Marketers are always looking for ways to better target their prospects online. Because of the proliferation of mobile devices, marketers increasingly need the ability to link devices belonging to the same user to deliver relevant advertising.

The technology to connect consumer identity across devices is becoming an integral part of effective advertising that targets the right user at the right time across all digital touch points.

Person-based and Probabilistic Linkages

Companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo and AOL—who are publishers as well as ADTech platforms by themselves—have the ability to link person-based identifiers by way of login and user profile data.

ADTech companies that are independent technology providers, however, and who do not have user registration or profile data, rely on probabilistic matching of browser cookies and advertising identifiers such as Apple’s ID for advertising (IDFA) or Google Advertising ID. Among the independent providers who have developed the technology to link online identifiers, the accuracy of linking users’ device level identifiers via probabilistic estimation varies.

Tech startups that link user devices using probabilistic estimation, such as Drawbridge and Tapad, have yet to establish their market dominance. Mediaglu, a relatively smaller startup in the space, has recently been acquired by Appnexus, who has ambitions to be the largest independent ADTech stack outside of Google and Facebook. Crosswise, another player in the space, has recently launched its own solution in North America.

Demand Side Platforms and Cross Device Capabilities

Demand side platforms (DSPs) are either acquiring independent cross-device vendors or are supporting multiple vendor solutions to execute on cross-device campaigns. With ad dollars shifting from desktop to mobile, cross-device capabilities are crucial for both desktop and mobile DSPs to expand their footprint and grow their lines of business beyond desktop only or mobile only.

As cross-channel and cross-device ad spend grows in the coming years, chances are that pure-play probabilistic tech companies will either evolve into media execution platforms or get acquired by DSPs that expand their business across channels and devices.

A third category of cross-device technology evolution involves companies that have offline data that can be anonymized and linked to online identifiers in a privacy-friendly way. Examples are companies such as Neustar, Acxiom, and Datalogix (recently acquired by Oracle). While the precision and accuracy of linkages can be higher among companies in this category, similar to person-based linkages, these companies have the same challenge as probabilistic-linkage providers in constantly evaluating the strength of the linkages, and aging and invalidating stale identities.

In order to deliver marketing services to users effectively across channels, there is a need for the industry—and more importantly, independent AdTech stacks and publishers—to work together, possibly by federating known or inferred linkages. When publishers, probabilistic linkage companies, and offline data companies work together to transact data and render relevant advertising using a common currency and linkages that are universally accepted by the ecosystem as a whole, then everyone wins—from advertisers to publishers and enablers (such as a DSP to a DMP win).

Data Management Platforms as the Unifying Layer in the AdTech Stack

Data management platforms (DMPs) are well positioned to play this unification role and accelerate the transition in working with independent AdTech platforms and other eco-system partners. They’re also in a very good position to help DSPs maintain frequency caps to effectively execute cross-device or cross-channel campaigns.

With the proliferation of mobile devices, there is an inherent and pressing need to move beyond just last-touch attribution, to incorporate all devices involved in the customer journey, and to assign credit beyond just last touch. Neutrality is a key element here. DMPs can act as neutral third parties, providing cross device measurement and attribution, working with eco system partners, and federating identities and linkages.

By combining ID federation with neutrality in cross-screen/cross-device measurement, DMPs can help reduce the complexity in transacting data. They can also increase efficiencies with attribution models, thus serving as the underlying unification layer in the otherwise complex AdTech stack.