Cross-Device Measurement: The Ad Industry’s White Whale

Cross Device Measurement: The Ad Industry’s White Whale image ThisIsNotTheWeb

Image Credit: Brad Frost

Looking at the number of new ‘connected’ products coming to market, I’m reminded of a quote from Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the One Laptop Per Child initiative, who once said, “computing is not about computers any more. It is about living.” According to NPD, the average American household has roughly 5.7 internet-connected devices, and it’s clear we’re rapidly approaching a not-so-distant future in which the ratio of smart devices to people will be in excess of 5-to-1.

From a marketing perspective, this shift towards multiple screens and device types means reaching desired audiences – already a challenge – is set to become exponentially more complex. From a measurement standpoint, this also means the industry will need to drastically improve how we collect and process impression and conversion data in order to have any hope of keeping pace with the rapid rate of change and identify the optimal combination of messages, tactics and investments across channels.

Mobile Marketing Measurement – An Inexact Science

Cross Device Measurement: The Ad Industry’s White Whale image DeviceFragmentation

 Image Credit: OpenSignal Android Device Fragmentation Visualization, July 2013

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Most advertisers have long since acknowledged the rising influence and importance of mobile marketing, however device fragmentation as well as a lack of adequate technologies/tools and the inconsistent application of mobile measurement standards has caused mobile to lag far behind the PC-based ad channels (email, search, display, etc.) in terms of accurate engagement and conversion attribution metrics. Looking solely at the growing investment in mobile advertising (expected to reach more than $20 billion next year) a reasonable person might conclude this hasn’t negatively impacted the growth of the mobile ad ecosystem, but it has undeniably limited marketers’ ability to make sense of marketing ROI from these investments or compare mobile ad campaign performance to other channels in order to optimize spending.

For example, a common conversion path may involve a user seeing a mobile ad, then switching to a laptop to research the offer or company before finally making a purchase decision on a separate home computer or tablet in the evening. Today, there is no reliable and consistent mechanism for tying together those activities. This is problematic on two levels. First, by failing to account for the influence the mobile ad served, the advertiser may undervalue the placement or otherwise skew how it perceives mobile investments relative to other channels. A second issue relates to a lack of visibility into the correlation between audience behavior and the results of the campaign. In other words, the connection between the audience (demographics, geographies, etc.) that saw the ad and the subsequent response over time (purchases/downloads, store lookup, search, etc.) is lost, making it nearly impossible to isolate which aspects of the campaign (creative, keywords, publishers, etc.) were effective and to what extent.

Without an equivalent to the cookie-based systems that have been used to track and measure ad impressions on PCs for the past two decades, advertisers are reliant on often inaccurate or incomplete server logs from a wide range of publishers, mobile ad networks, carriers and other stakeholders making it nearly impossible to collect – let alone analyze – performance data for mobile ad buys.

Building the Plane As You Fly

Short of the unlikely scenario involving unified logins that tie together activity across devices, apps and browsers, there’s no single solution that addresses all aspects of mobile measurement. The IAB’s recently released mobile measurement guidelines illustrate standards are progressing, however marketers should also begin to evaluate available options to better account for impressions and conversions on mobile devices as part of the broader marketing mix.

Several vendors, like Tapad, have emerged that offer alternative proprietary tools capable of associating multiple devices to unique users. As standards emerge, much of this data will also begin to funnel into attribution platforms, which will allow advertisers to dynamically monitor mobile ad investments alongside the rest of their digital marketing portfolio and offline channels.

Mobile and multi-screen advertising represents a huge opportunity for the entire marketing ecosystem. Advertisers and agencies will continue to experiment with new tactics and new technology solutions will mature and evolve to ensure messages get to their intended audiences and are measured accurately. Until then, you can expect to see a lot of trial and error, and perhaps frustration, as marketers allocate more dollars towards reaching consumers on new devices that don’t play by the same set of rules as those that came before them.

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