Dan Haverty

Data privacy is a big concern among today’s consumers. The vast majority of Americans today — 79%, according to Pew Research — are concerned about the way companies are using their private information. Many of the world’s tech giants are responding by tightening their data privacy standards and giving consumers more control over who has access to their data and when.

That’s what Apple’s recent iOS 14 privacy update is all about. Users can now opt-out of in-app tracking, and that means marketers have to adapt to stay in front of potential customers.

How iOS 14 Is Rewriting the Advertising Game

First, let’s start with the basics. Every Apple device is assigned a unique Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) that tracks an individual’s activity across different mobile apps. This provides marketers with a wealth of knowledge, which they can use to learn more about individual users’ interests, tastes and preferences to build highly personalized ad content that is more likely to deliver results.

Let’s look at a practical example. Say we have a company that sells all sorts of organic foods, products, cleaners and materials — let’s call it Dan’s Organic Company. They have an ideal customer in mind — the “crunchy” type — someone they know for sure is going to love just about everything they sell. Now let’s imagine their data is telling them that their ideal customer doesn’t just love buying organic — they also tend to spend much of their weekends shopping at local farmers’ markets.

Using the IDFA to track the behavior of one customer — let’s call her Erika — marketers can see that she has downloaded an app that locates nearby farmers’ markets, complete with opening times, vendor information and other useful information. Marketers can see that Erika uses that app every single weekend, spending several minutes clicking through a variety of different features. Adding that to a range of other data collected from her mobile app usage, marketers can feel reasonably confident that Erika is their ideal customer and that it’s worth sending personalized ads to her Apple device.

So, What’s Changing?

Apple’s iOS 14 privacy update — part of its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework — changes all that. All apps are now required to ask users explicitly — right when they start using it after they download it from the app store — for permission to track their in-app behavior, downloads and other activity. That means users can opt out, robbing marketers of priceless consumer information that sits at the heart of each ad campaign.

Worse still, the Apple iOS 14 updates also mean marketers can’t track in-app ad performance. In the pre-App Tracking Transparency days, marketers were able to track a number of different metrics that helped them determine whether their ads were actually encouraging downloads and conversions. When users opt out of tracking, that information is lost. Marketers can still place targeted ads in apps, to be sure, but they’ve lost the ability to see whether those ads are actually delivering.

No Data, Mo’ Problems (for Marketers)

All of that creates some serious problems for marketers. The day Apple launched iOS 14.5, 98% of American users chose to opt-out of in-app tracking, according to data from Flurry. Without that treasure trove of data supplied by in-app tracking, marketers are finding it much (much) more difficult to build effective ad campaigns, track ad performance and deliver a high ROI.

Some of the new marketing challenges created by the Apple iOS 14 updates include:

  • Reduced targeting capabilities: Digital marketing works because advertisers are able to pinpoint their ideal customers and send them highly personalized ads they know they will love. Without the ability to track in-app activity, marketers aren’t able to build quite the same intimate understanding of users. That means they don’t know if their ads are actually going to the right people or places.
  • Unoptimized ad spend: Ad tracking doesn’t just tell marketers if their ads are working — it gives them information they need to optimize their ad spend, putting their dollars where they’re most likely to generate a return. Without that information, marketers simply don’t know what works and what doesn’t, and that means it’s a lot harder to maximize each ad campaign and invest in the right places.
  • Less ad personalization: Personalization is the hallmark of a good marketing campaign, and advertisers know customers want (and expect) a personalized touch. When marketers can’t access ad tracking data, they lose much of the deep customer information that enables them to create a personalized ad experience. From the user standpoint, the ads they receive will be more generic, less relevant and less likely to feel designed for them.
  • Limited business intelligence: It’s not just in-app ads that will suffer. App tracking gives marketers real-time information about the interests and preferences of the people that are most likely to buy products. This information helps inform other marketing (and even bigger business) decisions, like how to properly craft landing pages or whether to introduce new products to market. Losing this information creates significant gaps in intelligence that could have serious downstream effects for the rest of the business.

4 Ways Marketers Can Evolve Alongside the iOS 14 Update

Luckily, the situation isn’t hopeless, and there’s plenty you can still do to connect with your ideal customers and turn your marketing dollars into revenue.

1. Go All-In on SEO

If you can no longer reach potential customers through paid channels, get them to come to you through organic search. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a series of techniques marketers can use to enhance specific elements of their webpages and other online collateral to increase the likelihood of appearing on the first page of search engine results — generating greater visibility and more traffic.

The elements most often included in a good SEO strategy include:

  • Page speed.
  • Meta data.
  • Content scannability.
  • Backlinks.
  • Mobile friendliness.

At the heart of SEO is quality content. It’s important to create blogs, white papers, eBooks and other forms of content that directly answer the questions your ideal customers are asking and provide the information they want to consume. That way, when they go and search for that information on their own, your website is the first one that appears in their search results.

2. Offer Something in Exchange for User Information

Customers are more willing to exchange personal information with you if you offer something valuable in return. By creating high-value content like white papers and eBooks and embedding them within gated landing pages, you can encourage users to share their information with you as a condition for giving them access to content.

While you can use gated forms to gather basic demographic information like age, company size, general interests and email addresses, you can also place them in email marketing campaigns and gather more in-depth information about the type of information they find most engaging.

Unlike in-app tracking, which can make users feel like their personal information is being taken, information-for-value exchanges make it feel more like a consensual transaction, which might help you build better rapport with customers.

3. Collect First-Party Data From Your Website and Other Sources

Just because users can opt out of app tracking, doesn’t mean the data doesn’t exist somewhere. Much of the data you would have gathered by tracking in-app behavior is still obtainable through the collection of first-party data.

If your content marketing efforts are successful, potential customers will spend a significant amount of time consuming content on your webpages. From there, you can use data analytics tools like Google Analytics to track their online behavior and build a deeper understanding of their interests and preferences based on their engagement patterns.

Among the metrics Google Analytics lets you gather from your website are:

  • Average session duration.
  • Pages per session.
  • Average time on page.

How does this information replace what you can gather from app tracking? If we go back to the example we used earlier, you might not know that our ideal customer Erika is checking out local farmers’ markets through an app on her phone, but you do know that she spent a substantial amount of time engaging with your recent blog post, “Why farmers’ markets are the future.”

That basically tells us the same thing about Erika: She likes farmers’ markets, and that means she might be willing to buy from Dan’s Organic Company.

4. Build a Paid Search Advertising Strategy

iOS 14 doesn’t mean paid ads are dead, you just have to utilize paid channels that are beyond Apple’s orbit. That won’t be difficult. Google Ads is still one of the leading paid channels in digital marketing today. You can use Google Ads as part of your pay-per-click advertising campaigns to target specific keywords in specific locations aimed at specific users.

Importantly, Google Ads lets you track a number of different metrics that can help you gather highly relevant information about the users consuming your ad content to optimize your campaigns and inform other marketing decisions. That means if you target the right keywords and develop the right corresponding landing pages, you can still access the same treasure chest of information previously available through in-app tracking.

Concerns around data privacy are only becoming more pronounced, and that means it’s likely going to become harder for marketers to gather the customer insights they need to build impactful campaigns. But with the right approach to content marketing and other paid ad channels, marketers can still reach their ideal customers.