Or, Life after SKAdNetwork (SKAN)
We’ve written a lot in previous months about the impact of Apple’s iOS 14 release, in particular iOS 14.5 in late April, 2021. We have covered various aspects of the ripple effects here, here and here spanning a wide range of topics like privacy, tracking (IDFA & user-level tracking), attribution and campaign measurement.
Not much has been written specifically about how Apple’s changes would impact the mobile performance marketing industry, aka affiliate marketing. Keep in mind, digital affiliate marketing has been around for decades and gone through dozens of industry iterations as technology has evolved. Prior to mobile, the marketplace functioned on Desktop.
Fast forward to today, and mobile performance marketing has grown sizably given how fast mobile usage has increased: there are over 3.5 billion mobile users worldwide! It’s clear the game is shifting towards mobile. Apple knows that better than anyone, and they are in the business of protecting user privacy (as they should be). They are also at the same time building up their own advertising arsenal. This has caused our industry to once again have to adapt. Pre-SKAN and pre-Limit Ad Tracking (LAT), and putting issues of scalability aside, there are other considerations in Mobile compared to Desktop that are impacted by iOS 14.5:
- Carrier Operators — not only are they the main market regulators, they have a direct relationship with end users/consumers as well as advertisers and publishers.
- User Experience — often, it is much easier and faster for the user to purchase or subscribe to a product or service on mobile. This speed and ease for the user has been helpful for the performance industry which thrives on data, speed and measurement.
- Apps — this is the biggest difference and relevant to SKAN. In-app advertising, in particular, is a huge business that simply hasn’t existed in the Desktop business. This dynamic has increased potential traffic sources across the ecosystem in recent years.
- Targeting — because of the role the Carrier Operator plays, mobile offers more targeting options.
- Models — subscription and install models are more prevalent in mobile than desktop.
- Creative Units — because of screen size and area, it creates different opportunities (and in some cases, limitations) around what you can do creatively on a mobile device v. a desktop computer.
Traditionally, the utility in performance marketing for advertisers and publishers has been driven by granularity; in other words, being able to measure each action and tie those actions back precisely to a particular ad campaign. With Apple’s latest iOS release, the way we measure campaigns has changed. User-level data will be tougher to come by with LAT. Retargeting has ceased to exist in its prior form. So, what should mobile performance marketing be evolving towards?
1) It’s important to align with a partner who is registered with Apple and certified under SKAN. In other words, get comfortable with SKAN. It is the only real way to recognize attribution of an ad campaign on iOS. There are no shortcuts here.
2) Fraud Prevention controls will be super-important. Align with a partner or network that is all over this. With the precision of click-to-conversion likely gone in favor of a more probabilistic approach, there will be a premium on fraud controls now that there are fewer data points.
3) Barriers to Entry are a little different now. With traditional desktop, and even pre-SKAN mobile performance marketing, part of the industry’s growth was because advertisers and publishers had low barriers to entry to get in the game. Today, especially with the changes to iOS, the barriers to entry are quite high. Today, it is crucial for publishers and advertisers to align with ad networks that are approved by Apple.
4) Get Used to Less Granularity: Or better yet, embrace media buying again. Everything is different now as it relates to the specificity of data. Take Postbacks as just one example: these may be delayed up to 24 hours which effectively eliminates the ability to measure click-to-install time or event time. With everything shifting, it’s an opportunity to consider how you have done media buying in the past and what changes you need to make to hit KPI.
5) Owned and Operated Technology matters. While there are hundreds of companies that claim they have their own technology, VERY few actually do. Look for partners that have their own proprietary tracking platforms, their own proprietary DSP’s and those who self-innovate vs. those who white label and claim to have their own technology. Once you peel this onion, you realize very few organizations actually have their own technology. Work with companies that are privacy-centric, as privacy changes will continue to accelerate rapidly.
As with everything in our industry, things are fluid. Now more than any time, M&S activity is accelerating and the landscape will be very different 6, 12, or 18 months from now. Be prepared to evolve with this. There was a time in 2020 when people in the industry were saying that mobile marketing was cooked, and that mobile performance marketing was dead. This, of course, is far from true. Change is hard for people but my years in this industry have taught me that we will adapt and likely lead the way for whatever the next major change is.