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Ad Spend Measurement: 3 Ways Marketers Tackle One of Mobile’s Biggest Analytics Challenges

By John Koetsier October 11, 2017

Mobile marketers across the globe recognize the massive importance of ad spend measurement. The ability to effectively collect ad spend data from media providers directly affects a marketer’s success on mobile.

Yet various events can skew your ad spend data as it travels from your ad networks into your analytics, distorting metrics and destroying the ability to target your most profitable audiences. As a result, collection of accurate and detailed spend data from ad partners is a non-trivial task that trips many marketing teams up.

It is a problem that Singular set out to solve for marketers more than four years ago and in that time we’ve pioneered technologies to automate the collection of accurate and detailed ad spend data from media providers.

As the industry matures, and other analytics platforms start to recognize the importance of ad spend and ROI analysis, we felt the time was right to review the various spend collection methods being utilized in the mobile marketing industry and highlight the advantages as well as the limitations of each method.

In doing so, we hope to advance the growing dialogue on ad spend collection in the analytics ecosystem and continue pushing the industry to improve the handoff of marketing data from media providers to advertisers.

Overview of spend collection methods

Currently there are three main types of methods for collecting ad spend:

  • Platform Integrations
  • Passing Spend Data in Tracking Link Parameters (i.e. Cost “Macros”)
  • Passing Spend Data in Server-To-Server Postbacks

Platform Integrations

In this method, media providers (e.g., mobile ad networks) report rich metadata and performance information through some form of programmatic data reporting, commonly a Reporting API. In many cases, networks have multiple API endpoints that may serve different granularities, breakdowns or formats. There are also cases where networks send data in Email reports to complement some form of reporting that the API lacks. There are other cases in which dashboards and various types of exports (e.g., via Amazon S3) complement reporting where an API is not available.

Advantages
  • Gives marketers the ability to accurately match the media provider numbers, including cases in which data changes retroactively.
  • Gives marketers access to a wealth of information beyond ad spend, such as additional performance metrics, creative data, targeting options and more.
  • Are the only way to integrate with the Self-attributing Networks (SANs): Facebook, Google, Twitter, Pinterest, Apple Search Ads and others.
  • Sensitive Data is securely passed Server-to-Server.
Limitations
  • Platform Integrations are harder to build and maintain.
  • Platform Integrations must map media provider identifiers to user data, requiring coordination between tracking links and data collected.
  • Platform Integrations can limit data update frequency – while some networks offer near real-time updates, others offer hourly or daily updates.

Passing Spend Data in Tracking Link Parameters

With this method, marketers attach a few additional macros for cost data to the tracking links they create in their attribution platform (e.g., cost={...}&cost_model={...}). These links are built such that additional cost information is appended on top of every ad click (and ad impression, when view tags are supported).

While most larger networks support passing spend data through tracking links, many networks do not support this method. In addition, we’ve found that relying solely on tracking links to transmit cost data frequently leads to inaccuracies, which is why we recommend marketers complement data from tracking links with data from Platform Integrations, side-by-side, to ensure 100% accuracy and consistency.

Advantages
  • Delivers a built-in capability to attach cost to individual user data.
  • Data is updated in near real-time.
  • Simpler technology as attribution integrations are relatively easy to maintain.
Limitations
  • Inherent discrepancies with media providers – tracking links don’t ensure a 100% match with the network’s spend figures, and spend could differ from the actual invoices marketers receive.
  • Difficult to support cost reconciliations, retroactive data updates and discounts.
  • Method is not applicable for Self-Attributing Networks (like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap and others) as Tracking Links aren’t supported in these networks.
  • It’s challenging to support CPM & CPA campaigns:
    • CPM requires impression tags, which aren’t globally support yet, and due to sheer volume/inaccuracies will only increase discrepancies.
    • CPA is harder to support as cost is determined by a downstream metric or a set of downstream metrics, and there isn’t a clear way to define that at the link level.

Passing Spend Data in Postbacks

This method is similar to the Tracking Link method, however instead of using tracking link parameters, media providers are beginning to send cost data through postbacks, directly to the attribution provider. While we expect postbacks to deliver improvements over the tracking link method, other challenges (listed below) still remain unresolved. Because this method is relatively new, postbacks as a source of cost data still require additional testing by the industry in order to determine where they can be used most effectively.

Advantages
  • Delivers a built-in capability to attach cost to individual user data.
  • Data is updated in near real-time.
  • Support for all campaign types as opposed to Tracking Link Parameters.
Limitations
  • Inherent discrepancies with media providers – this method doesn’t ensure a 100% match with the network’s spend figures, and spend could differ from the actual invoices marketers receive.
  • Difficult to support cost reconciliations, retroactive data updates and discounts.
  • Not currently applicable for Self-Attributing Networks like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snap and others.
  • Requires development from the network – not all networks have the resources or ability to change their ad server to fit these requirements, and as a result, coverage is still limited.

Summary

As pioneers in this field, we are excited to see the increased awareness of the problem of marketing data collection. This is a problem we have been solving for our customers for over four years, and along the way we have seen the impact of our work: better collection techniques, new interfaces with media providers, and overall increases in granularity, speed and accuracy.

Our fundamental belief is that the best solution to the problem is the most comprehensive one. One that combines all available methods of ad spend and marketing data collection into a hybrid approach. Singular’s customers are some of the largest marketers in the world, and as such, we are held to the highest standards of delivery: accuracy, coverage, speed and granularity.

Our promise to our customers and our ecosystem is to keep innovating, and tackling the problems to come. In fact, we have some groundbreaking innovations we are excited to share with the world in the upcoming months, and we can’t wait to tell you more about them.

To learn how Singular can solve for marketing data collection in your business, request a demo now.

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