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It’s no secret that digital content is now consumed using a combination of computers, smartphones, tablets and TVs. Consumers transition seamlessly from device to device over the course of the day — they may start a search on a smartphone, switch to a laptop to read more information on a larger screen, then finish the task on their tablet as they head out the door.

While brands look toward the promise of being able to reach consumers wherever they are, they are also faced with an unprecedented level of complexity. Here are three key themes to better understand the opportunities and challenges that advertisers face in a multi-screen world.

1. Multi-screen consumption

90% of American media consumption is done on screens, totaling 4.4 hours of time spent across phones, tablets, TVs, and laptops. Each device is used for a different reason based on the purpose of the task and the context of where the person is and how much time they have to accomplish a task. For example, smartphones are used often and in quick bursts —38 % of daily media interactions occur on these devices but the average time spent per interaction is just 17 minutes. Computers, meanwhile, account for only 24% of media interactions, but the average interaction is almost 40 minutes.

Across the board, brands and agencies realize that there is still a lot of room to catch up to where consumers’ media consumption is taking place. For media buyers, the silos that once existed between digital, broadcast, and mobile are being broken down, meaning that messaging should be channel agnostic and taken into account in a holistic way a versus stand-alone one.

In a multi-screen world, digital advertising is grappling with clear attribution. Since consumers now regularly consume media in new ways, such as watching TV on cell phones, or jumping between devices to engage with content, the challenge becomes how advertisers measure the impact of their campaigns across overlapping devices.

2. Multi-screen targeting

The idea of finding the right customer at the right time on the right device makes marketers nothing short of gleeful. Luckily, many of the tools used to enhance targeting for display advertising or search are beginning to transition to multi-screen environments. For instance, real-time bidding platforms used for display ads are now becoming available for online video ads, and bringing additional benefits in terms of ROI, cost efficiency, and relevance. However, targeting on a PC is different from targeting on mobile and tablets, namely due to the absence of cookies that are used for desktop but don't exist for certain mobile platforms. Marketers need to create more effectiveness and scale in order to properly target customers in a meaningful way.

3. Multi-screen metrics and ROI

With the growth of multi-screen media consumption, being able to measure advertising ROI across devices is now becoming crucial. With brands spending more of their budgets on digital than ever, media agencies need reassurance that the ads they’re placing are viewable. This means that the ad shows up when it is supposed to and is visible for at least a second. The concept of "viewable impressions" often distinguishes premium inventory from that of less reputable ad networks, but the industry is trying to move toward a standard to ensure integrity with reporting.

Even the KPIs used to measure ad engagement are shifting and open for revision. Whereas clicks and conversions may be a passable metric for desktop display ads, for mobile search, it doesn't necessarily make sense given the way consumers interact with phones. Since people use their phones on-the-go, a mobile search might include finding directions to a store or searching for an item and looking for retailers nearby who carry it. In this case, it's important to consider other metrics, such as those relating to driving in-store traffic or measuring how consumers look up information and advance down the purchasing funnel. 

The trend of multi-screen consumption and the subsequent shift in consumer behavior presents an array of opportunities for marketers. Advertising campaigns can and should reach across multiple devices and media, and for those who stay ahead of the curve, there lies the opportunities to capture the busy, multi-tasking consumer.