Is the Marketing Industry Reeling under the Shock of iOS17 Privacy Update?

28-Aug-2023
Is the Marketing Industry Reeling under the Shock of iOS17 Privacy Update?

Apple has dropped a bombshell for the marketing industry with its latest scoop on the iOS17 Privacy Update. The Ad tracking user identifiable parameters will get stripped from URLs in Safari Private Browsing (Incognito Mode), Apple Mail, and Messages Apps to enforce user privacy, thereby leaving marketers and advertisers in a pickle where tracking users’ activity at every touchpoint of their journey across e-commerce platforms will hit a wall.

Several affiliate platforms, including Google, Facebook, and Amazon, insert these parameters to keep a close tab on customer's online activity throughout their purchasing journey. Now, once users click on any links in Apple’s Mail and Messages Apps or Safari’s Private Browsing mode, there will be a subsequent removal of user-identifiable UTMs or Urchin Tracking Module parameters like click_ids including Google Click Identifiers (GCLID) & Meta (FBCLID) from hyperlinks. As a result, mobile users will have an enhanced Privacy Browsing experience with the "Link Tracking Protection" mechanism, which will remove user-identifiable UTM parameters.

As consumers let their guard up about how brands track their online activities, this move will further enforce user privacy and data security. This communique marks a turning point in B2C marketing and has enabled marketers to devise new methods of combating Link Tracking. According to the latest information, this update will only affect users browsing incognito (private mode) on Safari; therefore, all users accessing Facebook through its native application will get dispensation. Similarly, Google Search Ads remain immune unless accessed via Safari's private browsing mode.

As FBCLID and GCLID Parameters account for most of the attribution and have a marked impact on reporting and analytics capabilities, their stripping has thrown marketers into a sticky situation.


What are Link Tracking Parameters and How does Link Tracking Protection work?

An example of link tracking parameters is the information embedded after "?" in this link and separated by “&”. These embedded texts are known as UTM parameters, and they indicate the source (where your traffic is coming from), medium, and campaign type and a unique click ID for the user. These also denote the keywords chosen by the user and user actions.

www.exmple.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=mobile-US&clickID=123456

Once this change gets introduced, the same URL will look like the below:

www.exmple.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=mobile-US

With ClickID expunged, we have sanitized the URL while keeping other non-identifiable parameters like source, medium, and campaign intact. Since these ClickIDs identify user actions, they are called Link Tracking or Identifiable Parameters.

Click_Ids include parameters like __hsfp, __hssc, __hstc, __s, _hsenc, _openstat, dclid, fbclid, gclid, hsCtaTracking, igshid, mc_eid, mkt_tok, ml_subscriber, ml_subscriber_hash, Msclkid, oly_anon_id, oly_enc_id, rb_clickid, s_cid, twclid, vero_conv, vero_id, Wickedid, yclid

These will also get obliterated going forward. Marketers and advertisers use these identifiable parameters to track customer online interactions and gain insights into their behavior. With Link tracking covering grounds on many fronts, marketers can measure the effectiveness of campaigns, understand customer engagement, and optimize campaigns. Third-party platforms can collect all consumer information because of this level of tracking, which naturally raises privacy concerns. The reason for this change is to protect consumer’s privacy and exercise due discretion concerning that. iOS 17 masks an original URL with a privacy-preserving link when customers receive an email or message containing a URL. This process prevents marketers from directly accessing their customer’s IP addresses and other identifying information.

This change is an extension to the “privacy apocalypse” along with the other series of changes introduced by Apple sometime back, which includes iOS14, iOS14.5, and iOS15 changes leading to the remarkable slump in ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) for marketers. Well, Google has already announced the sunsetting of third-party cookies, and this update by Apple has been another deadly blow to the marketing world. So, the question popping up in our mind is: “Is the Marketing Industry braced up to welcome this change?” “How will this change impact their attribution and conversion activities?”

Let’s have a deep dive into the repercussions of this move:


Impact of iOS Privacy Update on the Marketing Industry

The impact of the iOS Privacy Update will have broad-based implications for the Marketing industry from attribution to their promotional activities. The reason is that these identifiers have their hooks on paid advertising, email campaigns, and social media campaigns. If you look at this change through the prism of marketers, it is a sheer unwelcome move. However, when viewed through the lens of users, it is a rosy move. For a better understanding, we have spelled out some of the impacts of this change as below mentioned:

  1. Dwindling Attribution Rates: As for FBCLID and GCLID, they track every user's clicks, specific campaigns, sources, and mediums. As a result of this change, Apple will not be able to track parameters like who clicked on what link, which web page generated the most engagement, etc. Thus, mapping website visits or ads or conversions with that of specific campaigns will no longer be possible, and therefore, it comes as a setback puncturing the marketer's attribution capability. There is a strong likelihood of dwindling attribution rates, making reporting and optimizing conversions on digital platforms more difficult, etc.

