How to Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

How to Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Are you advertising to your prospects and customers where and when it counts?

I’m talking in the app, on the phone, and around the desktop?

90% of today’s consumers bounce back and forth between devices when making purchases. When you consider that 65% of the revenue generated online comes from purchases that are made across multiple channels, you have little choice but to target users with ads regardless of the device they’re using to access these channels.

 Any wonder then why research indicates that in 2016 half of all marketing budgets will be earmarked for multi-screen advertising campaigns?

Integrated cross-device targeting promises conversion lifts that are the envy of less-sophisticated single device marketing efforts that seemingly ignore the shift in purchasing behavior; the path to purchase is now often a meandering mobile adventure that passes through multiple devices.

These devices cannot be ignored if you want to maximize results.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Forrester

If you’re like 80-percent of the marketers Experian surveyed recently, you’re already planning a cross-channel campaign.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Experian Marketing Services

The problem is you probably won’t execute as well as you could.

Yes, it’s difficult to target and track users across devices. But it won’t likely be long before you can no longer afford to ignore mobile devices just because they are challenging to integrate into a multi-screen campaign.

Keep in mind that 31% of the customers who turned to digital channels to make their last purchase used multiple devices along the way. Now take a look at the mix of devices used during the purchasing decision making process:

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Forrester

While cross-device targeting is now the top mobile marketing priority in 2015, marketers concede they often lack the time, money, and expertise required to successfully execute these types of campaigns.

The problem may run even deeper though.

A recent survey of 3,000 marketing professionals revealed nearly half of the corporate respondents lacked even a basic mobile marketing strategy:

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Adobe

If an organization lacks a basic mobile strategy then it seems highly unlikely they’ll have a robust cross-device cross-channel advertising strategy. The consequences of not having a strategy or executing an ineffective plan can jeopardize your ecommerce future:

  • You’re either missing out on sales or leaving money on the table if you’re not cross-device targeting
  • Or you’re wasting time and treasure without generating desirable returns if your strategy is being executed wrong

Either way, the mobile multi-device world is moving on without you.

Before we provide you with three guideposts that’ll put you on the path to becoming a master cross-device targeter, you’re going to fall in love with the rewards that come with touching your prospects across screens.

Cross-Device Heaven

Want to know Shutterfly’s secret?

The one the company relies on to persuade you to upload all of those pictures on your phone and create photobooks you don’t really need but love anyway.

After Shutterfly began tracking customers’ cross-device behavior in AdWords, it realized the buying process often began on mobile and ended on desktop. With this in mind the company optimized its multi-screen approach which resulted in a 60x increase in mobile conversions and a 19x increase in desktop conversions. In response, Shutterfly increased its mobile spend and now says year-over-year conversions are up 115x.

The cross-device results were similar for off-road vehicle maker Jeep, which used second and third party data to achieve a 43% increase in desktop CTR for users who were first exposed to a mobile ad.

Unfortunately, according to this research project, more than two-thirds of you are missing out on the conversion lift that can accompany cross-device targeting. Just 29% of corporate survey respondents are tracking users across channels or visitor stitching (connecting a mobile user’s identity with his or her desktop identity):

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Adobe

Clearly, cross-device targeting allows marketers to extend the reach of their campaigns like never before. It’s likely one reason why 75% of the 201 media buyers surveyed in this study say touching users across devices has increased the effectiveness of their campaigns.

So why aren’t more marketers hopping on board the cross-device bandwagon?

Researchers call it the desktop bias.

Since the majority of online purchases are still completed on a desktop (29%), marketers place a greater degree of importance on their desktop sites (71%). It means their mobile counterparts as well as smartphone and tablet applications are getting less attention:

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Adobe

Even worse, desktop bias is not even the biggest obstacle standing in the way of you and cross-device heaven.

Cross-Device Hell

Ever wonder how to figure out if that desktop user clicking on a certain product is the same mobile user who keeps abandoning cart? Or once you do identify users on one large platform why you seemingly have to start the identification process from scratch on a different platform?

Welcome to cross-device targeting hell!

In this Experian study, which surveyed marketers at one hundred of the world’s leading brands, respondents revealed the biggest barrier to executing a cross-device marketing campaign was a siloed marketing organization:

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Experian

If your own marketing department isn’t integrated it’s not likely you’ll be successful in integrating a user’s experience with your brand across devices. It also means it’s unlikely you’ll be able to accurately track users as they hop between devices. This is a problem one-third of marketers know well:

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Jivox

For the purpose of this piece, let’s assume you have your marketing house in order, are able to execute an integrated campaign, but are struggling with tracking, targeting, and attributing. In this case, you have two culprits to blame for your troubles:

  1. Our addiction to cookies
  2. Platforms that don’t play well together

First, digital marketers are addicted to cookies, the tracking code by which digital marketers have used to track and serve advertisements to desktop users for years. However, concern over privacy has emboldened users to delete cookies and surf the web incognito or off the radar of many advertisers. Combine the Do Not Track movement with the shift to mobile, where cookies exist but are less reliable as a tracking mechanism, as well as the fact that cookies aren’t generally shared between apps, and industry estimates suggest audience reach has been cut in half in some instances.

