S3:E2 - Apple iOS14 - What can marketers do as audience sizes fall off a cliff?

Updated: May 4

Hello folks, welcome back to Season 3 of the Marketing Mindset Club. How did you enjoy the first episode of this season? I interviewed Chris Hann about B2B marketing, how to get the most out of your marketing budget, and what’s working and not working for lead gen right now. If you haven’t already, please go back and check it out - there’s loads of really good stuff in there including things you can try out right now.

But onto today’s episode and today, we’re focussing on the Apple iOS14.5 release, what that means for you and me as marketers and how Facebook, in particular, has responded.

For those who need a quick catch up on this, Apple announced last year I think that with the launch of this latest operating system for iPad and iPhone, there will be a feature called ATT - app tracking transparency. Among other things, this would mean users would have to specifically opt-in to allow apps to track them and sharing data via pixels or gathering data from other apps on the device - for instance, via the Facebook pixel. It’s a new privacy feature, but for us marketers, it means that anyone who advertises on mobile may find their audience volumes and therefore ad effectiveness and revenue takes a tumble. It was labelled by Facebook as, and I quote “hurting small businesses and publishers who are already struggling in a pandemic.”

And I can see their viewpoint. So many businesses rely on personalised advertising to drive revenue on platforms like Facebook, which is after all more akin to a media company than a tech company. But equally, as users, privacy is something more and more digital consumers are becoming aware of and the value of information is part of our consciousness in a way it hasn’t been before.

This update centres around the IDFA or identifier for advertisers, which is the random device identifier used by Apple to send data that allows advertisers to target recipients with personalised ads. One article I found said that “users will have the ability to choose to block the sharing of this unique identifier at the App level. Previously, consumers had to opt out. Now when a user installs or updates to the new iOS, a prompt will appear alerting the user to opt-in or opt-out of the sharing of this information. Currently, about 70% of iOS users share their IDFA with app publishers - because you can opt-out in the settings, but after this change, it’s estimated that this number will drop to 10% to 15%.”

This release was meant to come last September, but it’s believed to have been delayed to let developers catch up, but it’s now here - iOS14.5 and was made available on 26th April. So, what was expected to happen is the IDFA (identifier for advertisers) will be blocked by default and users will have to specifically opt-in to ad tracking.

At the time of recording, I read through the support notes for this update and there’s nothing specifically in there about the ATT, but in the summary of the update it said “App Tracking Transparency lets you control which apps are allowed to track your activity across other company’s apps and websites”. I also installed the update and didn’t see a pop-up or any other notification that forced me to opt-in to anything. I closed all the apps on my phone, re-opened them and still nothing so I can’t speak first hand about what that experience looks like.

Forbes wrote that “Facebook argues that this will impact the ability to offer personalised advertising, but Apple quite rightly points out that iPhone users have a right to know they are being tracked, and to opt-out of this if they wish. So in iOS 14.5, a pop up will appear asking for your explicit permission to be tracked across apps and services.” What’s also interesting is that according to Wired, “Apple has also changed its policies to say developers can’t hold people to ransom: apps can’t work differently or limit the functions available if you decide to opt-out of tracking.” So it’s not as though there are a bunch of workarounds happening.

So it’s quite real that audiences previously available to advertisers will greatly decrease in size, and those who opt-out will no longer receive personalised ads. And sadly, we’re already starting to see the impact of this in the volume and efficiency across some of our Facebook ad campaigns. Don’t forget this only matters to a mobile audience on Apple devices iPhone and iPad, you can still personalise ads to desktop users, android device owners and any other smartphone owners - but here in the UK at least, iPhone has 51% of the smartphone market share.

I’ve seen an update from Facebook that they are allowed to show what they’re calling, education screens on Facebook and Instagram that explains more about the changes and how they affect the user’s experience on those two platforms - I’ve linked to it from the show notes.

Facebook has delivered specific instructions as to how you need to react if you’re an advertiser - and I’ve linked to this in the show notes. Now, despite having read up a lot on this issue, I’m still unclear what actions, if any, you as a marketer can actually take here. Sure, there are technical things that need to happen, such as for app install campaigns, you need to update the Facebook SDK if you use it - but what does it even mean besides having smaller audiences to target and reduced capability to personalise?

I don’t know yet.

But it has always been the case that there is an inherent danger in building your marketing strategy on third-party apps and platforms that something like this will come along to derail it. I think it’s yet another reason why building your own following or community on platforms you can control is more sustainable for your future marketing strategy. And I don’t just mean bespoke forums when I say community, I mean on any channel that you can control.

