Apple has seen the success of the Facebook Audience Network, Google App Campaigns, and In-App Advertising and have decided the time is coming where they need their percentage of this pie they feel they should rightfully be entitled to. This has kicked off a series of actions which has Apple playing a long-game to claw back revenue from an industry they feel they spawned.
This article is for those who are still not sure what the future holds in a new ATT world with IDFA deprecation, as well as those who think they have a handle on everything. This blog is for both of you. One of you will hopefully find some information you’re looking for in here that can help. The other will find information in here you need, and will hopefully read with an open mind. Something for everyone. Yay!
Apple has dropped a bomb on the mobile ad tech industry this week, and who’s left after the dust clears might not be who you think. The strategies you’re learning about from MMP webinars, virtual events, and in industry Slack groups might not contain all the information you need. This article is not going to address the technical aspects of SKAdNetwork or Probabilistic Attribution, or any of the technical applications related to the new world. There are people much smarter in those areas who have written thousands of words on this. THIS article is about the real world applications and strategies on how to maximize your results by understanding how to market in the new world, what Apple is really up to, and how to get the most out of the horrible hand we’ve all just been dealt…or is it that horrible at all?
1. Old School Marketing is now New School Mobile Marketing
Back in the early days of advertising, we had to create what’s called Customer Avatar (aka User Persona, User Profile, etc). We would identify our best/ideal customer by WHO they were. This was before user-level data where they showed us who they were. We would know who we wanted to reach. Their age range, personality, interests, etc. We would then create copy, ad creatives, and marketing campaigns that would interest those people. Then they would see the ad and they would buy.
User-Level Data helped us reach those people directly, making the campaigns very efficient. However, like TV commercials, Billboards, and Magazine Ads, we now have to return to our original marketing roots. We need to place ads in apps which have similar profiles. PMP (Private MarketPlace) deals will be more important now. Much like placing an ad in a magazine which aligned with your desired customer, you’ll now place ads in apps which align with your desired user. Your marketing will have to be more strategic and focused to communicate with a user directly to motivate them to take action instead of throwing up hundreds of creatives and seeing which units, channels, and elements performed best.
Try to always keep this in mind, if you haven’t been already: Every tick on that data sheet you’ve been looking at (unless it’s fraud) is a human user who’s making a conscious decision to click, download, open, use, (hopefully) monetize, and eventually stay retained and continue to open and use (and continue to be monetized in) your app.
2. What’s Most Important Moving Forward
Assuming you’re not able to get allowance to track your Users, and you’re employing some of the tried and true strategies and methodologies as listed in #1, you’ll have to focus heavily on the post-install User Experience. This is because other than organic UA efforts such as ASO, you’re investing money into paid UA less reliably and now probabilistically. This means your margins for error are razor thin, as your targeting will be less efficient than before with the help of IDFA.
Now, your Onboarding, Post-Onboarding UX, and Monetization strategies are more important than ever before. You now have to maximize all the ROAS juice you can squeeze from each User you can bring in. Those apps which already have great onboarding and high conversion rates will continue to thrive, but those who were relying on paid UA targeting to acquire users and incrementally squeeze out extra LTV will be in for a rougher go now.
My advice for those apps which don’t see massive LTV figures is to almost re-think your onboarding experience and your first-time UX. Think of your app all new, and think about it as a Minimum Viable Product again, and (maybe) show that to your first time users. Give them a user experience which has very little complication and get them to your conversion tipping points, whatever they are for your app and user journey, as soon as possible. Remove complexity and the Users’ learning curve to get them to the conversion events which turn into long-term Users…as soon as possible.
The human component, virality, social sharing and evangelism, and a great community of your app’s users will now be more important than ever before. If it’s possible, and I would argue most of the apps out there who make good money can, hire (or empower) a great community manager to take your User-to-User interactions and engagement to a higher level of attention and focus. You want to spend less on ads, because they’re going to be less efficient, and more on User engagement, monetization, and increasing lifetime value since these strategies will grow your app business regardless of IDFA.
We should be now trying to maximize ROAS through User Experience and User Journey optimization, since those are the things we can still control. Focusing on employing only “this is the best we can do with SKAdNetwork” will leave your app sub-optimized for lifetime value augmentation.
