iOS Marketing and Attribution One Year After Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency

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iOS 14 has been a pivotal part of the mobile marketing landscape for about two years. From the initial announcement until the rollout of iOS 14.5 in April 2021 — which brought about crucial changes to user privacy — the mobile marketing industry has been working overtime, reassessing the way it handles user privacy and its approach to the mobile advertising ecosystem in general. 

From understanding SKAdNetwork and familiarizing ourselves with AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) to developing best practices for getting the opt-in and building new conversion value schemas, there is a lot to stay on top of. The reality is, advertising cannot simply divorce themselves from advertising on iOS. At the beginning of 2021, Apple said there were over a billion iPhones in use globally — a number that has continued to grow. Advertisers should think twice about directing budgets away from iOS, as if simply decreasing spend will solve the consensual targeting and measurement problem.

Now that we are coming up on the one year anniversary of ATT and the deprecation of the IDFA, it’s time to look back at what we’ve learned, what’s changed, and what the best practices are when building a successful, scalable user acquisition strategy for iOS 14.5+.

How iOS 14+ has impacted mobile marketing

The mobile marketing industry — and digital ecosystems in general — are shifting toward a privacy-centric model. Initially, this realization caused panic among many marketers, but what is the real impact of these changes on marketers and their campaigns?

The first consequence is a potential lack of precision and accuracy in UA, attribution, and campaign performance. This is the obvious result of having less visibility into user-level data and campaign metrics. UA with the IDFA relies on precise, device-level campaign data that gives marketers visibility over performance, empowering better decisions around optimization. 

There are usually specific KPIs like Day 0/Day 1 retention, user LTV, ROI, and ROAS that marketers are optimizing for, and those metrics guide how and where budget is allocated. Decisions about how to scale may come down to a matter of a few percentage points. SKAdNetwork prevents this level of insight simply because the aforementioned KPIs aren’t supported. However, all hope of efficient, scalable campaigns is not lost.

Advertisers who achieve high opt-ins are still able to gain a good understanding of their KPIs per campaign and can optimize accordingly, but even a little data can go a long way toward building better campaigns. The truth is, the inventory tracked via SKAdNetwork is more complicated to measure and manage. However, following some evergreen best practices can help UA managers continue to scale.

3 mobile marketing best practices for the privacy era

The mobile marketing landscape may have changed significantly, but there are still some tried and true techniques that can help app marketers optimize their UA strategies. 

  1. Convert users to consented users with a solid opt-in strategy

Access to accurate data on iOS starts with a robust opt-in strategy. Maximizing user consent requires a proactive approach to communicating with your users, helping them understand the benefits of opting in, and then delivering on the promises you made. We’ve found that four variables have the biggest impact on influencing a user’s response to an ATT pop-up: 

  • Location
  • Messaging 
  • Message size
  • Button placement

It’s also crucial to develop an overall UX strategy of which the opt-in is just one part. Continued, rigorous testing will help you continue to optimize opt-ins and the overall user experience. Not only will emphasizing opt-in give you a bigger pool of users who can receive targeted advertising, but it gives you a bigger pool of data to pull from … which brings us to our next point.

  1. Continue collecting data

Your mobile measurement partner (MMP) should still be able to aggregate SKAdNetwork data and help you make sense of that data, so you can turn it into actionable insights. Even small data sets from opted-in users are beneficial. Every data point you gather is key to delivering performance results from your non-consented users. Robust data visualization tools combined with transparent measurement and reporting can enable your UA team to continue making informed decisions.

  1. Compute data points into actionable insights

Continuing to excel in today’s landscape may require UA managers to rethink conversion models. This means finding a model that computes your consented data points to accurately project performance for non-consented data. This involves taking deterministic data points from opted-in users and leveraging them to drive performance for your entire data set and user base.

Building a long-term UA strategy

No matter how great your opt-in strategy is, you will still have a large pool of users who choose not to consent to tracking. In this case, working with Apple’s SKAdNetwork, and the aggregated data it provides, is essential. Marketers can still turn to SKAdNetwork for attribution of app installs and reinstalls.

To best leverage SKAdNetwork, advertisers and marketers should build a conversion value strategy and focus predominantly on the first 24 hours, collecting all the available data to paint the clearest possible picture of user behavior. It’s not just about acquisition; it’s about understanding what user behaviors in that first 24-hour window can tell us about what they might do later. If you have formerly been tracking events for up to seven days — which is not possible on SKAdNetwork — this means your marketing team will need to completely reimagine their conversion value strategy

Privacy and data protection are central to the mobile advertising industry, and advertisers must pursue a holistic approach to acquisition, attribution, and measurement on iOS 14.5+. In order to do this, you must leverage the ATT framework to gather as much user-level, consent-based data as possible to use side by side with the aggregated data you receive from SKAdNetwork.

This requires marketers to prioritize a strategy that maximizes user consent and delivers on user experience. It not only minimizes disruptions but also makes long-term strategizing and allocation of budget more straightforward. By building a foundation based on your consented, deterministic data, you can continue to make marketing decisions with confidence.

Katie Madding is chief product officer at Adjust.