Whose mobile device is it anyway?

Brands can use one of two ways to work out who owns a particular connected device – ‘deterministic’ or ‘probabilistic’- but what are the implications of each?



Relevance may be the most overused but also the most important watchword of digital marketing and it is mainly achieved through targeting users as they browse online. But as consumers browse on a range of different devices, the ability to target them is threatened unless marketers know who is using each device and when.

There are two main methods of achieving this: ‘deterministic’ and ‘probabilistic’. The former depends on users logging in to access a service – Facebook, Twitter or Google, for example – enabling a platform to identify the user as they switch devices. The latter analyses data such as device type, browser type and IP address to draw accurate conclusions about whether the user of smartphone X is the same person also using tablet Y.

Mobile growth

Hungryhouse, a food ordering network that has over 10,000 UK restaurant partners, has seen mobile traffic grow 50% year on year for the past two years, and this year it reached tipping point, with mobile contributing to almost 60% of its total site traffic. Knowing who these users are has become imperative to achieving any effectiveness for its targeted digital marketing.

“Mobile app users tend to be more loyal than web users,” says Erik Kubik, mobile marketing manager at Hungryhouse. “Shifting a desktop user to the Hungryhouse app is a key focus for the brand. With this in mind, cross-device targeting is essential if we want to continually engage with our audience and be there, on the right device at the right time.”

Working with mobile marketing platform Fiksu, Hungryhouse uses a deterministic approach to achieve this, retargeting desktop users who have logged in to the service but not downloaded its mobile app. It also uses this method to encourage lapsed mobile users to re-engage with the brand.

“We log a desktop user and can then retarget them with mobile ads on ad networks and mobile sites,” says Kubik. The company also works with Criteo to complete the cross-device retargeting picture, to recognise when someone views a mobile ad and then converts on desktop or vice-versa. “There is full cross-device retargeting and attribution between desktop, mobile web and app,” he says.

“Cross-device targeting is essential if we want to continually engage with our audience and be there, on the right device at the right time,” Erik Kubik, Hungryhouse

US-based ethical fine jeweller Brilliant Earth has also seen benefits in the deterministic approach, retargeting desktop website visitors as they browsed Facebook and Twitter on their mobile devices. Working in partnership with AdRoll, the retailer served personalised ads to consumers who had visited its site on another device but not completed the desired action, for example completing a purchase or filling out a form.

Kristina Simonsen, marketing associate at Brilliant Earth, says: “We’re seeing single-digit click-through rates [compared with an industry average below 1%]. It has provided additional incremental traffic and conversions to our mobile site.”

Hungryhouse uses the deterministic data to apply a probabilistic approach too, using ‘lookalike’ audience profiles to target users who have not logged but have similar characteristics to repeat users. “We move users to the app to help us engage new users who are likely to be good candidates for the app,” says Kubik.

“By using both [deterministic and probabilistic] approaches we are able to paint a very broad stroke, greatly increasing installations of the app and re-engaging users.” He says the data proves that cross-device targeting “significantly improves reach, open rates, click-through rates and, eventually return on investment”.

Hungryhouse uses a ‘deterministic’ approach to target consumers across devices

Device switching

Changing from one device to another is becoming more and more necessary. Research from Time Warner suggests that people switch between mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers an average 27 times a day. This presents a headache for marketers, who are striving both to deliver a consistent brand experience and to predict when a user is ready to make a purchase.

Cisco estimates that 50 billion devices and objects will be connected to the internet by 2020, only adding to the difficulty. If all things are equal, within six years every individual could own six connected devices.

It is also an area that Facebook has identified as a priority and in September it announced a new version of its Atlas ad platform, including cross-device targeting. The company describes it as ‘people-based marketing’, using a deterministic approach to enable brands to follow users across devices, linking individuals’ interactions with ads to their Facebook accounts, both within the social media platform and across other websites and apps.

“By having the ability to effectively target the same customer across devices, brands can ensure the way they interact with that customer is consistent and in line with its overall marketing strategy,” says Facebook head of ad technology David Jakubowski. “And ultimately, because people use their real identity on Facebook, it’s easier to reach, report and measure across devices, creating consistency in a complicated world.”

He points out that an additional challenge lies in the fact that cookies, which allow brands to target users across a desktop journey, do not work well on mobile devices. “Today’s technology for ad serving and measurement – cookies – are flawed when used alone. Cookies don’t work on mobile, are becoming less accurate in demographic targeting and can’t easily or accurately measure the customer purchase funnel across browsers and devices or into the offline world, posing a real challenge for brands trying to assess the impact of their digital campaigns,” says Jakubowski.