3. When and How to Trigger the ATT Permissions Prompt
Of course, it’s always best to give yourself a real chance at being able to still track your Users, in addition to #1 and #2 above. This way, we can still keep our retargeting and incrementality efforts going at a high level. A big mistake many apps are making is that they are triggering the ATT permissions prompt immediately, as soon as a User launches their app after installing the iOS 14.5 update. This is a major misstep, in my opinion, and akin to just giving up and accepting there’s no shot in gaining User acceptance. If that’s your strategy, and you just want to dive head first into the world of IDFA-less lack of User-Data, that’s fine, but please go back and make sure you read my 1st and 2nd points and really lean into that approach…because that’s your only hope at efficient marketing moving forward.
I suggest to NOT trigger the ATT permissions prompt right now. This is because you want to control as much of the User journey and actions as possible. If not, then just accept your fate and see #1 and #2 again. If you want any reasonable shot at gaining tracking allowance, then you want to design a strategy around the prompt.
Facebook has the best pre-prompt messaging for their app that I have seen, yet. They clearly state that it’s your iOS 14.5 that’s requesting a change, and it’s going to affect your user experience inside the Facebook app. They give you the option to “Make Ads Less Personalized” and that button essentially and temporarily turns off IDFA/user-level data collection and will trigger the more generalized advertisements. However, they have an “Allow” button which asks if Facebook can “Show you ads that are more personalized.” If you click “Allow” then you are given the iOS ATT prompt.
Facebook also added some great reiterative messaging in the customizable text field on the system prompt “This allows Facebook to provide you with a better ads experience…” and once again “Allow” is the option which matches this language.
It’s important to recognize the subliminal connecting of the dots here. First, Facebook says they want to give you a better, more personalized, ads experience, and they reiterate that in both the pre-prompt interstitial and the customizable copy in the prompt. But the real hammer to seal the deal here is that they called their “OK” button the same exact name as the prompt’s “permission” button. By showing the user “Allow” after they already clicked an “Allow” button, they are exponentially more likely to click “Allow” again, since they already “bought in” to the concept of allowing personalized ads.
This is perfect marketing. Successful marketing tells you a story, and remains consistent with that story throughout the entire conversion process. Any deviation from that story creates doubt. This is where “click-bait” style conversion flows fail. They promise something they don’t deliver on, and upset users. When you set up a story, then post-click reiterate that story and language, you will see higher conversions. Therefore, I am willing to guarantee good money in a wager that this Facebook “permissions conversion flow” will generate a much higher success rate than most other pre-prompt flows, or just triggering the prompt upon launch with almost no warning and very little customizable messaging.
Note, after Facebook and a few other Apps were starting to use this smart strategy, Apple changed their guidelines to specifically state we cannot use the word “Allow” in the pre-prompt interstitial. If this already exists, you won’t be kicked out of the App Store, but Apple may reject your next update submission. So, proceed with caution.
4. Who Should Own the Prompt Strategy Internally
You will hear many mobile marketers in paid user acquisition debate and share strategies with many MMPs and paid UA consultants about prompt strategies. When to initiate, if they should initiate at all, etc. I feel this is not the best owners to be discussing an app’s prompt strategy. Prompt strategy, and pre-prompt actions (if any) should be with the Monetization and/or User Experience teams. Actually, the Ad Monetization and UX teams should be working hand-in-hand with each other on how and when to initiate the pre-prompt, or just the naked ATT prompt.
Why? Because the User will be interacting with the prompt in-app, and their decision will be made based on how they feel at that time. If someone’s job is strictly buying for UA purposes on ad networks, but they aren’t on the Ad Mon team, then they don’t have the insight into in-app user behavior to have the proper context to make an educated decision on prompt strategy, since it’s not part of their day-to-day job.
Instead, they should be working with MMPs (as many are doing now) on how to navigate SKAdNetwork, how to strategize more general probabilistic ad strategies, and how to work in an IDFA-less world. This makes sense that MMPs and media buying UA mobile marketers not involved in Ad Monetization should be in deep discussions. They have to prepare for the probable reality of marketing without definitive information on any particular user.