This includes email marketing, partnerships, PR and of course, your own website community - anywhere that you can speak directly to your audience - or your ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ channels as we marketers would call them.

Another great reason to start thinking about owned and earned channels is to avoid the upcoming issues with third-party cookies.

Another potential change for the benefit of user privacy, third party cookies will soon likely be blocked by Chrome just as they are already in Safari. This would mean users in either of those browsers and probably any others shortly after, wouldn’t be tracked by something like Google Analytics. Although we’re expecting Google to come up with a different way that Analytics will track user activities on a site, the death of the third party cookie is likely imminent also.

We’re still waiting to see how this resolves itself - the death of the third party cookie would mean the death of Google Analytics in its current form, but I think the loss of the platform is highly unlikely. Google is likely working on a different method for it to gather data, but we don’t know what that will look like yet. It could mean more closed ecosystems - so when you combine that with the significant drop in iOS audience numbers, this is going to be a very challenging time.

But the sceptic in me is concerned that whenever I see a global business acting to protect its users, I have to wonder what’s behind that. Apple themselves state that “Privacy is a fundamental human right and at the core of everything we do. That’s why with iOS 14, we’re giving you more control over the data you share and more transparency into how it’s used.” But the other side of that coin that you don’t hear much about is Apple’s own ad attribution tool - the SKADNetwork. Part of the StoreKit framework, it’s “a class that validates advertisement-driven app installations”.

Now, not being a developer, I don’t really have a clue what that means. So I turned to a plain English explanation courtesy of DigiDay. And you can read the whole thing in the show notes at MarketingMindset.club. And this is taken directly from that article:

“In short, SKADNetwork is Apple’s privacy-friendly way to attribute impressions and clicks to app installs on iOS apps. It shares conversion data with advertisers without revealing any user-level or device-level data. Think of it like the marketer’s equivalent of being in the friend zone with an unrequited crush. There’s a lot they would like to do in the SKADNetwork that they can’t — i.e. granular tracking. Essentially, it works like a mini walled garden. The attribution process happens within the App Store before being verified on Apple’s servers. From there, the data is cleansed of anything that could compromise a person’s identity before being shared with the ad networks for ad execs to access. The limitations are intentional from Apple. ”

A walled garden you say? Doesn’t sound at all like Apple setting themselves up to compete with Google’s future walled garden when third party cookies are deprecated from Chrome - winky face!

The Digiday article went on to say this in relation to workarounds - Apple has made it clear that ad execs play in its ecosystem on its terms or not at all. So any attempt to identify users’ identity will likely be blocked. That leaves ad execs with just a few options: contextual targeting is one area app monetization firms like Fyber are exploring, though the jury is out on whether it matches up to the effectiveness of mobile identity-powered targeting. Other app developers may push emails as an acceptable alternative, but these moves are likely to be limited by how hard it is to capture a large enough number of them. The struggle is real.”

Yes - the struggle is real. And in the here and now of marketers working for businesses who have already been through some of the most turbulent times in retail - for better or worse, this is in some ways a poorly-timed hurdle at the end of what has already been a race of survival. Undoubtedly some retailers have absolutely exploded as a result of the pandemic with beyond exponential growth happening month on month in 2020, but it’s not all overflowing sales carts for all.

If I could leave you with one thing marketers - it’s to look at the resources and data you already have that you might not have fully explored in your owned and earned channels. This means optimising your email marketing, running further split tests, automating and personalising with data that’s freely been given by opted-in customers. It means a conversion rate optimisation strategy and split testing pages and CTAs on your website. What about doubling down on loyalty and optimising your rewards programme to leverage repeat purchases on consumable items? Or how about a subscription option to generate recurring revenue?

Get your owned and earned stuff performing as well as it can and you’ll probably find gains that you might miss if you continue to focus on paid, especially Facebook ads and other mobile ad formats in these turbulent times.

And that’s all I have for you this week. I’d love to hear how your clients are being impacted by this update and how you’re adapting your ad campaigns. Please pop me a DM on Instagram @Marketingmindsetclub or go to the MarketingMindset.club website.

Thank you so much for coming back to the Marketing Mindset Club for season 3. I’m so glad you tuned in! If you haven’t yet subscribed or left a review, please consider doing so if you’re getting value from the show - it really helps me out in my goal to grow this club. See you next time.

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