Mobile advertising cost aggregation: Why it’s not as easy as you think

By Saadi Muslu December 9, 2020

How hard is cost aggregation?

Because ultimately, it sounds pretty simple: aggregating your ad spend and costs across all your partners to understand how much you’re spending on mobile user acquisition. In fact, it sounds ridiculously simple. Most things do, from 50,000 feet.

This is part 1 of a 4-part cost aggregation series:

– Part 1: Why it’s not as easy as you think
– Part 2: It’s not just about cost
– Part 3: What is combining and why should I care? 
– Part 4: How cost unlocks growth

But in the world of mobile marketing at scale, cost aggregation is actually a hard problem. One reason is that it’s not just aggregating your costs: it’s marshaling all available upper-funnel campaign data for growth insights. Another reason is that it’s not just about simple addition.

Let’s start with an example: a publisher with 20 or 30 apps available across 15 countries that are significant in terms of revenue and another 75 that are relatively minor, with a user acquisition budget of several million U.S. dollars each month.

What sounds simple actually isn’t. To get accurate cost data, you need to:

  • Access multiple accounts across an average of 5-15 growth partners (but it could be significantly more)
  • Separate out reporting by individual apps
  • Align geos
  • Run currency conversions (as values fluctuate)
  • Extract creative data
  • Extract campaign data
  • Get keyword-level data
  • Normalize dimensions and metrics cross all those partners

Suddenly, something that sounded so simple just became complicated, with thousands of steps, huge amounts of data, and countless opportunities to get it wrong. And we didn’t even touch on any of the combining you need to do between cost and attribution data to understand your returns.

Many cost aggregation solutions rely partially (or completely) on getting this data via mobile attribution tracking link parameters, in which you append cost data on every ad click. This sounds reasonable until you find out that discrepancies proliferate and your ad spend differs from the actual invoices you receive, making reconciliations and retroactive data updates at best challenging, and at worst impossible. Plus, there are more serious limitations: lack of support for CPM & CPA campaigns, not all sources support these macros, and it won’t work for any non-mobile marketing channel.

Let’s not even talk about manual reconciliation in Excel, which is only slightly less painful than getting a root canal… without anesthetic.

You export all of your reports from each individual ad network, normalize it, and then try to map it to attribution and internal BI data to understand what each campaign drove. Ultimately, you spend hours manipulating the data trying to standardize it and QA it, and end up feeling about 60% confident in its accuracy. Not to mention the wasted hours you could’ve spent actually analyzing reports and optimizing campaigns.

The only option that makes sense for accurate and timely cost aggregation is direct data connectors to every single media source.

That’s where Singular data connectors do the heavy lifting for you by directly syncing to your media sources and saving your cost data to one place: accuracy guaranteed. From direct API integrations to web dashboards, you’ll get flexible integration methods to ingest your marketing data from any source across mobile, desktop, and offline. Direct data connectors give you the ability to accurately match the network’s numbers — including retroactive data changes — with complete accuracy. And beyond cost, you gain access to a wealth of information critical to driving efficient optimizations like creative, bids, campaign, geo, and publisher.

A few other cost aggregation companies offer direct API connectors to popular ad networks, but Singular’s cost aggregation provides the most coverage and the best data combining to unlock ROI at the deepest levels possible.

If you want to test a new ad partner, you want it to be pain-free. You want the data to just flow, no excuses, no workarounds, no manual nonsense. You can’t just hope that this new potential growth opportunity is supported among the 20, 60, or 100 partners that some cost aggregation solutions have. That’s why Singular’s open integration framework enables thousands of integrations to get data in the most flexible ways from any source across mobile, desktop, and yes, even offline. Basically, any partner you’d ever think of is already fully supported.

And, supported in multiple ways. Not every partner has set up the same technology for you to extract your cost data, so Singular supports pretty much everything for both getting the data and for making it available where you need it. API? Perfect. Dashboards? We got this. S3, Google Cloud, FTP, Email, Google Drive, Dropbox? No problem. Planning to use the data in Snowflake, Redshift, BigQuery, GCS, MySQL, or PostGres?

Also no problem.

What you quickly learn can be a problem in cost aggregation is the availability of the data.

Sometimes media partners go down. Sometimes the data isn’t immediately accessible. That’s why we have pipeline monitoring, data deletion resolution, broken or delayed data triage, and re-pulls … all out of the box. Built-in. Always ready to spring into action if there’s ever an issue getting your data.

The goal: you always get your data, one way or another.

But the work doesn’t stop once you have the data, however.

That’s (almost) the easy part.

It’d be nice if everything was standardized across the mobile marketing industry. It would also be nice if your apps would just grow 50% every week on their own. Both, however, aren’t reality. Every platform and partner has a slightly different view of how to handle data and what to name things. Getting cost is great, but generating insight to power growth requires understanding that “Ad group” in Google is “Ad set” in Facebook — plus dozens of different ways of understanding views and clicks and campaigns and creative — and standardizing it all into common data forms that work with your backend BI systems.

Every media partner has a different reporting schema. Singular indexes each partners’ reporting schema, aligns the hierarchies, and standardizes the nomenclature so that every marketing effort is comparable on an apples-to-apples basis.

Complete and accurate data enables a complete picture of marketing costs and performance across channels, and Singular offers native reporting to visualize, pivot, or slice-and-dice data in a few clicks for fast optimizations. But you can also load standardized and enriched marketing data directly into your favorite data warehouses like Redshift or BigQuery or storage services to power your favorite reporting tools like Looker and Tableau with Singular’s Marketing ETL.

And it’s worth chatting with Singular about how we do it, why we do it, and how we can help you do it.

The reality is that not only do the vast majority of our customers use both Singular attribution and Singular cost aggregation (more on why they’re better together in a few weeks!), but many customers who are not yet using our attribution are already using our cost aggregation.

We’d love to share why.

Request a demo today.

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