stack of digital devices
PHOTO: Hal Gatewood

According to Gartner, every marketer should have cross-device identification (XDID) technologies on their radar. The research firm highlighted XDID as one of six marketing technologies to watch. The list also included: mobile marketing analytics, multitouch attribution, predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and customer data platforms.

“Make 2018 the year you graduate from cookies to XDID,” Gartner contributor Chris Pemberton wrote in a blog post. “Marketing leaders turn to XDID for sophisticated ad targeting, personalization and measurement capabilities as means to counter the mounting pressure to deliver consistent, sequential experiences across channels.” 

What Is Cross-Device Identification?

Before we explore how marketers are using this technology, let’s take a quick look at what XDID actually means, where it sits in the marketing technology stack and what kinds of methodologies marketers deploy to achieve successful customer experience outcomes. 

What Does Cross-Device ID Tech Do?

According to Rachel Curasi, senior media planner/buyer for R2i, XDID allows marketers to target users across all of their devices and channels. Marketers, she wrote in a blog post, can match a smartphone, laptop, tablet, Fitbit, Smart TV or any connected device to a specific individual. They can also track how consumers use these devices to navigate between websites, social channels and public portals.

How Does Cross-Device ID Tech Replace HTTP Cookies? 

Karolina Matuszewska of Piwik PRO wrote about XDID this week. She noted while cookies have been able to successfully track online desktop users, on smartphones, tablets, or other similar devices, whenever a user closes the browser, their cookies are reset. "They simply weren’t designed for a multi-device reality," she wrote.

According to Kurt Hawks, SVP of cross device and video at Conversant, accurate and persistent cross-device identification requires marketers to move beyond a reliance on cookies. "True cross-device identification can only take place when marketers have a complete view of their customers," Hawks told CMSWire. "That means creating rich customer profiles that grow with customers over time — which cookies do not enable — and is a very difficult task when not collecting or using (personally identifiable information)." 

Where Does XDID Typically Rest in the MarTech Stack?

In the MarTech ecosystem, cross-device ID technology sits in the data management platforms (DMP) space. The Oracle Data Management Platform Audience Builder is one example. Marketing technology vendor dataxu offers a OneView identity and data management platform. Adobe offers in its Adobe Experience Cloud a Device Co-op Documentation program, which processes device-link data to form device clusters. The Salesforce Data Management Platform by Krux builds profiles of users that spans browsers and devices.

Scott Brinker, vice president of platform ecosystem at HubSpot and author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, said customer data platforms (CDPs) are headed in the direction of cross-device understanding, but most of them aren't at a stage where they can match across anonymous device touchpoints.

Related Article: Marry Customer Data Platforms and Master Data Management for Your Customer Data Needs

Deterministic vs. Probabilistic XDID

XDID includes two methods of targeting audiences and pushing out relevant experiences: deterministic and probabilistic. The former uses known user data to match a user to a series of devices — think email addresses, social media logins, etc. “While this method is accurate and highly scalable,” R2i's Curasi wrote, “the drawback for marketers is that customer data is not portable — that is, businesses are unable to take that data outside of the platform to use internally across other marketing platforms.”

The probabilistic method embraces anonymized data signals like IP address, browser type, location and choice of operating system, according to Curasi. The approach may reach more consumers and offers more control and flexibility, but this method can be less accurate, according to Curasi. She points to its reliance on "probable inferences about an individual" which rely greatly on the data available and directly impact the level of confidence a business can have in the results. 

Gartner encourages marketers to explore each approach: deterministic and probabilistic. “Deterministic XDID,” Gartner’s Pemberton wrote, “capitalizes on insights derived from specific usernames or email addresses, while probabilistic XDID uses more speculative information drawn from different data types to collectively map probable IDs.”

Related Article: Solving the Digital Experience Puzzle to Drive Customer Loyalty

Cross Device or Cross Experiences?

But is cross-device identification the holy grail for connecting consumer experiences across devices? Not quite because customer experience goes beyond technology and connecting devices, according to Hawks of Conversant, who blogged about the topic in Ad Age. Hawks asked: Do we want to simply connect various devices to each other? Or is cross device just a piece of the larger consumer-centric puzzle? "I firmly believe it is the latter," he wrote, "and when it comes to executing on your larger marketing strategies, talking about cross device in a vacuum is putting the proverbial (shopping) cart before the horse."