  2. Personalization and Segmentation get a big hit: In the absence of personalization, marketers can no longer track users in a granular way concerning their past interests, interactions, and behaviors. Hence, this becomes a stark fallout for marketers. It may, however, result in more generic ads that are less attuned to the needs and interests of the user.

  3. Hinder Retargeting Capabilities: With the effect of this change, all those marketers who take a hard look at the user's online activities and behaviors and accordingly retarget them with specific ads will see this phenomenon getting moribund soon.

  4. Inaccurate Metrics and Reporting: It will be nigh impossible to gain detailed insight into click-through, engagement, and conversion rates. Marketers will lose out on the analytics and reporting aspects. iOS & Safari will have a reduced accuracy while reporting new vs. returning users since most traffic appears to be direct.

  5. Crimp Email Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and PPC Advertising: iOS Privacy Update will cut across all these areas where the effectiveness of email marketing, social media marketing(click IDS getting swept away from Facebook and Google Ads), and PPC Advertising will largely be impacted by sweeping away of GCLIDs. iOS 17 will likely cross marketers as online ads across Facebook and Google become immaterial for them.

As Mail accounts for 60% market share and 93.23% of iOS users use Safari, it will have ramifications for marketers and advertisers while giving iOS users increased control and transparency over their data. iOS accounts for 30% of the worldwide mobile share. So, if even a handful of those are using Safari private mode for browsing, that is a big chunk of customers that iOS marketers will lose out on user tracking.


What Remains Untouched By This iOS 17 Update?

A raft of online shopping sites will remain unaffected. These include non-Safari browsers like Chrome or Firefox, standard UTM parameters, and custom parameters like tw_source. Fret not! As a marketer, you are not putting all your eggs in one basket. Your marketing strategy is a patchwork of social media, SMS, mobile push notifications, website banners, in-app messages, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, physical store visits, etc. Apple will not constrain the omnichannel customer experience of your marketing strategy. You can continue to observe how customers acknowledge messages on different channels and run A/B tests at scale. You can include open rates, click rates, unsubscribes, and conversion rates in your marketing efforts.


How to Adjust Advertising Strategies for iOS17 Privacy Changes?

Due to this change, marketers will feel aggrieved and hapless, but there are still alternatives to circumvent this. To address this change, marketers can use Private Click Measurement ads attribution in private browsing mode in Safari. Private Click Measurement will continue to get click-level attribution data for iOS app ads without relying on identifiers. Although private click measurement would not be that effective in tracking individual user data, it will at least allow advertisers to track some conversion metrics with the users' permission. Further details regarding this are currently in a fuzzy state. It, however, strikes a balance between advertising needs and user privacy.

Other alternatives are using contextual tactics, first-party data, and developing a customer data platform. Marketers can target users with contextual ads based on the content they view instead of past behavior or interests. Contextual data like the content of the email or campaign, the subject line, and the sent time of an email can unfold a great deal of information about the user’s interest areas and needs. Marketers can also refine demographic and geographic targeting strategies to align ads with audience attributes like age, gender, and location. In addition, trying and testing other creative ad formats tailored to context and audience demographics can be another best move forward.

Google Analytics 4 or website analytics can also give marketers maximum insights into their campaigns.

Customer's first-party data is collected with their consent and may include emails, addresses, and phone numbers used for marketing purposes. It also includes monitoring the customer's purchase history and the plans they subscribe to and scrutinizing metrics like order frequency, average transaction value, and purchase categories. First-party data also includes data collected from the marketer's website or mobile apps, such as pageviews, visits, time spent, bounce rates, and click-through rates. This data uncovers the customer’s behavior and preferences on the marketer's site.

First-party data is a possible conciliatory approach to this challenge. It will allow marketers to build long-lasting, trusting relationships with their customers. By using subscriber databases, they can deliver hyper-personalized experiences to their customers. Also, the more accessible the marketer’s website, the more they can amass first-party data. In contrast to third-party data, first-party data can lead to a more accurate understanding of customer preferences, more effective engagement efforts, and improved overall customer satisfaction.

Businesses can also use other methods of measuring campaign success, such as surveys and direct engagement with users. They can also target ads to specific users based on their demographics or interests. Marketers can prod users to take actions that are trackable on their websites, such as filling out forms or making purchases.

