Presented by Adikteev

The mobile ad industry is built on data. And as most marketers know, in 2021, Apple unceremoniously turned the industry on its head when it cut off a crucial user data stream. The new privacy feature, App Tracking Transparency (ATT), caused an uproar.

“ATT was heavily marketed by Apple as an enhancement to consumer privacy, but it also created a massive shock for the iOS app marketing industry, because app marketing was relying tremendously on IDFA,” says Loïc Anton, Chief Product Officer at Adikteev. “Only now, three years after, we’re starting to have something that looks usable for app marketers with SKAN 4 .”

With the FLEDGE (First Locally-Executed Decision over Groups Experiment) initiative, now known as Protected Audience API, Google is also developing alternatives to ad targeting and tracking methods without cookies inside the Chrome browser and Android platform. The goal is to allow personalized marketing campaigns, even without a device identifier. But even though FLEDGE will still allow marketers to do precise retargeting at scale, user-level ad personalization will be much more difficult.

And while the iOS changes have been the biggest wildfire to put out, and Google’s program is still currently in trial, developers should be updating their strategy to stay competitive in a very different landscape.

“Regardless of what these two allow or don’t allow, app marketers must change their strategies to adapt to an increasingly privacy-centric world,” Anton says. “And a complicated economic context requires app marketers to also get smarter about how they target their users. But the overall purpose of marketing and retargeting is still relevant.”

The case for new marketing strategies

Reporting has been hit the hardest by these changes. Historically the data pipelines that marketers have used to evaluate a marketing campaign’s performance rely heavily on device identifiers to measure the monetization of users over time. The loss of device IDs, which means losing visibility into return on ad spend (ROAS) metrics, forces marketers to redesign those data pipelines. And it’s one of the main reasons why marketing investments have dropped on iOS since ATT rolled out. But there’s a way through, Anton says.

“New marketing strategies will have to rely on machine learning and predictive metrics, rather than measured or observed metrics,” he explains. “This will require marketers to develop new technological capabilities.”

For instance, with event data from the first few days of a campaign, machine learning can predict how those users will monetize at 30 days or 90 days ahead, as well as predict LTV and churn. Of course, many publishers may not have considered ML necessary before, because they could measure metrics directly, but AI and machine learning has become critical.

“We’ve been able to predict the user churn rate for our clients with more than 90 percent reliability,” Anton says. “And we use this technology as input for our new-generation marketing strategies like cross-promotion, which delivers ads at the portfolio level — for example, with gaming apps, users in one app are encouraged to download another from the same game developer.”

The new constraints on privacy should also incentivize app marketers to rely more on their first-party data, he adds. Without IDFA as a link between many third-party data sources, making an investment in your own first-party data, and leveraging it for efficient marketing, is key — it’s the only thing that you can precisely tie to a user.

Building a portfolio and a brand

With first-party data so critical to marketing efforts, many marketers are realizing that a portfolio approach offers an array of strategic benefits. Not only does it mean a much bigger pool of first-party data, having a network of apps lets you consider engagement over a longer term, as you move users through multiple apps — and that’s an asset that can build value for the company.

“While your competitors may lose data because they’re losing the device IDs, you’re getting to know more about what your users like by seeing how they play across all of your titles, and then using that knowledge to better engage the new users that you’re acquiring every day,” he says. “And in that way, you have the ability to optimize for maximum retention and revenue from your users, from the moment they install their first app, up until they uninstall the last of the apps.”

It’s one of the reasons so many game studios are making acquisitions and merging, with the goal of creating as big a network as possible, and then leveraging that network for the growth of all their games by keeping users engaged within their ecosystem.

“You’re not just adding new revenue from a new app to the P&L, but moving users through your diversified offerings, depending on their ever-changing interests, which maximizes the ROI of your acquisition spend,” he says. “That’s also the most successful way of maximizing LTV and building competitive advantage, when you’re able to keep users engaged with a variety of solutions.”

Retention remains a critical concern in privacy-first world

Historically, app marketers haven’t been especially concerned about churn, since retargeting could bring back their most valuable users to extend their lifetime value. Unfortunately, privacy constraints today mean that if a user churns, reacquiring them will be a complex process.

“Even if retargeting will still be possible in the future with the protected audience service on Android, reacquisition is always more complicated than retention. ATT has made it nearly impossible on iOS,” he says. “Today’s strategy must center around preventing churn before you permanently lose a user.”

Predictive analytics is key here. Of course, it predicts which users are likeliest to churn soon, giving the marketer the opportunity to try to capture their attention and persuade them to stay. But it can also show related user behavior, such as the actions that might have led to them leaving, or the most effective marketing strategy to entice them to stick around.

Next steps for app marketers

With Android privacy changes on the horizon, there are a few ways developers can prepare themselves right now, to minimize unpleasant surprises.

To start, developers should get in touch with their ad tech partners and other marketing providers to learn how they’re preparing for these upcoming changes from a technical standpoint, as well as get a read on whether their current campaigns are going to be able to keep running.

It’s also important to get familiar with the new iOS SKAd Network reporting structure, because it shares many concepts that Android is developing in the Privacy Sandbox. From there, you can optimize the design of conversion tracking in your apps to fit these frameworks.

And finally, before the end of the year, make sure to secure bandwidth from internal product and tech teams to run tests with providers, integrating the Privacy Sandbox features and the latest SKAd Network characteristics.

“While this ecosystem is still evolving, which is the case right now, it’s good to have some assessment of the impact that new policies will bring to avoid any disruption when it goes into general usage,” Anton says. “Knowing the impact beforehand with some small-scale tests as soon as possible is the best way forward right now.”

Learn more here about mobile app marketing strategies in a privacy-centric world.

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