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It’s a multi-channel universe and you need a multi-channel strategy.

That’s a refrain you hear from many marketers and their tech vendors as smartphones, tablets, wearables, connected cars, and connected TVs get added to the traditional advertising outlets of computers, regular TVs, and print.

But those are the trees. The forest, according to a growing number of marketers, is the audience you want. It’s the mother with kids, regardless of which channel you use to reach her.

“There is absolutely a shift from a channel-focused approach to an audience-focused approach,” Adelphic CEO Michael Collins told me recently. “And it’s taking place right now.” Facebook has described this as people-based marketing.

The Waltham, Massachusetts-based Adelphic offers a mobile-oriented demand-side platform (DSP) used by ad agencies, although it also handles computer-based ads. Collins said many of his clients still plan “a mobile strategy” with a “mobile budget,” while maintaining a separate desktop team.

The effectiveness of this kind of single channel buying “will decrease over time,” he predicted.

His company estimates that about 10 percent of campaigns run by ad agency trading desks using Adelphic’s platform this year are oriented toward buying an audience, rather than being channel-specific. It’s still small, but it’s growing. Last year, audience-oriented buying was about five percent.

The obvious bottom line, he pointed out, is that consumers are multi-channel. They don’t wake up and say, “Today, I’m going to look only at my desktop computer,” he pointed out.

The Theory

You want to reach that mother with your backpack ad through whatever media device, not just on her smartphone when she’s waiting a few minutes to pick up her kids from school.

You also want to show her ads that build on each other. If she clicked on a backpack ad on her iPhone this afternoon, you might want to show her ads for other back-to-school supplies when she’s on her laptop in the evening.

That’s the theory, at any rate. The key is figuring out that the person who clicked the ad on the iPhone is the same person you’re targeting on the laptop.

If she’s logged into a publisher’s site on each different device, then that publisher can readily target her across devices. But if she’s not logged in on some devices, it becomes tricky.

On her laptop Net browsing, she can be tracked via a cookie. But cookies are not viable options across mobile apps, which are now populating wearables and connected cars as well as smartphones and tablets.

Adelphic is one of the players in the race to offer a way to identify and target the same user across devices. It holds a patent for doing so.

A number of other platforms are similarly offering their versions of multi-device, anonymous and persistent ID, including Adobe, Oracle, Crosswise, Amobee, and Facebook.

The creepiness factor

Perhaps someday there will be an industry standard, but right now each cross-device persistent identity tracker is proprietary. It appears, however, that they all rely on a large array of data points — particularly similar content, browsing habits, and locations — to infer persistent identity across devices.

If the smartphone device ID is in the same geo-location in early morning as that laptop computer was last night, and they both searched for backpacks, for instance, the two devices are probably being used by the same person.

As VB Insight analyst Andrew Jones points out in his recent report, “Identity and marketing: Capturing, unifying, and using customer data to drive revenue growth,” identity unification across devices doesn’t need to rely on cookies. For instance, your browser actually contains more than 20 data points that can be used to “fingerprint” you, including time zone, system fonts, screen size, color schema, and installed plugins. The trick is to find some data points that exist across devices, like geo-location or a trail of the same websites.

Collins wouldn’t reveal the accuracy of Adelphic’s anonymous cross-device tracking, but he indicated it’s high. Other providers have claimed accuracy as high as 80 or even 90 percent.

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Of course, marketers are going to have to judge where the creepiness limits are. That mother may find it unsettling that her laptop’s ads show a discount coupon for the backpack she clicked on through her iPhone. On the other hand, we might have once thought it would be too creepy to have ads relating to our last Google search follow us from site to site on a computer, but now most of us accept that.

As this cross-device profiling becomes more prominent, it’s also beginning to inform the programmatic ad platforms with greater accuracy.

Currently, programmatic platforms are devouring the ad industry. They automate the digital ad buying/space selling process in ways similar to how high-frequency stock traders automate stock purchases, or travel sites automatically find the best deal that meets your needs.

When such-and-such ad space on sites or apps appealing to moms becomes available at this price, the programmatic ecosystem is instructed to automatically buy it for this advertiser.

Integrated with better targeting

Collins predicted that the growing programmatic ad universe will evolve in two ways that will enhance audience-oriented marketing.

First, programmatic ad buying will increasingly involve integrated multi-channel buying.

Currently, many programmatic platforms focus on mobile, or video, or computers, with some overlap.

Although Adelphic is mostly mobile-focused, for example, it does include desktop buying. And last month it announced a deal with Facebook’s video ad supply side platform LiveRail to sell ad space on the Internet shown on connected TVs.

Second, the targeting information for programmatic ad buying will increasingly come from outside sources, not just from the user info a publisher, app maker, or site might have on its users.

It’s not uncommon now for an outside Data Management Platform to augment the publisher’s targeting info, but Collins sees that evolving more into persistent, cross-device IDs such as the ones Adelphic offers.

He noted that Adelphic regularly sees a two-times lift in ad performance when its platform uses “our audience data as opposed to using just the data sent by the [ad space] inventory providers,” who are the publishers.

As these trends become commonplace — widespread, programmatic multi-channel ad buying that targets users with cross-device IDs — marketers may once again be able to focus on the customers they want to reach, instead of on channels and devices.


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