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Death of the IDFA: Preparing for a Privacy-Focused Future

Dustin Zaloom | November 29, 2020| 1 min. read

Since the rise of the smartphone in 2007, consumer media consumption trends have shifted immensely. 2013 was the first year that the average time spent on mobile surpassed desktop. Since then, this trend has only continued to strengthen. It is no surprise that the continued uptick in mobile usage has brought with it a fundamental change not only in marketing budget allocation to mobile ads, but also in the types of mobile advertising available to marketers today. 

Now that we are approaching the end of 2020, mobile advertising spend is projected to be over $100 billion. 2020 has been an especially heavy spending year due to the increase in mobile gaming during COVID-19 remote work and isolation. The majority of this spend is on iOS devices as ads are more frequent and better performing compared to Android.

Marketers have become reliant on sophisticated attribution models to know where to best spend their budget. Through ad networks and 3rd-party mobile attribution experts, marketers can now track performance across every channel, targeting method, and creative. The ability to tie spend through to an app download and eventual in-app purchase is enabling the measurement and optimization of mobile marketing campaigns.

So, why do we care about mobile ad spend and how we track performance and allocate budget? Well, it is all about to change thanks to a four-letter acronym called IDFA…

What is IDFA?

Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) has been the key to unlocking mobile advertising’s best-in-class attribution model. The IDFA is your iOS device’s unique fingerprint, which tracks which ads are seen and where. If you view or click on an ad and proceed to download the app, the ad network uses the IDFA to connect the marketing spend to the value of your download or purchase.

The IDFA also allows advertisers and ad networks to create retargeting and lookalike audiences based off the behavioral data of their users. Google and Facebook know a lot about what their users are in-market for and can create custom segments based on this data. The IDFA became an easy way for advertisers to match their users to a wider ad network. And, without it, advertisers will be flying blind. 

Why should you care about IDFA now? 

Earlier this year, Apple announced privacy changes making it mandatory for users to opt-out (or into) of data tracking for each app. Opt-in rates are expected to be low, and ad networks would need opt-ins across a wide range of apps that are part of their networks for tracking to be successful. This will effectively be the death of IDFA, and with that, its ability to provide a viable tool for mobile ad attribution.

Apple has already delayed the rollout, which was intended to be released with the iOS14 update in September. This delay buys precious time for marketing teams and ad networks to prepare for these changes. In the meantime, Apple is building out its SKadNetwork, which it promises to be a privacy-safe way to measure the success of your ad campaigns.

How can marketing teams leverage this reprieve to fully prepare for the impending changes? See below for five tactics to get started on today. 

5 Ways to Prepare for Apple’s Privacy Changes

1) Utilize 1st-party data – Require visitors to log in. By having people log in, you will be able to identify your users by their email address, Facebook account, or Google account. Tying an email address to your downloads and in-app purchases enable you to build retargeting and lookalike campaigns without IDFAs. This step is also critical to unlocking owned channels like email and social to better personalize touchpoints with existing prospects and customers. 

Additionally, Facebook will still know all activity and interests of its users, based on browsing habits and ad history on Facebook. You can use ad networks’ proprietary data to target users in your Ideal Customer Profile or those who show intent. Facebook has indicated that IDFA changes will impact its Audience Network, so you should be wary of using ad networks’ 3rd-party data. You can still trust Facebook’s data quality in its owned inventory but may want to reassess your campaigns running outside of its direct purview. 

2) Assess your data infrastructure – How much data are you capturing in your internal data lake? Are you capturing mobile device information like device ID, operating system, and IP address? Any additional piece of information may be crucial as you reconfigure your attribution model. If Apple’s SKadNetwork has limitations, marketers may need to go back to a traditional media mix model. Now, more than ever, marketing needs to work hand-in-hand with its data science and product teams to ensure all advertising data is being collected and is usable.

3) Trust the experts – Not every marketing team has access to a data science team to work on refitting its attribution model. Mobile marketing attribution vendors, like Singular and AppsFlyer, make their money by consolidating all your available data and standardizing it into multiple models. They will likely be the first movers integrating data from Apple’s SKadNetwork into their attribution model, with experience customizing across their customer base. Singular is bringing that customer community together in one Slack channel for everyone to stay up to date on all changes in the privacy landscape. For those marketing teams that do not have endless product and data science resources, find a partner to keep your attribution current and best-in-class.

4) Prepare for future privacy changes – With its changes to data tracking and previous changes to location tracking and 3rd-party cookie blocking in Safari, Apple has shown an eagerness to be consumer-friendly when it comes to privacy. We expect this to continue going into 2021 and beyond. Google announced it will make similar changes to data tracking in 2021, though it will be more advertiser-friendly. There is also the potential for additional legislation around data privacy, following California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Marketers need to stay ahead of these changes and prepare for a cookie-less future.

5) Ask questions – There are still many unanswered questions about how the mobile marketing industry will adapt. Ask your Facebook and Google account managers what changes you should expect in their ad networks, as they will be modifying certain targeting and bidding methods. Ad platforms that rely on cross-device matching, like Account-Based Marketing platforms, may lose some critical data that enables them to find in-market prospects. Work from home has already added complexity in connecting devices to employers through IP addresses. It’s important to ask your vendors what to expect before Apple makes its changes. 

Apple killing the IDFA will have ramifications across the mobile marketing landscape. Targeting methods and mobile marketing attribution will need to evolve with a privacy-focused future. With these five tactics, marketers can ensure they are staying ahead of these changes and not playing catch-up.