WTF is cross-device tracking? And what you need to know about it

Cross-device tracking is a popular marketing term used to describe our ability to observe customers’ behavior as they navigate between devices. Here’s how it works in real life. For example, you might hear about a new product while you’re watching television. Because you’re already surfing Facebook on your tablet, you might simply search for the product in Facebook or Google. That’s one touch point. On Monday morning, you might need a little break (and some retail therapy) during work and revisit that site from your smartphone. That’s two touch points. You see a promotional offering, so you enter your email. That’s three. Then it’s back to the grind until you get home, shift through your email again, and complete the purchase – promo code and all – from your desktop computer. That’s four. At minimum.
Unless you enter your email and log in each time you visit that site, chances are that this company thinks you are a new user every time you visit. This makes it difficult for them to know what type of information you need at any given time. During the discovery phase, you may simply want general product information. Eventually, you may want to see social proof of how other customers liked your product, promo codes, and deep benefit descriptions. Knowing what customers are really looking for allows you or your digital marketing agency to better meet your prospects needs.

If you’re new to the cross-device debate, here is everything you need to know about why it’s important and what we can and cannot do for our customers.

What exactly is cross-device tracking:

Right now, cross device tracking is somewhat limited. As we mentioned above, unless a customer logs in on each device, which they usually don’t because there’s no intrinsic value in logging in until they’re ready to make a purchase, your digital marketing agency will be somewhat blind about cross-device behavior.

Right now, companies use a combination of website cookies from past logins and IP address mapping to make rough estimates about who is doing what, where, and when. In other words, that’s a lot of guess work. Customers that surf the web on a private browser or clear their cache and delete or restrict their cookies, complicate this issue even further.

Why do businesses care about tracking:

Although it may seem like a lot of work to crack the cross-device question, businesses know there is huge value in understanding this piece of user behavior. When you consider companies such as Amazon or Netflix that recognize their customers across devices and applications, the value becomes a little clearer.

These companies are able to carefully select and serve content based on their customers’ behavior. Usually, we see this in the form of product recommendations, suggested automatic reorders, and highly tailored promotional offerings that drive sales. A good digital marketing agency can also parse out the type of content a customer needs on a certain device. For example, most big-ticket purchases, such as a cruise or vacation, may start with some research and discovery on a mobile device or tablet, but the sale itself almost always happens on a desktop computer. Conversely, close to 40% of small retail goods are sold via a mobile device or app. The customer experience is not a one device fits all model, and your marketing shouldn’t be either.

Are there any solutions out there:

Aside from Amazon and Netflix, two companies that notoriously nail cross-device tracking are Google and Facebook. Because these brands allow and encourage users to stay logged in on a variety of devices, they are able to track customer exit and entry points to and from their sites. That means they know where you’re going when you leave (see, that advertisement for a new gym in town really did work!), and where you’re coming from. This success is compounded because many other sites use Facebook or Google as a single sign on entry point to log in or register for their sites, expanding these social media giants’ visibility even further.

Recently, Adobe also announced the arrival of an up-and-coming cross-device co-op. The premise hinges on a variety of companies sharing data about their existing customers to close this gap. The good news for customers is that no co-op participants will receive additional private or personal data. That is to say, if your customer entered an email address and phone number on one site, but visited a second site and only provided their name, neither company will receive that additional information. Instead of sharing data, the co-op will simply provide insight into how customers are migrating between devices so marketers can do their job better. Although many details of the co-op are still private, Adobe worked with the Forum for Future Privacy to ensure customers were fully protected as they built this information exchange.

How will this impact my business:

If done right, successful cross-device tracking will allow marketers to cut back on advertising clutter, and encourage every advertising agency to get crisper about what they release in the market. Long-term, it could mean fewer advertisements and the emergence of more relevant, tailored content. In the short-term, it enables businesses to begin targeting content to their customers’ expectations, which will also improve the customer experience.

Cross-device tracking is still a relatively new marketing discipline, but you and your content marketing agency will undoubtedly find new ways to harness this potential as more products like Adobe’s cross-device co-op make it easier to serve your customers the right information at the right time.