Seismic shifts in privacy: What this means for marketers

Will Dorling, UK director of brand sales at AdColony EMEA, provides advice to marketers in the face of changes to privacy being led by Apple

Will Dorling AdColonyIn just a few weeks, things are going to really change in the mobile advertising space. iOS 13 will be live on millions of devices, virtually overnight. When Apple announced that the impending release of iOS 13 would contain three major privacy features, I don’t think anyone was surprised. Privacy is a real concern for consumers, and companies and regulators have been acting on it for the past few years. First it was GDPR, which was seismic enough for those in Europe, and now the US has CCPA right around the corner. For Apple, consumer privacy and security has always been paramount – you can see that reflected across all of their products and services.

But what Apple announced and will be going live in September was bold. ‘Allow just once’ location settings, alerts for background app location tracking and protection against wi-fi and Bluetooth tracking (e.g. beacons) – which will be a significant blow to location data providers and the advertisers that rely on them.

It’s not just location, either. With single sign-on, Apple will create encrypted emails for accounts using that sign-in on a per-app/website basis. For the consumer, this will reduce email spam from every service they sign up for. But for the marketer, it means losing a universal identifier and obfuscating the user to the point where they are no longer a standalone individual that can be targeted as such. (And believe me, you want to target iOS users. They spend more money not just on apps, but in apps, and online shopping.)

Apple is doing this because they honestly do care about consumer privacy – but also because they don’t benefit from collecting user data. Facebook and Google, on the other hand, do benefit. And this move is definitely going to weaken the duopoly. In fact, it weakens any platform and/or advertiser that relies on the bevy of audience segments from third-party location providers, as well as cookie and service-based ad platforms.

It might feel, to some, that this is a chess move that Apple has played, leaving affected players reeling and struggling to adjust. But we can’t think of this as a single strike against the mobile advertising industry, a minor setback that we can hack our way around. There are no ‘five fast tips’ to solve this problem because privacy sensitivities (and legislation!), both locally and on a global scale, are only going to increase and become more stringent.

We must consider this a challenge to shift the way we think about mobile. This is an opportunity to embrace what consumers are actively asking for and to respect those wishes, while still chasing our end goal: ROAS. To do that, advertisers must shift their dollars from soon-to-be-unreliable mobile web and social platforms to channels that don’t rely on users’ emails or cookies, where the use of anonymous device IDs and historical behavioural data allows for audience creation without compromising individual privacy.

Because that’s what we want, right? We don’t want people, we want audiences.

Shift your thinking and change what you care about. What does an email tell you about its owner? Well, first, that owner might not even exist, or, also likely, be a junk email they use just for ‘marketing crap’ and never even look at. Does it tell you that they are a Male, High-Income Millennial? Not really.

Taking it even further, people are more than their demographics. What if I told you that user was a car enthusiast? Or that from behavioural modelling we know he is more likely to watch a video advert all the way to the end in order to get a coupon for a larger coffee? Audiences are built by behaviours, not email addresses. Shift the data you value, and you’ll find yourself back on top.

And marketers, I can’t say this enough: Own that data. The data from your CRM, from your subscriptions and your social channels – all of that is gold. You know it’s accurate, and because it comes straight from your audience, you know it’s relevant to your business. Use the behaviours, actions and interests demonstrated across your website(s) and app(s) to predict future patterns and personalize content and ads. The best part about first-party data? It’s yours. You own it, and privacy concerns around it are minimal because you know exactly where it came from. It’s addressed by your privacy policy.

Brands, agencies, DSPs: Take back responsibility of data and the insights and targeting capabilities it creates. First, because it allows your chosen ad platform to focus on what they’re good at: providing media at scale, and using whatever anonymized first-party data and behavioural models they do have to better serve and optimize adverts.

Second, because it puts you back in the driver seat, back in control. You won’t ever be in the position of watching a WWDC and feeling your whole body tighten with anxiety over one announcement. You won’t see your ROAS plummet with the flip of an iOS upgrade switch.

Because this will happen again, and we need to be prepared. The next iteration of this could limit the passing device IDs. Or, if this is as popular as Apple thinks it will be, it could be a catalyst for the entire industry, and other major players will follow suit. When it’s no longer Apple, but an industry best practice, you’ll be relieved that you shifted your strategy right when it all started – now.