Note to Brands: Go Cross-Screen or Bust

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These days, attribution is never simple. According to new Forrester research unveiled at the Tapad Unify conference in New York City on April 29, consumers are becoming so device agnostic that 51% start their path to purchase on whatever connected device happens to be handy at the time.

But that doesn't mean all screen are created equal.

“We know consumers are connected, and we know that they're switching devices,” said Forrester analyst Jennifer Wise. “The question is when they're making those switches, what devices are they switching to and why?”

While more than half of consumers say they'll reach for whatever device is closest during the discovery phase, they'll quickly move to a device with a better user experience (usually something with a larger screen like a desktop or laptop), when they get more serious about a purchase.

But one thing is indisputable: “Digital touchpoints are dominating today's path to purchase,” Wise said.

While 27% still turn to an offline resource like TV, radio, or print to learn about a product or service, 66% use digital resources during the discovery process.

The challenge to marketers is providing consumers with a seamless, cross-screen experience from the moment they pick up a phone to do some research to the moment they purchase something on a laptop—or vice versa and everything in between. Marketers need to mine insights and be aware of exactly how their particular buyers behave online. Consumers expect no less, Wise said.

“Inconsistencies do create negative brand sentiment among consumers today,” she said. “When it comes to consistency, consumers are starting to expect it from every single thing.”

In fact, 71% of consumers say they don't take well to inconsistent cross-channel messaging—and one in 10 even went so far as to say that inconsistencies in the brand experience from device to device would make them stop interacting with a brand altogether.

Connected consumers are also coming to expect spot-on personalization—no matter where they are. Nineteen percent actually expect the shopping experience to continue seamlessly across multiple devices whether or not they've logged in.

“They expect consistency, but they also expect to be known without self-identifying,” Wise said. “[Marketers,] you're just going to have to make this work.”

Brands that don't start thinking about this today are sure to fall woefully behind.

“As more brands create more consistent experiences the bar is raised for everyone else,” she said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg—smartphone adoption is growing and tablet adoption is going to grow to around one billion in the next two years.”

With one billion smartphones worldwide and tablets catching up quickly—more than 70% of consumers own three or more connected devices and about 66% of consumers at least four—the onus is on marketers to provide a unified user experience or risk losing their customers to brands that do.

Because consumers don't just own these devices—they actively use them. According to Forrester, half of all purchases are made either completely or at least partially online.

As Wise summed it up for the crowd: “People really do love their devices.”

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