The average U.S. consumer owns 7.2 Internet-connected devices, but marketers typically can identify only one of them during Web visits, according to the latest analysis from Adobe Digital Index (ADI). This gap means marketers have a very limited picture of customers, and an even more limited ability to activate relevant cross-device experiences.
The findings make clear that figuring out the identity graph—the goal of which is to tie digital visits across various devices—is nearly impossible to do unless marketers band together. It also builds a case for better management of cross-device messaging–a practice that marketers have found difficult because of numerous technical and privacy-related roadblocks.
“The fact is that the first-party information a lot of websites have is providing a very incomplete picture of the myriad devices people have,” said Tamara Gaffney, ADI’s principal analyst. “We were surprised. We expected to have the data show that many devices are visible on websites. It turned out to be totally different.”
ADI’s analysis involved looking at more than 30 million consumer visits to retail websites (mostly in the U.S.), along with a survey of device usage conducted among 1,000 U.S. consumers in February 2016 . The team also leveraged U.S. TV Everywhere viewing data from 10 million-plus pay TV subscribers, all in an effort to plot the “device graph” of average consumers.
The research also revealed that the device graph isn’t complicated simply by the number of devices owned. The survey showed that frequent device switching is common, meaning consumers often start a task, such as online shopping or watching a video, on one device, but continue it on another. And today’s short-attention span millennials (ages 18 to 34) are even more likely to do frequent switching.
For instance, 20% of consumers switch from one device to another while shopping online, but for millennials the figure is 34%.
“That means digital marketers have a unique challenge of being able to really understand that a Web visitor who shows up on a smartphone is the same customer four hours later on a tablet, or seven hours later on a desktop,” said Ryan Dietzen, senior market insight analyst at ADI. “They have to piece that experience together in order to craft a consistent message to that one consumer, regardless of which device they use.”
Consumers have many Internet-connected devices at their disposal. Not surprisingly, the younger the consumer, the more devices they have and use on a daily basis, according to ADI.
Overall, consumers said they use 3.1 devices of their total 7.2 devices daily. Millennials, in particular, have 7.7 and use 3.3. In this case, an Internet-connected device can mean anything from a PC to a Kindle to a smartwatch to a connected TV. The most ubiquitous device owned is the smartphone, with 92% of respondents saying they own one (and 26% saying they own two or more).
In terms of brand interaction, 76% of consumers use only one device through which they can be identified by a site in an average month. For example, if a consumer used an iPad to interact with a bank but never logged in, then that consumer is not recognized.
One possible explanation for marketers “seeing” only a small subset of consumer devices is that consumers find having several different logins to be cumbersome, especially when two-factor identification is required. On average, consumers keep track of 6.7 log-in credentials for commercial sites, such as banking and retail, the survey found.
That’s why biometric identification–such as fingerprint scans, facial recognition, and even body odor–might be a big benefit for brands looking to solve the cross-device puzzle, Gaffney said. “It’s looking like a bit of a mess for marketers wanting to deliver the right messages at the right time to the right person,” she added.
Digital TV viewing using a login, a.k.a. TV Everywhere, provides another angle as to what marketers are up against in providing the personalization that consumers want today. ADI analysis showed that households that watch more channels via TV Everywhere tend to have a larger-than-average number of devices in the household. (For instance, households with 11 devices watch 15 channels, while those with five devices watch five channels.) For marketers, that means confusion about who is actually watching the programming.
What’s especially vexing for marketers is that consumers in the survey said they want more personalization in their messaging from brands, yet just 25% said they got commensurate value from brands for the amount of data they shared about themselves online. When such users are followed on the Web by ads, they find such retargeting annoying for two key reasons: They don’t recognize them across devices (24%) or they aren’t personalized (20%.)
Of course, that level of personalization requires an accurate view of the consumer across various devices. “The good news is that consumers want relevance and tailored offers,” Dietzen said. “But how do you deliver it in an effective way?”
On desktop, browser-based cookies are effective for tracking users’ behavior. However, the average consumer now goes between desktop and mobile, with more time spent on the latter. For example, according to ADI’s new “Best of the Best” report, released today, consumers continue to rely more and more on smartphones for browsing, with almost every industry tracked registering an increase in smartphone visits.
Mobile-device IDs can help marketers identify users, but they are separate from desktop IDs. To bridge the gap, media companies, including Facebook, are offering deterministic solutions that require logins on desktop and mobile. Many other firms offer probabilistic solutions to help connect the dots between mobile and desktop use.
Despite such solutions, cross-device targeting remains tough for brands. “The heart of the story is that the device graph is demanded by consumers, is mission-critical to marketers, and is impossible to accomplish in isolation,” according to Gaffney, leading her to predict that “2016 will be the year of identity.”
About Adobe Digital Index
Adobe Digital Index publishes research on digital marketing and other topics of interest to senior marketing and e-commerce executives across industries. Research is based on the analysis of select, anonymous, and aggregated data from over 5,000 companies worldwide that use the Adobe Digital Marketing Cloud to obtain real-time data and analysis of activity on websites, social media, and advertising.
About Adobe Digital Insights
Adobe Digital Insights publishes research on digital marketing and other topics of interest to senior marketing and e-commerce executives across industries. Research is based on the analysis of select, anonymous, and aggregated data from more than 5,000 companies worldwide that use the Adobe Digital Marketing Cloud to obtain real-time data and analysis of activity on websites, social media, and advertising.
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