Apple’s iOS14 is still in its beta testing stages – but that won’t be true for much longer. Of course, iOS14 will upon its launch have huge implications for all manner of digital activity.

Apple’s iOS platform has a third of the entire mobile operating system market and is particularly popular among early adopters and influencers. That gives it an outsize important in the critical area of digital marketing. So what changes do marketers need to be aware of for iOS 14?

The long answer is a lot. Your in-house or agency marketers need to sit down with iOS14 and really understand it – when it rolls out, they will need to make a lot of alterations to marketing strategies and plans if they are to continue to have the same impact. We’re happy to have those conversations with you, too – just drop us a line.

But here are the cliff notes, to help you scope out the new landscape.

1. Privacy Matters

Apple’s biggest change is how it tracks users. Marketers rely on tracking for all sorts of functions, of course, and utilise the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) to track users across apps and services. But the IDFA is no longer automation in iOS14. Instead, users will be asked for permission for an app to track them; if they refuse, the IFDA will not be stored.

Apps will have some lee-way on when in the user journey they ask for that permission – and this can give marketers some control on the likelihood of permission being granted. But no app will be allowed not to ask for that permission at all, and this represents a big change … and a big challenge.

The good news is that Apple is allowing for permissionless tracking – but this will be in the form of aggregated data. This will give you campaign-level data only – and will be much less granular. Of course, none of this applies to mobile websites, which can still use cookies; the end of the automatic IDFA is an app marketer’s problem.

2. Targeting Challenges

In the absence of the IDFA, targeting becomes harder. Targeting individual users will become much more difficult, and instead, marketers will need to consider contextual targeting. That is the implied date about a user, based on the content they are accessing at a given time. This requires more guesswork if you like – or, if you prefer, clearer application of user-profiles to predict behaviours.

Users are very likely to refuse consent to be tracked in large numbers. This is likely to mean that contextual targeting will result in less specific ‘audiences’: when you lack specific data about each user, you will need to make more assumptions about them, and this will result in broader audience profiles.

This has implications for retargeting, too, of course: your retargeting offers, too, will need to be more broadly applicable than before. Likewise, the personalisation of content may become less specific, and hyper-local offers a thing of the past. Even excluding users from advertising will be harder – and that last one is possible something users won’t be too happy about (and make it a potential route to increasing take-up of tracking?).

3. Measuring Activity

The IFDA has become the lodestar for many a marketer. This method of tracking will now become obsolete – since a majority of users are very likely to refuse their device permission to create one. We’ve already seen that its replacement will be aggregated data – not so granular or useful – and it’s also true that Apple will be limiting advertisers to 100 campaigns per network. The room for segmentation is significantly reducing.
Likewise, the new data gathering will remember only the most recently viewed fifteen ads per-app – meaning tracking campaign histories will become harder. Likewise, linking a conversion to a particular ad impression for a particular user will become more difficult by an order of magnitude. The update also prevents app-to-web tracking – though using URL parameters to track referrals should still be possible.
None of this data will be offered real-time, either – and Apple is toying with the idea of delaying it by a few days. In other words, a marketer may not even know an app has been installed for 48 hours. This, too, has huge implications for how campaigns build in response actions and measure success. Marketers measure conversions; iOS14 makes doing so harder.

4. Tracking Performance

The long and short of all this might seem grim: it will be a lot harder to demonstrate the effectiveness of campaigns, since that link between action and the user is now much weaker, if not entirely erased. This will have a long-term impact: the algorithms major platforms rely on to deliver content to qualified leads will no longer have as much data with which to make those decisions.

Still, you can still track revenue as if it is organic – and make educated “guesses” that can link revenue with activity. You might also seek to reinvest in Android, which isn’t taking this route – but Android users have historically been seen as less valuable, and that doesn’t seem likely to change soon. There’s nothing to say Google won’t follow Apple’s lead, either.

And that, ultimately, needs to be the take-home here: adaptation. Brand marketing may make a big return in the absence of the very granular data marketers have become used to; the big platforms will adapt to the changes of iOS14 and force change on everyone; cohort analysis may become the new key to digital marketing.

Change, then, is coming. So it’s time to get au fait with does iOS 14 means for app advertising …

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