — we’d be lost without it. It paints a picture of who customers are, what devices they use, how the spend their time, what they’re interested in — it creates an identity. And identity is the real value cross-device provides. Identity is the person on the other side of the ad, and if we as marketers can better communicate with them, we can do our jobs better.

So how do we better establish identity through cross-device? And once we’ve done that, how can it be leveraged to maximize performance?

What Does Cross-Device Mean?

Before we dive in, let’s establish what cross-device means. Most marketers understand it as a way to track users across multiple devices, but it’s more than that. Here’s what cross-device capabilities unlock for marketers:

  • Targeting Across Devices | Cross-device enables marketers to target users consistently across all the devices they use, or suppress audiences they aren’t interested in.
  • Consistent Messaging | Once you are able to target users, you need to serve them the right ads. Since we know John Doe is using a desktop AND his phone, it ensures the content in those ads is the same across both devices and the messaging remains consistent.
  • Accurate Attribution | Cross-device lets marketers track where users are exposed to ads, which helps inform more accurate visit rate, conversion tracking, and other important metrics.

Building Identity with Data

Modern marketing is built on the idea you can build accurate profiles of individuals, which includes devices, browsing habits, interests, etc. After all, marketers need to know they’re reaching the right audience to be able to provide value. These profiles are built with two types of data: Deterministic and probabilistic. So what are those?

  • Deterministic Data | Data that is known to be true; for example, when a user logs into a system, the system can be confident of the identity of that user.
  • Probabilistic Data | Compiled from different anonymous data sources from a user’s browsing behavior.

Facebook and Google have a huge advantage in this arena thanks to being walled gardens. Because users log into their networks, there is very little doubt as to who these users are. This is an example of deterministic data, because they can determine it’s a specific user because that user is logged in to their account. This is a huge reason why Facebook and Google are such effective ad platforms — advertisers can have full confidence in who their ads are reaching.

But the internet is a lot bigger than Facebook and Google, which means there’s a lot of uncertainty out there. This is where probabilistic data comes in, which is actually how the majority of cross-device operates. Cross-device capabilities play a large role here — by tracking something like an IP addresses and tying it to a user, you can determine what other devices that user has when they connect to the IP address as well. This helps build an identity profile, but it’s not 100% certain. Instead, it amounts to educated guesses, and as time goes on, these guesses get more and more accurate as more data is collected and confirmed. But your mileage may vary in this regard — which is why choosing the right cross-device partner is so important.

Why Identity Matters for Performance

Any brand worth their salt wants all their advertising efforts to match the quality of identity found within walled gardens. To accomplish that, they need the right cross-device partner who can connect user data and create accurate identity profiles of potential audiences.

These profiles are created with something called a device graph, which tracks the devices people use to access the internet. When you combine device usage with other data tied to those users, it creates an identity which can then be segmented into different audiences. These graphs are made more accurate as more data is added to them.

SteelHouse has partnered with Drawbridge for this very reason, as their ability to provide accurate user information in real time across all devices is best in class. This enables us to provide our advertisers with a wealth of accurate targeting data across all devices. And this gives advertisers the ability to reach users, based on identity data, when and where they spend their digital time.  

Our data shows just how effective a service like Drawbridge provides really is. Based on a random collection of advertisers, here’s what activating cross-device capabilities gave us:

  • 76% Boost in Reach | It not only increased reach but did so to users we knew were already engaged. For example, one advertiser was set up with a campaign which targeted cart abandoners. Because cross-device was enabled, users weren’t just targeted on the device where they abandoned their cart, but instead all devices and browsers, increasing the touch points and chances of conversion.  
  • 25% Higher ROAS | Because we are targeting engaged shoppers and maximizing exposure, the conversion rates soared. Cross-device has a big impact on your bottom line.

Leverage Identity for Better Performance

Advertisers need to match the accuracy of walled gardens without sacrificing reach, which is why a hybrid approach combining deterministic and probabilistic data is the right way forward. Deterministic data is great, but it is extremely limited (it stays in those walled gardens). Probabilistic data lacks in certainly, but provides massive amount of reach — and has an added advantage of becoming more accurate as more data is added. Relying solely on either approach is just too limiting, but combining both creates a more accurate identity that reaches across all devices and a much wider range of the internet. This is the future of creating better identity, which in turn means better advertiser performance.

The more we know about our user’s identity, the better we can advertise to them. But there’s more to it than just knowing who they are and what they like — that data needs to be actionable. That’s why real-time capability is so important — it allows advertisers to seize the buying moments and capture intent to purchase. And importantly, this real time data is valuable when it comes to reporting. The SteelHouse Advertising Suite’s analytics are available in real-time, and these capabilities ensure the accuracy of the data that populate our advertiser’s performance.

Cross-device capabilities build a foundation for modern digital advertising, and the performance we listed earlier goes to show what sort of impact that foundation can make. If you want to be able to reach your customers when and where they’re spending their time online, let’s talk.