The cookie just isn’t cutting it anymore.

You’re a savvy marketer though and and have likely figured out how to situationally target cookie-free web surfers or those with immature cookie profiles.

You’re ready to touch prospects across devices but encounter another big problem; the hard truth that larger platforms (AdWords, Facebook, Twitter) don’t always play well together when it comes to helping you match user identities across channels. In this white paper, cross-channel advertising platform provider Marin Software explains how “...none of the audience matching data is shared is shared across Google, Facebook, and Twitter…” which puts advertisers at the mercy of these “walled gardens” that make their own rules about how and where data is used.

This is the problem with deterministic matching, or the more accurate but more fragmented user log-in data advertisers can use to link users across devices and channels. The alternative, probabilistic matching, relies on algorithms to analyze thousands of different data points to identify users across devices. While probabilistic matching is less accurate, it ranges between 60-90% according to the Marin white paper, advertisers own the probabilistic data they engineer and can combine it with the deterministic data to which they have access to piece together a device matching strategy that affords more scale.

It’s a difficult maze to navigate without getting lost.

It could get easier as the adtech industry consolidates, but hope is not a strategy and who can afford to wait around? Be sure to check out this piece (add link) which will help you properly configure your analytics so you can track and target users across devices.

In the meantime, device matching hurdles aside, we want to help you think a bit deeper about cross-device targeting. Successfully targeting users across devices is about much more than simply touching tablet users on their phones, appropriately resizing the creative, and executing an effective retargeting campaign. To get beyond the status-quo or top-of-mind cross-device best practices, we’ve created three guideposts you can use to direct future campaigns. More specifically, these concepts are designed to show you:

  • How to extend the reach of your campaign by broadening the devices & apps you consider for targeting
  • How to allocate campaign dollars more efficiently by considering individual customer paths to purchase
  • How to personalize your advertising by combining customer data with the individual strengths of various devices

Use these guideposts to supplement the technical aspects required of a cross-device campaign to touch your prospects and customers just right.

Guidepost #1: Target Unconventional Devices

You’d never intentionally ignore an enormous portion of your target audience so you can’t ignore the unconventional devices that consume much of your prospects’ time.

Understanding how much of your traffic comes from mobile devices is only a starting point when conceiving a cross-device targeting strategy.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Adobe

But don’t let the shift to mobile blind you in terms of device targeting. If you’re only thinking about top-of-mind mobile devices like smartphones and tablets and how to connect those with the desktop, you may be missing a large chunk of your target audience.

Remember to include unconventional or nontraditional devices like video game consoles in your strategy.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Marin Software

In the U.S. there are 5-million gamers, according to this Ted talk, who spend more than 40-hours a week playing video games. Besides consoles, understand that in-game advertising (IGA) can be an efficient way of reaching a younger demographic as games are designed to be addicting.

In fact, in-game mobile advertising is expected to reach $29-billion by 2018.

But gaming is just one aspect of the overall domination of mobile applications. When you fold gaming in with other apps, the data suggest applications command 86% of the average U.S. mobile consumer’s time.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Flurry

It should come as no surprise then that in-app mobile ad revenues are expected to surpass web display ads as soon as 2017.

Yes, I’m hopping between device and channel a bit here. The point here is that your cross-channel and cross-device strategies should complement one another. And no cross-device strategy is complete without mentioning internet-connected televisions and set-top boxes.

Industry forecasts estimate the majority of internet users will have access to a web-connected television this year.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: eMarketer

Think it’s too early to consider unconventional devices like wearables? Think again as the first-ever programmatic advertising platform targeting wearers of the Apple Watch was just announced as analysts are already touting the hyper-local targeting capabilities.

Lastly, while it’s still early, some of your fellow brand advertisers are already considering ways they might advertise in the virtual realities currently being invented by headset makers.

Guidepost #2: Device Weighting

Intimately understanding the devices your target audience uses, as well as the reasons those devices are used, is crucial to allocating your cross-device spend efficiently.

Weighting your spend is essential.

While the length of your sales cycle, which is connected to the price of your offering, will influence the device your target audience uses to purchase what you’re selling, it’s only one component of a thorough weighting strategy. In other words, don’t blindly assign more weight to a device just because it is used to make a purchase.

Other devices used by your target audience during the research phase of the purchasing process may actually influence the purchasing decision as much or more than the specific device used to make the final purchase.

Which devices are most likely to be used along the path your target audience takes to make a purchase?

Remember, nearly one-third of the customers who turned to digital channels to make their last purchase used multiple devices during the sales cycle. One way you can intelligently allocate your cross-device spend appropriately is to identify the devices your prospects are using during the stages in which they are most likely to be influenced.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Forrester

While mobile is expected to comprise 40% of global ecommerce transactions, properly weighting a cross-device budget includes mashing quantitative analytics data with qualitative customer survey data:

  • On what devices are users doing the bulk of their research?
  • Which devices are they most likely to seek out social proof like testimonials?
  • On what device are they most likely to compare your product to others?