Thomas Petit, App Growth Expert and Consultant, mentioned to me in a Slack group recently that he feels there is another very big factor which will also contribute to an app’s ability to gain ATT user approval: How much brand power/love/trust an app has with their users. This is a factor not many others are talking about when it comes to ATT permissions. This coincides with everything else I mentioned, and Thomas gave me permission to quote him, so there it is. If you don’t have a loyal and actively evangelistic user based with high LTV numbers, you will have a harder time gaining tracking permission. However, if you have this type of user base who trusts your app and brand very much, then they are more likely to give you permission.
Last point, you should segment different users to see or not see the prompt, then I would recommend those Users who have allowed location tracking and notifications to be the first ones you issue the Prompt to. If they are already voluntarily allowing your app to have access to their personal lives, then they are more likely to also allow tracking allowance. Even more so when you look at #3 above, and follow those best practices.
5. What Exactly is Apple Up To? No Seriously, This is Bigger Than Even “They” Are Saying
Some are asking “Why is Apple doing this?” Others are saying their reasons aren’t important, because it is what it is, and this is our reality so just deal with it. Yet others, like I’m about to do, have wild speculations about Apple’s motives, and are guessing at what’s next? The great thing about all of these stances is that as of right now, no one is wrong, because Apple has not yet revealed their long-term goals to us. However, there are breadcrumbs and a trail of evidence to follow.
Apple’s problem, from a business standpoint, is that they are not making any money off in-app advertising, they see the scrutiny and issues Facebook had when there was a data breach and how that negatively affected their business from a user trust perspective, and Apple are not making as much ad revenue as they feel they deserve for creating the multi-billion dollar ecosystem which others are making hundreds of millions of dollars/euros/you name it, and they are making only a share of this. Apple feels they are entitled to their cut, because they created all of this.
Since Steve Jobs passed away, Apple has been less about innovation and pushing the industry forward, and more about maximizing market shares, revenue and of course profits. The post-Steve Jobs products have just not been on the same level of innovation and genius, so, where Apple has succeeded is in driving revenue and maximizing their monetary strategies…like every business is supposed to. We just get caught up in their branding, and still feel they are all about innovation and “being different;” but they’re no longer involved in either of those philosophies.
Apple wants their cut from the industry. However, if Apple immediately shuts off the revenue streams and introduces an ad platform, they will be brought up to congress and other global hearings on antitrust and monopolization accusations. They are already lumped in the “break up big tech” campaigns with Google and Facebook, so they want to protect themselves from this fate.
So, how do you take an entire revenue-generating ecosystem back if you’re Apple? First, you would create a better Ad Network which works (not iAd, but like Apple Search Ads), invest more in ad tech (like they’ve been hiring), make a massive public stance to advocate for User Privacy (iOS 14.5), release an option that’s just barely viable and usable but not a great solution (SKAdNetwork), separate 3rd Party tracking permissions from Apple’s tracking permissions (14.5 allows for Apple to track even if you decline tracking on any particular apps), continue to create an ad platform which can act as a Walled Garden to shield iOS user data from advertisers looking to see who’s who, and then when your option that’s just barely viable is not anywhere close to working as advertisers expected you come in and “save the day” with your “Apple Audience Network” style walled garden offering to allow advertisers to target individual users without revealing user-level data to 3rd parties, but still allowing the ability to target specific user profiles, likes, interest, etc.
Wrapping It Up
Take a deep breath. This is what Apple is up to, and in order to do your best app growth in the coming months and remainder of the year, you should understand the end goal of #5, and if you do not like this outcome then do your best with #’s 1 through 4 to give yourself the best chance to adapt to this change, get the best shot at tracking as many of your users as possible, do better brand marketing for performance results whether you’ve been given ATT permissions or not, and, remember that regardless of all this you have to understand that maximizing your post-install app growth performance will help your business continue to grow as much as possible…with or without IDFA.
I hope you found this article at least interesting. Of course, anyone with an opinion at this point isn’t “wrong” right now, so please comment and share what YOU think the right strategies are, who in your company owns the prompt triggers, and of course, please feel free to muse away on what you think Apple has in store for us all! We’re all not wrong just yet, so make your predictions!