Are you ready for iOS 17?
For many marketers, it seems like it was just yesterday that advertisers were wrangling with the launch of iOS 14 and App Tracking Transparency. Now, almost three years later, Apple’s latest crusade to increase privacy is here. Enter: iOS 17.
The biggest headline for marketers to be aware of with the release of iOS 17 is Link Tracking Protection. Why? This feature will impact marketers’ ability to track user clicks that take place on iOS device apps like Safari and Mail, which are heavily used by consumers. The iOS 17 update aims to remove any tracking strings in URLs that provide tracking data. This update is significant given the high number of users leveraging iOS device apps. For example, while there are other browser and email apps out there for use, 93% of iPhone users prefer Safari over other browsers and Apple Mail is the leading mail app at 38% usage over second-place Gmail according to TechJury.
Simply put, iOS 17 will restrict the ability for advertisers to utilize long-standing tracking capabilities such as URL parameters, Facebook IDs (FBID), and Google Click IDs (GCLID) for those using Safari’s private browsing, and links shared within both Apple email and messaging. This means the loss of how marketers have traditionally tracked clicks. Brands advertising across tactics impacted by iOS 17 — including Mail, Facebook, Google — will feel the greatest impacts of iOS 17.
Apple’s proposed solution for marketers to leverage in the wake of iOS 17 is private click measurement. Private click measurement (PCM) is a privacy-focused web tracking and attribution technology designed to provide advertisers with limited information about the effectiveness of their digital ad campaigns while prioritizing user privacy. However, early analysis of this feature by industry experts like Mozilla is concluding that PCM is a poor trade-off between user privacy and advertising utility.
Even recent workarounds to Apple’s tracking limitations will be impacted. Meta introduced its conversions API (CAPI) in 2020 to circumnavigate limitations of the Meta Pixel and as a direct response to cookieless tracking and the new-at-the-time privacy regulations from Apple’s iOS 14 App Tracking Transparency. CAPI allows advertisers to send conversion information back to Meta for stronger campaign optimization, and was followed by similar models from Snapchat, TikTok, and Google Ads (Enhanced Conversion Tracking). In February 2023, Meta’s CAPI improved by integrating with offline events. While CAPI helps marketers access to data they wouldn’t otherwise have in the wake of iOS 14, iOS 17 takes direct aim at CAPI and similar solutions, limiting its long-term usefulness among Apple users who opt-in to Link Tracking Protection or browse privately within Safari.
A renewed approach to measurement
So, what should marketers do? While conversion APIs like Meta’s CAPI are helpful in the short term, in the long run marketers must look to tried and true strategies. The age of analyzing the impact of each dollar spent in media is coming to an end. Instead, longstanding analyses like A/B testing, media mix modeling, and correlation analyses will be critical to demonstrate advertising’s impact in the wake of increased privacy changes. But in order to utilize these proven tactics, marketers must shift both their expectations and approach to advertising measurement. This renewed approach to measurement encompasses three elements:
1. Accuracy over precision. Data deprecation as a result of iOS 17 and the impending loss to third-party cookies will reduce the granular data available to marketers. As a result, marketers must become more comfortable with less precise measurement. But don’t forget that less precision doesn’t mean less accuracy. Instead, marketers must shift the way that they measure the success of marketing efforts and use available historical data to guide future efforts.
2. Patience over urgency. Marketers will need to exercise patience in the wake of these privacy updates; analyzing data as frequently as we once did won’t yield the same degree of significance. Ensuring marketers are reviewing metrics like return on investment (ROI) or return on ad spend (ROAS) at a frequency that matches the brand’s sales cycle and at a threshold of accuracy that is statistically significant will be the way forward. New metrics don’t need to be invented despite shifts in the data privacy landscape, but marketers will need to be less dependent on the metrics available to us today. If your brand requires that you frequently look at metrics to understand the impact of media, instead focus on metrics like lifetime value, customer acquisition cost, and modeled attribution to determine what future returns may look like.
3. Understanding the value of other metrics. Assigning a monetary value to metrics like impressions or website visits and relying on these metrics in the short term will help marketers more patiently measure media’s impact and return on ad spend in the long run. When you assign a monetary value to these metrics, it becomes easier to see the immediate impact of a campaign’s reach and the associated traffic to your website. As a result of iOS 17, bottom-funnel channels like paid search are losing more visibility into last-click conversions, which makes this a logical shift to understand media’s impact against business goals.
So, what does this means for marketers?
(Spoiler: It doesn’t have to be as doomsday as you may think!)
Specific to iOS 17, marketers should prepare for less transparency and understand what percentage of their target audience are likely Apple users, as this could directly correspond to changes in their data. More reliance will be needed on a mix of data sources — in-platform, analytics platforms like Google Analytics 4, and CRM — and methods like media mix modeling to more effectively measure the success of advertising efforts.
If we look at the history books, the loss of data that we are preparing for doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. For example, during the last ten years, marketers have become reliant on real-time data to guide their marketing decisions. In a sense, the amount of data available to marketers today is more than most know what to do with. But in preparation for data deprecation, many worry we may be turning back the clock on the progress made with the loss of the data we have become accustomed to using. Sure, we won’t have as much data in 2024 as we did in 2023 with these changes; however, we aren’t hopping into a time machine to market in the “Mad Men Era” when marketers had very limited attribution.
Yes, the granular data we’ve all come to love are going away. But, there is a silver lining: more trust + less granularity = more scale. Over the last few years, thanks to the instant rewards of channels like paid search, many marketers are now overinvested at the bottom of the funnel, only harvesting the existing demand. This can make it difficult to scale campaigns because when you are maximizing the best performing channels, every incremental dollar spent looks artificially like it’s not performing. But with data deprecation and the boom of AI, most data are now shielded from marketers so that we can’t see at the same granularity as we once could. As a result, if campaigns are achieving the goals we set, it shouldn’t matter how each individual dollar is performing. Google’s Performance Max campaigns are a great example of this. A lot of the information about keywords, placements, and more is shielded from marketers, and we can’t change them, but in return, we gain greater scale and efficiency to achieve strong results.
Additionally, as data analyses are forced to level up, marketers can focus on more important metrics like incrementality with a holistic understanding of how media are working together to achieve business goals. It will take time to adjust to this “new” approach, but ultimately, it will push marketers to refocus their energy where it counts — and free many from the “metric matrix monster” we’ve become reliant on for too long.