The Ever-Moving Target of Cross-Device Tracking

The following is a guest contributed post by Keith Petri, Chief Strategy Officer at Screen6. Nearly every advertiser today understands the importance of cross-device tracking as it relates to delivering informed, seamless marketing and customer experiences. However, very few understand just how complicated and challenging...

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The following is a guest contributed post by Keith Petri, Chief Strategy Officer at Screen6.

Nearly every advertiser today understands the importance of cross-device tracking as it relates to delivering informed, seamless marketing and customer experiences. However, very few understand just how complicated and challenging it is to tap into reliable cross-device data.  The fact of the matter is that many marketers, via their tech vendors who utilize a cross-device graph, are relying on old data. Most cross-device graph providers are updating their client graphs on a weekly basis, which is an insufficient rate.

The need for fresh data in cross-device tracking is vital. In fact, research conducted by Screen6 (based on the analysis of trillions of server-to-server events) found that 40 percent of cookies decay within the first 24 hours due to the growing impact of cookieless environments. That’s right – 40 percent. So when you weigh that statistic against the fact that many cross-device graphs are being updated only on a weekly basis, the impact becomes clear: only a small percentage of that graph’s data can ultimately be leveraged for targeting, cross-screen profiling, frequency capping and other initiatives.

And for marketers who were just starting to feel comfortable about their cross-device tracking strategies: Apple moved the bar again, and in a big way this time. The predictions that have been circulating the industry for several months now—that Apple’s new iOS 11 mobile operating system will impact ability to use cookies to track users across sites and devices—have manifested in real-world impact. In November, Criteo reported that Apple’s new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature, rolled out with the latest version of its Safari browser, is expected to take a significant bite out of Criteo’s Q4 revenues. In 2018, the feature’s negative impact could be as high as 9-13 percent of revenue at the company.

Without a doubt, the impact of cookieless environments on cross-device tracking is growing. Unfortunately, Apple’s latest blow isn’t a singular disruptive anomaly in the cross-device marketing landscape. Rather, it’s a major wave in what was already a fluid and turbulent sea that will continue to roil beneath marketers’ ships.

As an industry, digital marketing can not afford to lose its grip on cross-device tracking. Not only does effective marketing depend on proper cross-device communications, but consumers have also increasingly come to realize that brands will be able to follow them intelligently across their myriad devices. The growing shift to cookieless environments threatens that ability, but marketers can adapt by putting renewed focus on the freshness of their data.

Of course, Apple’s iOS 11 move is the big disruptor here, given that Safari accounts for nearly half of all mobile web traffic in North America and a quarter in Europe, according to StatCounter. But this isn’t putting marketers behind the eight ball for the first time. In fact, marketers have been behind the eight ball with regard to their cross-device data for a long time.

The cookie decay problem facing our industry will only continue to worsen. As such, data freshness has never been as important as it is today in terms of cross-device targeting. As marketers, we must be moving toward real-time cross-device graphs built on immediate device ID identification and resolution. By making this shift, advertisers will be able to take advantage of their most recent traffic and make better decisions based on real-time matching.

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