Reality check: Attribution hardships are no excuse to avoid mobile

Written by Andy Pocock, svp of strategic business development.

Here’s a simple credo for successful media planners: Follow the eyeballs. Yet as those eyeballs shift their gaze to mobile devices – like phones and tablets – media dollars have lagged behind.

It used to be creative that held agencies back. But as the industry moved from Flash to HTML5, it became much easier to build creative units that ran the gamut of devices, mobile and otherwise. Of course, there’s still a dearth of programmatic inventory available for high-impact mobile units, and ads continue to render inconsistently across the myriad hardware, OS and app environments.

But the biggest issue holding back mobile ad investment is attribution, leading media planners to target what’s more easily measurable over what truly matches the reality of consumption.

The attribution issue
Nowhere are the limitations of cookies as a tracking mechanism more acute than in mobile. iOS devices come factory-set to reject third-party cookies, and privacy controls on Android enable more and more people to go off the radar.

Dwelling in the safe space of proven strategies and partners, where measurement is at its cleanest and most reliable, is tempting. For many, this means allocating much of their mobile spend to Facebook. Though not third-party tracked, it can deliver strong mobile tracking of users signed into its app. The dollars have followed this potential, as mobile now accounts for 80 percent of Facebook’s revenue; it was almost zero just three years ago. While great for Facebook, it limits media planners who need to reach consumers in other environments.

So planners flock to the other digital giant: Google. Unlike Facebook, however, Google supports third-party ad serving, but the limited cookie environment still stymies attribution.

The cross device consolation prize
As consolation, both giants offer “cross-device” metrics that rely on their substantial base of logged-in users to match various devices to their owners. But aside from the technical weaknesses (Google is weaker on iOS devices and Facebook has far less certainty around desktop users as they migrate to mobile devices), the solution suffers the consequence of Google and Facebook’s own strength: User privacy policies prevent them from sharing user-level data in the log files.

Marketers get campaign-level metrics and a big “trust me” to put them at ease. In the end, planners find themselves back where they started: with weak mobile attribution, an inability to tie their data together and a big hole in their analytics.

Luckily, breaking out of the walled gardens isn’t as scary or disorienting as it’s been made out to be. Beyond the constrained and limited deterministic attribution models put forth by walled gardens, there is a new way forward into the mobile landscape.

Device recognition and analytics are the future
Imagine a cookie-free tracking solution that allows advertisers to connect the dots across areas that third-party cookies cannot enter, taking account for users’ privacy concerns along the way.

Flashtalking has been beta testing such a tracking solution for six months. By identifying more than 50 non-PII signals to produce a unique signature, it maps across apps and mobile browsers, enabling advertisers to match conversions to cookie-less impressions in mobile, connected TV and desktop environments. The results have been eye opening.

Because the SaaS-based device recognition solution generates a unique device ID at the user level, it can be captured in log files and mapped to client’s existing cookie IDs, first-party data or one of the growing number of cross-device partners, such as Tapad. By shedding reliance on cookies to tie cross device data together, match rates dramatically improved.

As we move out of beta, we’re exploring the applicability of such a persistent mobile ID to all partners acutely impacted by the limited reach of cookies.

Mobile is not optional
According to eMarketer, nearly 79 percent of the 267.4 million US Internet users will access the internet regularly via a mobile phone this year. By 2020, that number will grow to 86 percent.

In the face of that evidence, the imperative is clear: Don’t warp your media strategy to “work around” a lack of mobile attribution. There are solutions out there in market that will allow your media buys to truly reflect your audience’s media consumption. For real mobile attribution, it’s time to leave the comfort zone of cookies, clicks and walled garden solutions.

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