Has cross-device tracking had its day?

Has cross-device tracking had its day?
Opinion: Partner content

Adapt to the decline of cross-device tracking and embrace on-device processing to create more meaningful moments with your audiences.

Cross-device tracking has long been used by brands to build more consistent messaging across a variety of media when delivering ad campaigns. This is understandable when you consider that the average person interacts with nine different apps every day and is connected to 3.6 devices at any one time.

However, cross-device tracking is becoming increasingly impractical, prompting marketers to wonder whether it’s feasible to be everywhere at once. The short answer is no.

Growing room for error

Cross-device tracking works by mapping user activity across devices using shared Identifiers — allowing the delivery of ads to that same user across those devices. However, this can be ineffective as consumers increasingly input inaccurate information — such as fake email addresses — to avoid being targeted.

Then there’s the increasing emphasis on user privacy to consider. Third-party cookies will soon become extinct, and Google’s current replacement, Topics API, available exclusively on Google Chrome, will provide only general information about a person’s interests. Keeping cross-device tracking alive means brands having to combine a range of datasets, leaving significant room for error, and ultimately ending hyper-specific targeting as we have come to know it. The result would be irrelevant, often irritating ads that are at odds with consumers’ growing expectations around personalised experiences.

In this climate, the use of traditional identifiers will become increasingly insufficient for marketers to map out users’ online journeys. Nonetheless, this challenge could be viewed as an opportunity for the industry to create better ads, by leaning into solutions that support effective targeting in a non-intrusive way.

On-device processing

With identifiers potentially fading into obsolescence, marketers must turn to other indicators to deliver relevant, timely content to their target audiences. This is where on-device processing comes in. The processing of the user request takes place entirely on the device itself, rather than on Cloud or SaaS software. This creates a huge trove of information, ranging from app usage patterns to step count, and opens up specific benefits for advertisers without identifying an individual user or accessing their personal data.

At an administrative level, ad teams can analyse data locally without having to send it to external servers, staying on the right side of ever-tighter data privacy laws. At a creative level, advertising firms can provide unique, relevant, and beneficial adverts for their users at the right time, to boost engagement and update them as the data changes.

For example, advertisers can use GPS data to provide tailored location-based adverts. Then, as the location of the device changes, they can conduct real-time analysis; what the user wants, what they think, and what they prefer.

On-device processing tells us when a person works, when they exercise, when they watch videos, when they listen to music, even when they play games. It tells us what sort of content a person is likely to engage with, whether it be a political podcast or a fitness guru’s Instagram page. All this information enables marketers to understand consumers and when they are most likely to engage.

These benefits will only be accentuated as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies, two of the most important tools in the modern advertiser’s kitbag, become more sophisticated.

It’s not adapt-or-fail. It’s adapt-and-thrive

It’s easy to be complacent about the decline of third-party cookies, and the associated challenges around cross-device tracking; particularly with Google extending its deadline for the phasing-out process. But there are other significant reasons why brands need to adapt sooner rather than later.

Studies suggest four-fifths of consumers are now concerned about how their data is used, preferring companies that are more transparent with their data collection and targeting techniques. Moreover, huge fines meted out to Meta and others for privacy breaches have cemented the urgency for brands to adapt or risk their own bottom line.

But adapting isn’t just about minimising risk. It’s about getting closer to audiences by moving away from intrusive, impersonal shortcuts like third-party cookies. Embracing a more localised, privacy-safe approach based, not on data, but on real understanding, enables brands to enter the next big era of effective advertising and create meaningful moments with their audiences.

All the challenges in the way of cross-device tracking have inadvertently created a golden opportunity for brands to explore. And with competition between brands at an all-time high, it’s time to realise that it’s not the cross-device targeting way or the highway. There are other solutions and approaches marketers can adopt — both contextual and addressable — so they can stop chasing consumers around the internet.

Nick Pinks is CEO at Covatic

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