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Marketers Face a Challenge With Apple’s iOS 14.5 Update

June 16th, 2021 Posted by Privacy 0 comments on “Marketers Face a Challenge With Apple’s iOS 14.5 Update”

Lead and sales attribution and measurement are essential tools for reviewing the effectiveness of a business’ marketing and advertising efforts. By knowing which pieces of content or ad units are generating more leads to the point of sale, we can achieve a better understanding of customer behavior. This information also helps us find ways to fine-tune a marketing approach to maximize a return on investment.

Attribution and measurement for leads and sales remain as important as ever, however, a recent update to Apple’s iOS that focuses on user privacy will make this process more challenging and less straightforward. While we have become accustomed to having extensive tracking data available to us as marketers to inform our strategy, the data that we will be able to access is changing. In the absence of key data points, marketers will need to lean on their experience, intuition, and ingenuity to maintain a high level of performance and deliver value to their clients.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at Apple’s iOS 14.5 update and discuss some key takeaways from this development.

What Will Apple’s iOS 14.5 Update Do?

With the recent release of iOS 14.5, Apple is implementing a feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT). ATT gives users the choice of whether they want to be tracked on apps and websites while on their Apple devices. With the update, any app that operates on an iPhone or Apple tablet is required to give users the option of if they want to be tracked or not. This determines if any app would be able to track a user’s activities as they browse the web or move to different apps within the iOS operating system.

Once a user has updated their device to iOS 14.5, they will be presented with the option to opt in or out of tracking every time they open up an app for the first time. This comes in the form of a pop-up prompt, similar to what has been done before when apps request access to photos, location, or microphone access. It is also important to note that users can toggle a setting for all apps to have tracking on or off if that is their preference.

For years, marketers have leveraged being able to track users and target them with ads that are based on key events, interactions, or behaviors. Leads could be presented with ads based on information regarding where they were in a sales funnel. This update will make it more challenging to reach users with targeted ads if they opt-out of tracking. It will likely also have implications for retargeting. If a user opts out of tracking it does not mean that they will no longer receive ads – they would likely just be more random. By opting in, users would likely continue to see ads that are more relevant to their consumer behaviors and demographics.

While it remains to be seen if different demographics or audiences may generally respond to this prompt in different ways, it seems as though opting out is proving to be far more common than opting in. According to Flurry, daily opt-in rates for those in the United States have hovered between 4% and 6%. If this continues to be the trend it will certainly have a significant impact on attribution and measurement moving forward.

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Which Platforms Will This Impact?

The iOS 14.5 update affects all apps and platforms available on Apple devices – not just the major players in advertising. Still, there has been vocal concern from advertisers who consistently utilize Google and Facebook/Instagram to reach their potential customers. Let’s take a quick look at how Google and Facebook are responding to these new iOS 14.5 requirements.

  • Google: In an official statement from Google, they acknowledge that iOS 14.5 will have a big impact on the Google Ads conversions recorded for iOS campaigns. Visibility into key metrics that show how ads drive conversion will be reduced – affecting how advertisers value and bid on ad impressions. They recommend that app advertisers upgrade to the latest version of Google Analytics for Firebase, and encourage advertisers to closely monitor the performance and delivery of all iOS App campaigns as adjustments to budgets and bids may be necessary.
  • Facebook: Facebook provides a lengthier overview of how iOS 14.5 may affect ads and reporting for its users. A big change for Facebook is that they will begin processing pixel conversion events from iOS 14 devices using Aggregated Event Measurement. This protocol limits measurement of web events from iOS 14 users to 8 conversion events that can be used for conversion optimization. Reporting will also be impacted, and users will need to rely on data from Apple’s SKAdNetwork API for mobile app installs and other app conversion events.

What Do We Think?

Privacy Is Important

Regardless of the inconveniences that new restrictions may place on advertisers and marketers, online privacy is increasingly important and yet seemingly difficult to achieve. This change puts more ownership of privacy of information with the user and emphasizes transparency, which is ultimately a good thing for all of us. Keep in mind that nearly 47% of people in the United States have an iPhone, making this step towards protecting privacy and data even more significant. By giving users the freedom to choose how their data is used, they can customize their internet experience and feel more comfortable on their devices and within the apps that they use. A select few may even prefer to be tracked in order to be served ads or recommendations that are meaningful to them or for a potentially improved app experience, but having no choice to decline this type of monitoring feels obtrusive to many.