As a marketer, you may customize the tracking parameters by renaming them to something you have concocted yourself. For example, If the tracking platform’s parameter is ?clickid=..., as a user on the platform, you might be able to rename that to ?werwerwet=... (or something sneaky like ?lname=...) bypassing immediate detection.

Marketers can transition to more ‘opaque’ URLs by using a single encoded parameter (a marketing ‘blob’) in their URLs instead of using URL parameters that will be hard to decode by Apple. For example- Instead of http://example.com/page/?track..., it’ll look like http://example.com/ef4556gghhh.

A/B testing, media mix modeling, and correlation analyses will come into their own as a remedy to this problem. We know that platforms like Google & Meta heavily ride on modeling for data loss from cookie deprecation and tracking restrictions. This move will further reduce the observed data pool and increase the reliance on modeled data. With granular-level user tracking coming to a close, aggregate attribution weighs in the marketer's favor to make optimization decisions. While in-channel optimizations, attribution, and in-platform reporting will play second-fiddle to cross-channel comparison.

In contrast, cookieless solutions like MMM/econometrics and geo-based incrementality testing will take center stage to make cross-channel decisions. Moreover, your content will become the major highlight for galvanizing users to share additional information about them. Moreover, marketers can utilize Chrome's Attribution Reporting API, which provides campaign-level, conversion, summary, and event-level data for better attribution reporting. One must also conceive other metrics like social shares, engagement time, and direct interactions instead of just tracking clicks.

Moreover, this move of Apple is notably in line with privacy-centric regulations like GDPR and CCPA.


How iOS 17 Is Different from iOS 14, iOS14.5, and iOS15 Privacy Update?

iOS 14 and iOS14.5 Privacy Update ensured that every notorious app developer(like Facebook or Meta) must get explicit permission from the users before tracking them or accessing their device’s advertising identifier. With the iOS14.5 Privacy Update, the company has overlaid “Opt-in” Tracking on the existing platform.

With iOS 14.5 released, Apple got a lot of flak for not giving enough warning and blocking user-level tracking completely for ads. As part of iOS 14, they released a measurement framework called SKAdNetwork that restricted both the advertiser and ad platform from knowing the source of the user, from where they came from - each knows the total number of users each campaign converted.

While Mail Privacy Protection in iOS 15 made tracking of email opens and clicks an ordeal affair. For email marketers, the touchstones for measuring the effectiveness of email marketing have changed. It increased reliance on UTMs. MPP has impacted things like Subject Line testing, Location data, Send Time Optimization, and more.

iOS 17 privacy update still retains the campaign parameters in the URL and is not as restrictive as iOS 14.5 user-level tracking. It allows advertisers free rein to see the source of users or from where users are coming. It only removes the click ID, affecting the ad platform’s visibility of what the user did. While iOS 17 imposes restrictions, it does not fully impair the marketer's ability to track user behavior.


Conclusion

The news of Apple's iOS17 is underwhelming marketers around the globe. User-level tracking is becoming increasingly unfeasible. Additionally, ad optimization and measuring ad effectiveness are becoming a big predicament for marketers. A privacy change such as this constrains tracking at the user level and affects Web-only and Web-first applications.

However, the magic bullet is to become agile, put one’s creative hat on, and adapt by recontextualizing one’s working methodology concerning the incoming changes. It is possible by leaning towards first-party data based on customers’ consent and finding new ways to measure and optimize ad campaigns, like probabilistic methods and non-user-level strategies. The Analytics and Reporting will continue to work with features such as fingerprinting on the server side or CRM integrations.

Marketers must engage in comprehensive SWOT analysis and change gears by reviving their data privacy policies, reimagining user experience, and adopting innovative solutions. With the right tactics, digital marketing can continue to thrive in a privacy-first world. Marketers who welcome change will gain a competitive advantage, build consumer trust, and future-proof their businesses.

While Link Tracking Protection has thrown a gauntlet for traditional tracking methods, one must soldier on towards providing robust measurement solutions for businesses by embracing privacy-conscious practices and strengthening customer relationships based on trust. Besides, one may re-invent their measurement strategy or even consider a Customer Data Platform (CDP) with AI modeling and predictive analytics for a 360-degree view of their customers. By this, marketers can double down on engaging customers while respecting their privacy preferences.

In a nutshell, Marketers must be receptive to these changes as any further tightening is going to have an impact, and the need of the hour is to go for “Course Correction” and do remember the proverbial saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.



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