To achieve maximum influence you have to be front and center on the devices that matter to your targets prior to the purchase. Besides improving conversion rates, appropriately weighting your cross-device spend can also prevent you from serving your ads indiscriminately which can cost you big bucks.

Take a look at the costs associated with different sized ads:

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via; Marin Software

No sense in spending money on ads sized specifically for devices that play a less important role in the purchasing decision, right? It’s why weighting your cross-device spend in accordance with the devices that are most heavily used by prospects at the time purchasing decisions are being researched and formed is so crucial.

Weighting can also help you improve the quality of the user experience on each device. This is a key factor, according to this survey of 1,500 online customers, when considering whether to make a purchase. Besides optimizing the creative, improving the user experience hinges on creating a consistent user experience across devices. In fact, nearly two-thirds of consumers react negatively when a brand presents itself inconsistently across devices.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Forrester

Clearly, weighting devices in a way that creates a quality user experience that is inspired by data and dictates which devices should receive what proportion of your spend and when, will assist in allocating budgets intelligently.

Guidepost #3: Personalize the Experience

The impersonal mass blast of yesteryear has been replaced by an expectation that you’re going to serve personally relevant messages to those you wish to convert. It’s almost as if the user is saying, “Okay, you have all that data on me, now prove you’re smart enough to use it creatively.”

You up to that challenge?

If so, you have two jobs:

  1. Optimize the creative to the device
  2. Optimize the creative to the person

Not only is a personalized customer experience now expected, your target audience demands greater doses of personalization depending on factors such as whether they are logged in to an application and knowingly allowing you to track them.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Forrester

The process of personalizing the customer experience across channels and devices, which has been prompted by the rise of the empowered consumer, starts with intelligently segmenting your customers and prospects. The three most popular ways to segment, according to this survey, are based on past behavior, customer value, and demographics.

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Experian

Only after you segment can you effectively target specific groups across mobile devices that are increasingly being used to make purchasing decisions. Your scale may suffer a bit as mobile will only comprise a portion of your total traffic, but remember what you’ve learned about device weighting and you’ll position yourself to convert at higher rates while simultaneously reducing your cost per message.

Additionally, optimizing your creative for mobile means much more than simply resizing your desktop banner ads. In fact, ensuring that your creative is beautiful and sized appropriately is now an expectation held by your target audience. Just 18%, according to this multi-channel publishing vendor, will actually switch devices midstream to optimize their viewing experience.

It means if you blow it on one device you’re not likely to get another chance on a different device.

So what does nailing the creative mean on mobile? For instance, if we’re talking about a smartphone, remember you have less real estate to tell a story. In this case you might tailor the creative by:

  • Being more picture-centric
  • Reducing your reliance on text
  • Relying on visual storytelling
  • Increasing amount of clickable real estate
  • Providing a carousel view of your offerings
  • Offering option to convert through the ad

Not only must you capitalize on the creative strengths of each medium, but you’ll also improve your conversions by rotating your creative. Facebook and AdWords run defacto split tests for you that show the ads that convert more frequently, but you can take it a step farther with dynamic ads.

Dynamic creative allows you to serve relevant ad content to your target audience during every impression. Vendors have made it easier for you to swap out or mix and match creative components like images, URLs, & CTAs in real time and based on data and contextual factors you can use to optimize your campaign. Dynamic creative combined with situational targeting, which relies on contextual cues like geography, time, and proximity for precise cookie-free targeting, can be leveraged to produce outsized mobile conversion gains.

For example, this dynamic creative vendor injected scarcity into the mobile experience by rotating ads in real time that contained time-sensitive discounts that improved target CTRs by 400%.

WARNING: Identify your target audience’s advertising preferences and use restraint in terms of the types of ads you show and the frequency with which you serve them. Otherwise, research suggests you run the risk of annoying users and reducing conversions.


Holistically measuring your cross-device campaigns and creating a customized attribution model on which you can rely is crucial for optimization. Be sure you’re using view-through conversions to track users who don’t click on an ad you serve but convert later.

Each device should get the credit (and spend) it deserves.

And finally, remember the lesson this chart teaches:

How To Master Cross-Device Ad Targeting

Image via: Forrester

Half of all purchases are made offline.

If you have an offline presence or market offline at times, this is a gentle reminder not to neglect this aspect of your business. It’s also another reason why your attribution model must be sophisticated enough to appropriately credit online cross-device targeting with offline customer purchasing behavior.

Now go on- get out there and touch ‘em where it counts!

How To Master Cross-Device Ad TargetingAbout The Author

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog. He helps individuals & organizations generate new leads, make more money, and ignite growth with story. Get more from Nick here.

About the author

Nick Winkler

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog and founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best-known brands, businesses, and marketers.

Check out Nick Winkler’s work