Marketers, he contends, should not focus on simply connecting devices together. "It's about," Hawks wrote, "understanding a consumer across all of their devices and being able to efficiently deliver truly personalized messaging at the most opportune moments based on that understanding."

Related Article: The Rocky Path to Personalization

All About Understanding the Person Behind the Device

No matter what the technology can do, what good is it without good people insights? Jay Stocki, head of strategy and CMO at Experian, told CMSWire that properly and accurately identifying people and communicating with them on a personal level are two of the basic tenets of marketing. “And, with hundreds of digital touchpoints to connect with a person’s offline identity, the former needs to happen before the latter can come to fruition,” he added. 

Ajit Thupil, senior director of product management for Oracle Data Cloud, told CMSWire building relationships means not treating consumers as complete strangers at each individual touchpoint. He called cross-device an imperative for being “intelligent marketers and understanding when and where the consumer wants to be reached.” Marketers must be able to reach the same verified individual no matter what screen they're using, he added.

Question Your Potential Cross-Device Vendor

Thupil suggested marketers ask vendors questions about their cross-device identification offering such as:

  • Can we test your solution? 
  • How do you test? 
  • What does your test evaluate? 
  • What reports will you provide for us?
  • How are identity assets sourced: are data sets owned or licensed? 
  • How are quality connections ensured? 
  • Are both online and offline identifiers linked? 
  • Do cross-device capabilities span internationally? 
  • Is the identity solution using best-in-class privacy safeguards to ensure compliance with local laws?

"Asking these important questions to identity providers will ensure you’re getting the most out of your identity solutions and providing your consumers with a seamless cross-device experience," Thupil said. "The most clever, compelling and timely content will result in wasted spend if it’s not being shown to the right person. Targeting helps identify the right audience for a given campaign objective."

Be Mindful of Privacy Relative to GDPR

Naturally, as marketers and brands must balance their desire for customer insights with customer's desire for privacy, especially in light of the recently launched GDPR. Conversant's Hawks told CMSWire GDPR is about consumer transparency and choice. Cross-device identification, he added, is about recognizing individuals across their devices, and understanding those consumers in order to provide the most relevant messages. "Although the GDPR is not expected to have much impact on cross-device identification," Hawks said, "companies should adhere to the GDPR by ensuring that their privacy policies properly reflect that cross-device identification is taking place and making sure the consumer fully understands their choices, particularly if a choice is made pertaining to one device rather than all of their devices."

Related Article: How to Obtain Consent, Remain GDPR-Compliant and Not Alienate Your Customers

Challenging Multi-Device Ecosystem

Keeping up with the devices is not an easy process for marketers but XDID can help, according to Matt Garrepy, chief digital officer at Solodev. Consumers, he said, have become “fluid” users: researching a product on Amazon with an iPhone, receiving an email response on a tablet and finally making a purchase on an office laptop during lunch which makes it challenging for businesses to identify the same buyer throughout the journey. "But (XDID) is finally bridging this gap between data, devices and applications,” said Garrepy. 

XDID can help marketers determine things like where a user’s research begins and at what point they jumped from mobile to desktop. Brands, he said, have spent years, possibly decades, developing their story and sharing that story with audiences. "Cross-device identification gives marketers a prime opportunity to personalize that brand messaging into the lives of their consumers on a variety of devices they use."

However, not making use of leads developed by this technology can lead to “awkwardly segmented marketing,” or as Garrepy describes it, marketing that lacks in the authentic engagement desired by a growing number of buyers, especially Millennials and Gen Zers. 

Match Data to Right User, Keep Brand Story Resonating

Garrepy encourages marketers to remember these factors when pursuing XDID technology:

  • Make sure to use as many identifiers as possible to keep channels and devices together for each user. That reduces the chance of data being incorrectly paired with an incorrect user.
  • Be sure to gather as much data as possible across a variety of platforms. This gives you more points throughout a campaign for your messaging to reach a customer. Effective XDID combines the online and offline data from different channels with data collected across all devices.
  • Make sure your customers continue to see the brand itself — not the channel or device you use to deliver your brand’s story. In fact, that part should almost feel invisible to the user, so they’re solely focused on the promise of your brand’s digital experience.