Pepsi and Intel are among the first brands testing the platform in the US. Anonymised insights from 1.3 billion Facebook users will be applied to the rest of the internet, and the first party data will allow brands to work out how cross device behaviours influence how people buy.



Effective targeting

Luxury holiday booking website Mr & Mrs Smith also recognises the possibilities in this area, and the company says that it aims to become “completely channel-neutral”. It already incentivises its users to log in each time they browse, allowing them to create hotel shortlists, set reminders for events and receive personalised recommendations. Members’ loyalty accounts are also accessed via sign-in.

Co-founder and chief technology officer Tamara Heber-Percy says being able to understand how users access the site across different devices already allows it to market more effectively. “We can speak to the customer in the most appropriate way; for example, simply personalising the time of day we send an email to someone has made our communications much more effective.”

She adds: “We know that people tend to use different devices for different things – iPads are often used for finding inspiration, an iPhone lends itself to our quick wish list function and a desktop is often what people end up booking on – but that pattern is by no means set in stone so we keep a close eye on it.”

“Ads can be capped regardless of where they are displayed. It’s a compelling idea for advertisers as it means less wastage on their campaign and further reach,” Arti Shah, The Weather Channel

Mobile is undoubtedly complicating the customer journey, but when Mr & Mrs Smith launched its new iPhone app it saw a 400% increase in monthly bookings. “That was quite flabbergasting,” says Heber-Percy.

For advertisers, too, having the ability to deliver a specific offer to an individual at a given time regardless of the device they are using is very attractive, says Arti Shah, agency sales director at The Weather Channel. “It moves campaign planning away from being about mobile versus display and back to a place where the customer is the focus. When the customer is the focus, campaigns will always be more effective.”

Shah also sees huge opportunity to reduce ineffective ad impressions. “Ads can be capped regardless of where those ads are displayed and this is a compelling idea for advertisers because it means less wastage on their campaign and further reach to attract more people, therefore increasing the ROI of the campaign. This also means more effective audience engagement and attribution.”

She says cracking cross-device targeting will mean more revenue for The Weather Channel: “The Weather Channel already understands that weather affects our lives and this changes by location. Being able to target people across screens on top of this means even better targeting by device, better storytelling and more importantly attribution.”

But while some brands are already making progress in this area, and Facebook has also made its intentions clear, there is some way to go before cross-device targeting is commonplace.

As Shah says: “Whether identifying users using known login data, or using ad requests and other data to make predictions about user identity, it is still proving difficult to match users and connect the dots, and this means most cross-device campaigns are still limited on targeting, scale, and post-campaign attribution.” Watch this space.


Sponsored viewpoint




Stephen Jenkins
Vice-president of marketing, EMEA
Millennial Media

Think of the most recent item you bought online. Did it follow a linear path to purchase where you engaged with just one screen? Unlikely I’m sure.

Why, then, would advertisers choose to run campaigns across screens independently? Yes, it is simple to establish which screen performs best, but would the outcome be to stop advertising on one of the other screens?

As mobile experiences evolve, with faster data connections and better devices, consumers are also depending on their smartphones and tablets for the important stuff that used to be reserved for PCs, such as purchases and sign-ups.

Consequently, a joined-up cross-screen advertising strategy must shift the focus beyond clicks to better understand consumers across multiple screens. Advertisers that buy across multiple channels should use cross-device targeting to deliver consistent and relevant messages to consumers.

Done right, this type of targeting can see dramatic returns for advertisers. A recent cross-screen campaign by Jeep in the US found click-throughs increased by over 43% on PC ads when users saw the ads on multiple screens.

Beyond consistent messaging, there is also huge potential for better attribution, enabling advertisers to understand the impact of their investment so they know where to reinvest.

Imagine that you’re checking the weather in Scotland ahead of a business trip on your smartphone, and see an ad for a hotel special on Hogmanay. Where to spend New Year is a group decision, so you wait until your friends are on board. Two weeks after seeing the original ad, you book the deal on your work laptop. With the right kind of mobile-first cross-screen strategy, brands can now capture that first in-app impression in mobile and map it to the conversion on PC.

Mobile also gives lots of data signals to advertisers – each time you open an app on our platform we get anything between five and 30 different bits of data from which device you’re using to which network you’re on.

Our job as an industry is to help brands understand all those data points and move beyond the divided approach of only targeting consumers on specific devices, to a more connected strategy that reaches the people behind the devices.






Coca Cola Life

Coke Life showing early sales success

Seb Joseph

Coke’s lower calorie variant Coke Life’s brand is showing early signs of success, performing well against established sister brands such as Coke Zero, after heavyweight in-store promotions and a nationwide campaign lifted buzz, according to the latest industry data.