The goal of analytics in the digital realm is to obtain an accurate, ongoing picture of customer behavior and how successful a company’s efforts are at guiding that behavior in desirable directions. This, of course, covers everything from tracking advertising campaigns to understanding how visitors use a website/app to what generates conversions to how customers behave after they make a purchase.
A new market reality is quickly smashing old assumptions regarding how to collect and analyze customer behavior data. This reality is the fact that most consumers are interacting with brands and publishers via multiple devices. The era of tracking customer behavior using browser cookies alone is history.
What this Reality Means
Mobile app usage already accounts for more than 50% of all time spent on digital media (comScore), Americans own an average of four digital devices and engage with media content across screens for more than 60 hours per week (Nielsen), and 90% of consumers accomplish online activities (such as researching and shopping online) using multiple devices (Google).
The bottom line is that companies still focusing on tracking based on cookies and other disparate IDs (such as those identifying mobile devices) are now tracking devices instead of people. This has a major impact on the reliability of analytics and, of course, the strategic decisions that are based on those analytics.
Here are some examples of how tracking devices instead of the people using them can mislead advertisers, consumer brands and digital publishers:
- Grossly overstated reach – Any company that simply tracks the number of devices accessing their website or app is overstating the actual number of people in their audiences. By a lot.
- Broken conversion attribution – Without knowing which consumers are behind each click, pageview and transaction, there is no way to accurately attribute which marketing efforts led to a conversion.
- Incomplete on-site/in-app activity tracking – How people use a site or app in one session without linking it with other sessions performed on different device yields a fragmented and inaccurate picture of how users are behaving on the site or in the app. This can easily lead to flawed product management decisions.
The Solution: Cross-Device Analytics
Cross-device analytics means enhancing existing analytics systems with a device map. A device map is a dataset that associates billions of devices (such as PC, laptop, tablet and smartphone) with the particular consumer using each one. By associating every ad view/click, on-site/in-app activity, purchase and so forth with an individual consumer, analytics systems can once again generate reports that reflect reality.
The device maps that cover the largest numbers of consumers and devices in any given market are called probabilistic device maps. These device maps are generated by analyzing vast amounts of non-personally-identifiable information produced by consumer devices. This approach relies on the collection of huge amounts of anonymous device activity data (such as IP addresses, WiFi network identifiers, GPS location data, device characteristics and browsing data) and sophisticated Big Data algorithms that can determine which devices are likely used by the same person. (Read more about this topic in the accompanying article, What is a Probabilistic Device Map?)
The Benefits of Cross-Device Analytics
Once analytics systems incorporate a device map, companies can:
- Accurately gauge the number of people — not just devices — accessing their content in each geographical region, and in aggregate
- Obtain a comprehensive picture of how users interact with a site or app, including understanding true usage frequency and user flow across multiple sessions via multiple devices
- Understand user flows across sessions and devices, including where consumers research, where they buy and on which combinations of devices they prefer to perform common activities
- Decipher the role of each activity on each device in the conversion process, allowing accurate conversion attribution
- Determine which marketing channels send the most traffic to which device platform and which lead to the most conversions and revenue
- Plan and improve advertising campaigns across multiple devices based on true per-channel data and conversion rates
- Personalize user experiences across devices based on data collected from disparate devices and linked to a particular user
Additional Benefits of Cross-Device User Identification
Beyond the analytics use cases discussed in this article, publishers, retailers and consumer brands can also derive many other important benefits by incorporating a device map into their existing systems:
- Consistent user experience across all devices – cross-device content personalization helps users feel at home in the site or app, regardless of the device used at any given time
- Uninterrupted user experience across all devices – for example, if a visitor doesn’t finish reading an article on one device, they can receive a “Continue reading?” link to the same article when they later access the site from a different device, even remembering where in the article the user was offering to continue from that point
- Cross-device offer personalization – increase conversions by presenting on-site/in-app offers based on interests previously recognized on other devices
- Cross-device advertising – target known users via additional devices
- Cross-device retargeting – capture a customer when timing is crucial, regardless of device
- Cross-device message frequency capping
- Cross-device sequential messaging campaigns
As companies face the reality that most users are already using multiple devices, and the ramifications this fact has on effective business practices, incorporating cross-device user identification has become a necessity for nearly every business.