How to Target People—Not Devices


As omnichannel advertising gains an even stronger foothold, the talk of “targeting people, not devices” has become more and more prevalent. And it makes sense.
Though “Targeting people, not devices” has come to be sort of a throw-away term, at its heart, it’s quite a meaningful phrase. Boiled down, it means creating advertising that offers relevant, targeted content to a specific, niche audience no matter where, when, or how it’s viewed.
Let’s look at an example personal to me. Say my beloved Everton Football Club wants to make sure I see an ad for their branded merchandise. They show the ad to me three times on my laptop at work, once on my mobile Facebook newsfeed on my train ride home, and again on my iPad when I’m home sitting on the sofa. But what if I’ve bought a team shirt somewhere along the way? Or a scarf? How can they make sure I’m not retargeted on different devices for something I’ve just bought? More importantly, how can they target me for additional items that I’m likely to buy instead?
The sort of cross-device marketing can be highly effective—if it’s done right. You need the right data to hone in on and learn about your specific audience segments, you need it to create fantastic and relevant content that speaks to those segments, and finally, you need it to deliver that content at the exact right time in their buying journey.
The data is out there, but when it’s spread across disparate platforms and working in silos, it hinders rather than helps. The solution is finding a way to merge your walled-off data to deliver a more comprehensive picture that can drive results.
If we want our messages to come across effectively and resonate with consumers, we need to tailor them to that unique audience segment—their demographic, their buying habits, their interests, and their place in the sales funnel—not the phone, tablet, or computer they’re using.
From a financial standpoint, there’s an even bigger reason to figure out this dilemma, and that’s wasted ad spend.
How can you ensure your ads aren’t retargeting the same user who just bought your product on a different device or platform, essentially rendering your ads ineffective? How can you keep your ad experiences seamless and continuous as your target buyers switch from device to device? And how can you maintain accuracy in reporting and analytics when all your ad data is segregated and cordoned off?
These are the challenges today’s omnichannel marketers are dealing with—and there are certainly some hurdles standing in the way.
The Challenge
When I started in digital marketing back in 2003, things were a lot simpler. There was no social media, TV hadn’t gone digital, and smartphones weren’t even on the radar. Display ads were bought like traditional media buys, and if you wanted to run search campaigns in the UK, you did so via Overture or Espotting.
While some argue that the change from single-channel to multichannel strategy has been gradual, it seems programmatic buying has exploded in recent years. Now, digital TV formats are the norm, and marketers use software to buy ads across all mediums. It’s just the way the advertising world works now.
Tech has certainly made ad buying easier, to an extent, but it hasn’t necessarily made it more effective. When you throw in the sheer volume of connected devices, the modern marketer is faced with a massive challenge: How do you marry all the data you get from each of these campaigns? More importantly, how do you use that data to ensure your advertising hits people with the right message, at the right time on each device?
The Disparate Data Problem
The problem isn’t that there are so many platforms. The bigger issue is that most ad platforms are walled gardens—disparate and sequestered from your other efforts. Their data is housed in a separate analytics area, and they report conversions, reach, and ROI just a little bit differently than the next platform.
This makes it difficult to effectively manage ad spend across channels and nearly impossible to get true insights into the efficacy of your campaigns overall—as well as what you could do to improve it.
It’s not just a hypothetical issue, either. According to an Adobe Digital Advertising Report, 41 percent of marketers use three or more media-buying platforms, three or more media-planning platforms, and three or more analytics platforms. Take a minute and consider: How likely is it that these marketers aren’t seeing duplicate conversions in their reports? Or a skewed picture of their reach? Or just bad insights in general?
The growing number of platforms today’s marketers use ultimately makes their job more difficult. Managing reach, frequency, and conversions across an entire media buy is virtually impossible, because reconciling data and reporting across channel just isn’t feasible—at least using most tools on the market.
A Necessary Evil
Finding a way to target people across all devices and experiences is crucial, not just for efficacy’s sake, but also because consumers have come to expect it. The average adult interacts with at least two screens per day, and according to stats, millennials alone will spend more than $600 billion just this year across 5.5 devices.

Most of the time, those consumers are using the same sites, apps, and programs across their disparate devices. Nevertheless, they expect the experience to be seamless—to pick up where they left off on device one, two, three, or even four.
It seems the majority of consumers aren’t getting that, just yet. According to a recent survey, only 28 percent of consumers feel they’re receiving relevant ad experiences—though nearly 80 percent say they want them.
That leaves a lot of room for improvement, and the key to that lies in how we manage, merge, and use the disparate data and platforms today’s advertising environment requires. Can it be done? And if so, what tools can we use to get there?
Is It Even Possible?
Aligning data properly certainly seems like a pipe dream for many marketers. What’s required is a married solution, such as Adobe’s Demand Side Platform (DSP) and Data Management Platform (DMP), which can blend data from every source imaginable to give you a bigger, more comprehensive picture of your overall ad strategies and ad spend.
Tools such as these can extract data from your website analytics, customer relationship management data, offline store data, or even partner data from credit card providers and the like, using it to compile richly detailed audience segments. Because Adobe has such a large ecosystem of products and services, DSP and DMP can also utilise data from the millions of anonymous cookies that it drops on browsers across the world, giving you even more insights.
Thanks to its integration with the Ad Cloud, you can use your custom audience segments in real-time to create and launch search, social, display, video, or TV campaign. And finally, with features that let you cap your frequency rates (at the audience level, not the less effective device level), you can even ensure you’re not wasting ad spend on disinterested consumers or ones who already purchased.
The Final Word
Whatever tools you choose, in the end, the key to targeting people, not devices, in today’s omnichannel, programmatic marketing landscape is cohesion between efforts. And once you tap that? The result is a better experience for both the consumer and marketer and, most importantly, a higher ROI.