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3 Ways to Move Past SKAdNetwork

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We often refer to media years as being “the year of mobile” or “the year of programmatic.” It appears that 2021 — and, arguably, 2022 — will be coined “the year of attribution.” It’s remarkable how much of the conversation over the past 18 months, since Apple announced the privacy changes to iOS, has been focused on how SKAdNetwork is uprooting attribution for mobile advertisers. 

While it’s true that the shift has caused considerable consternation for brands running user acquisition (UA) campaigns for their apps, the majority of brands were not affected by this change in attribution. To be clear, I’m not saying brands were not impacted by Apple’s privacy changes — they were. The loss of IDFA has impacted targeting, pacing/frequency and personalization of creative messaging. But brand advertisers have not lost their ability to calculate ROAS for all campaigns. 

Here is a guide for brand advertisers to navigate SKAdNetwork and reclaim attribution.

Put your focus on measurable conversion events — off app, that is

Yes, if you’re running UA for your brand’s food delivery, loyalty program or any other kind of app, you’ve had to adjust to Apple’s new measurement system and the limitations that come with it. But those types of campaigns are just one of many kinds, and there are plenty of instances of brands that tie messaging to conversion events like registrations and purchases instead. 

The catch is, those events need to happen outside the app. Imagine you’re on your iPhone and see a pre-roll ad trailer for an upcoming blockbuster movie. At the end of the trailer you see an end card with options to buy tickets on Fandango. You tap and complete your purchase. Does the movie studio know the exact identity of who bought that ticket? No. (Fandango does.) But they know that the ad was served, and that the purchase was made, and looking at those two correlative events, they can attribute that sale to the ad.

The same goes for other businesses that measure events in another app or website outside of where the ad is being served. An auto brand, for example, already had their KPI measurements for lower-funnel campaigns, like booking a test drive, set up outside any mobile measurement partner. Those users were always driven outside that app to complete a form with their contact information, long before SKAdNetwork was even a twinkle in Tim Cook’s eye. 

Home in on correlation as a form of ‘last-click’ attribution

The other piece that many industry experts are ignoring about brands and SKAdNetwork is the strength of correlation. While some KPIs are black-and-white measurements of success, we’re forgetting that for decades, advertisers poured dollars into a medium with no clear attribution: television. Even now, advertisers are still looking for concrete performance metrics beyond audience reach and impressions to measure ROI, justify investments, and validate media mix strategies. (And pricey, time-delayed attribution studies are not a solution!)

Enter Connected TV and the promise of precise, digital-like measurability that comes with it. While we do have ways to “click” and interact with TV ads through certain creative, those behaviors are not yet widespread. Most TV ads still drive viewers to engage in second-screen behaviors, so that last click still comes from another channel like search, social, or direct type-in landing pages. 

Your TV buy might be smarter in terms of targeting, but you’re still largely on your own to measure ad exposure to website traffic and sales. Brands must sharpen their skills in this area and learn to leverage correlation as a form of attribution, such as footfall traffic and interest or purchase actions taken on other channels within the same time frame as their CTV and/or mobile ad campaign with that CTA.

Leverage ad units that empower in-ad (not in-app) purchases

SKAdNetwork doesn’t just connect the data between the click and app download; it’s also the method for measuring post-install events, or in-app conversions. This means that any user who has opted out of tracking and buys something within your app is completely anonymized. While this creates privacy protection for the user, it can be frustrating for advertisers who want to track those purchases back to a campaign.

But what if the purchase could take place within the ad itself? That removes the middle step in which Apple is involved, which means there is no need for SKAdNetwork. If a user sees a promotion for a QSR like Starbucks or McDonald’s, for instance, and can make their purchase without leaving that ad experience, bam! — there’s your attribution. The ad was served, the sale was completed immediately, and the brand has no doubts as to the efficacy. 

This technology exists already. 1o made huge strides in this realm over the past year, and digital commerce will continue to grow during and post-pandemic, as buying online becomes a solidified consumer behavior among all age groups and demographics. Even by the end of this year, mobile is estimated to be the source of nearly three-quarters (73%) of all ecommerce sales. Empowering ecommerce within ads will soon not just be possible; it will become more the norm among brands that sell products online. 

Bonus: Don’t worry about iOS 15 — no, really; you can ignore it 

By now, everyone who needs to has implemented the SKAdNetwork API – even the big players like Meta. In iOS 14, they (and all ad networks) could act as a gatekeeper for the postbacks, since advertisers didn’t have direct access. Apple listened to feedback though, and with iOS 15, advertisers get the raw postbacks on their own, which they can then share with their MMPs. 

For brand advertisers, though, nothing changes – you still have all the power in your hands to measure the efficacy of your campaigns, just as you have all along.

Britany Scott is VP East Coast & Central, AdColony, a Digital Turbine company.