While many of us regularly share some degree of personal information via social media or other sources, sharing that information should be up to the individual. While advertisers and marketers generally are not using personal data with bad intentions, that personal data is still valuable – and indeed personal. This change may cause some headaches for those running advertising campaigns, but this privacy control sets a positive precedent for technology companies to follow and may become an industry standard at some point in the future. As the perceived value and desire for privacy increases, we may see other companies follow suit in taking necessary steps to protect their customer base or make them more comfortable with using their products.

Attribution Is Never Easy

With the iOS 14.5 update, Facebook’s traditional 28-day attribution model will no longer be available and will instead be shifted to a default 7-day attribution model. This means that if a user does not convert from a Facebook ad within seven days, Facebook will no longer be able to report it. For businesses that see their leads typically convert within a seven-day period, this change in attribution parameters won’t be a substantial disruption. For higher-priced products that may require longer consideration or businesses with multiple touchpoints, comprehensive measurement and attribution may be much more difficult to accurately represent.

The truth is, lead and sales attribution has always been challenging to demonstrate clearly and comprehensively. Many marketers have settled for “last touch” or “last click” attribution in the past, which in many cases will not convey or credit the full customer journey to the point of sale. From in-person events to organic social media, to third-party reviews, to articles, and more, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to truly determine all of the touchpoints that a user has had before eventually making a purchase from an advertiser. Multi-touch attribution models can help with giving credit to the various interactions a customer may experience on the path to conversion, but they are very rarely perfect.

Now, this does not mean we throw up our hands and give up. Attribution is meaningful and can make a real difference in where we as advertisers and marketers dedicate our focus to attracting and converting leads. It does mean that we will likely have to be open to new ways of assessing and valuing points of attribution, and we must innovate to deliver insights that have value and inform our approach as we proceed. We can also take advantage of the tools within the SKAdNetwork when it comes to providing last-click attribution for app installs.

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Delivering Insights Amidst Restricted Data

The iOS 14.5 update will change the data that most advertisers have relied on in the past, which means the insights that we can deliver will need to change with it. Let’s remember, however, that this update only applies to Apple. Audiences that are on desktop, Android, or other non-Apple platforms can be advertised and marketed to without dramatic shifts in strategy.

With this in mind, an easy initial approach for advertisers will be to utilize distinctly different app campaigns that are constructed with the operating system in mind. With this approach, your Android and desktop campaigns will serve as somewhat of a control group while your iOS campaign will be a “variable” group. By comparing these sets side-by-side, seasoned advertisers and analysts should be able to make some assumptions about their overall performance. In this way, we can strike a balance between individual data privacy, tracked data, and aggregate data collection for purposes of attribution.

Experience Matters

As data protections ramp up, marketers will have to work even harder to provide relevant insights to their clients – and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It may create some separation between novice marketers and true experts in the industry. The truth is anyone with basic training can pull stats from platforms like Google Analytics. It’s what you do with the data that matters. Now that there will be fewer data points at our fingertips, what was once a data-centric approach will now be data plus intuition. It will be what you know to be true plus what logically makes sense based on all factors at play. From the data that we do have, we can derive insights that are arrived at with causality in mind.

If nothing else, this increase in difficulty will put the “magic” back into marketing. Those that truly understand the space will have an opportunity to set themselves apart from their competitors and will be able to truly provide value for their clients. As marketers and advertisers get accustomed to this new way of operating, they will continue to evolve and get savvier as the platforms themselves continue to evolve.

Conclusion

This update may cause stress and uncertainty for some, but look at this as an opportunity to put your expertise to good use. The relationship between marketing and privacy will continue to change over time, and what works today may not work in the months or years ahead. Be willing to adapt, find new solutions with the data that is available, and build off of foundational best practices to address new challenges as they arise.

While these changes will cause many marketers to change their approach to advertising, attribution, and measurement, there are a few things they can do to set themselves up for success:

  • Review your ongoing campaigns before reinventing the wheel. Compare the available data and performance metrics you have to pre-iOS 14.5 campaigns and determine gaps in previously established KPIs and data.
  • Assess what portion of your audience comes from mobile vs. desktop and use these differences in data sets to derive insights for your campaigns.
  • In the absence of tracking, use existing data (such as email lists or website traffic) to set up lookalike audiences on iOS advertising campaigns.

Depending on the nature of a given business and its audience, it is possible that these changes will not have a highly detrimental effect on ad performance – but attribution for leads and sales will almost certainly be a challenge. All marketers should familiarize themselves with these changes and begin to assess alternate strategies for how they can effectively provide attribution and analyze results moving forward.