Post-IDFA user acquisition: what I’m seeing and where we’re going

By Ron Konigsberg September 30, 2021

“Everything is supposed to be getting easier!”

I was talking to a mobile marketer the other day and he told me that the overall stream of technological progress is that the complex becomes simple, the hard becomes easy, and the impossible becomes doable. But, he added, there seems to be an opposite flow in mobile marketing and specifically mobile user acquisition.

That’s a little hard to argue with.

iOS 14.5 and the IDFA apocalypse, iOS 15 and Private Relay, plus recent changes from Google in “data-driven attribution” and Facebook deprecating Advanced Mobile Measurement … 2021 has been a year of changes for growth marketers. And guess what: we’re not finished yet. There’s more change coming, more learning, and probably more disruption.

And yet, there are some things I’m seeing (and some things Singular is working on) that might just help reverse that current and bring some simplicity back to mobile measurement.

What we’re seeing post-IDFA

In 2021, everyone is re-evaluating their marketing mix. In general, user acquisition teams are allocating their marketing spend in six different ways:

  1. Flight to quality
    Known good channels with repeated proven success in the past
  2. Owned marketing
    Marketing with first-party data
  3. Organic social
    Social/viral marketing with organic reach
  4. Influencer marketing
    Measurement is hard everywhere? Let’s try influencer marketing, where this has always been an issue
  5. App Store Optimization (ASO)
    CTR is important but CVR is critical: let’s get better at converting the traffic we do get into actual installs
  6. Still fully measurable channels
    There’s a reason Android had a big spend surge right after iOS 14.5 dropped

Add it up and we’re still seeing spend aggregate to major networks, but with lower budgets. More budget is going to the Liftoffs, ironSources, and Unitys of the world where contextual targeting and SKAN both operate. Brand budgets are bigger since performance is harder. Owned and earned media have become more key to success. Cross-promotion between owned apps and partners is growing.

And, of course, there’s a significant shift to mobile web, where you can quickly and cheaply test multiple approaches and where you are operating on first-party data principles.

With the outflow of performance dollars to Android, CPMs rose there. But we also saw clueful and aggressive competitors doubling down on iOS and “getting a discount” on less expensive campaigns.

The IDFA and mobile measurement

The result of iOS 14.5 and App Tracking Transparency is pretty clear: the IDFA is no longer really relevant for performance marketing calculations. It’s still an important resources for deeper insights, but it has lost its place as the primary driver of measurement and truth.

Instead, marketers are turning to three alternatives:

  1. SKAdNetwork
    Even top brands and very good performance marketers have had issues making SKAN work, but once you get it right, SKAdNetwork provides the best source of data on iOS user-acquisition advertising campaigns. It’s simply the future and where you need to invest, including as iOS 15 gets widely adopted.
  2. Web-to-app flows
    Where it works and in certain verticals, we’re seeing significant action in web-to-app flows. Marketing on the web can be much cheaper. It can make you more flexible. It can enable more experimentation. You can deliver more information, and you can collect first-party data before sending someone to the App Store (or Google Play, in the case of Android).
  3. Fingerprinting
    Some marketers are trying to do fingerprinting or probabilistic attribution. We don’t support or recommend this, and we’ve been very clear that it’s not a good solution. It’s only even possible, of course, for non-SANs traffic, so it’s automatically limited to a quarter or so of the UA market. And we think it will get technically harder and harder to do as Apple continues to close the loop on privacy.

Ultimately, marketers need to rely more and more on aggregated data, whether in SKAN, from Facebook, via Tiktok view-through, or some kind of cohort modeling or media mix modeling approach. And especially you need to get good at understanding and using SKAN. We have many examples in our data where marketers who get it achieve impressive growth results with SKAdNetwork.

It does work. It also does, sometimes, need some debugging.


We can help with that.

Making SKAN performant because … it is the future

Start simple. Ensure you’re set up and integrated right. Build the infrastructure you need on the backend, and make sure your partners are receiving postbacks. Use the reporting you get to establish CPA.

Then evolve.

Use your existing first-party data to analyze what correlates to your high-value users within the first 24 hours. Is it one event? Do you need to mix a few pieces of data together in an SKAdNetwork postback to get more information? We’ve seen just in-app purchase revenue or ad monetization revenue work. As you get more sophisticated, you want to build towards getting a good pLTV prediction within the first day after install. If you can’t now, your app may need some retooling to enable this, particularly in the onboarding phases.

Then implement the conversion models you’ve built with your MMP’s tools. That’s simpler, quicker, and more reliable than reinventing the wheel.

Some of what we see working:

  1. Hyper casual games
    Using ad monetization revenue as the key conversion value can ensure you leverage SKAN really well (and yes, Singular offers that model right out of the box)
  2. Gaming apps
    Focusing on IAPs works extremely well as conversion values
  3. Subscription apps
    Subscription-based apps are more likely to use a number of events or a mix of IAP revenue and events for conversion values
  4. Fintech, services, e-commerce, travel
    Here we see a lot of experimentation with web-to-app funnels

Important: beware of privacy thresholds.

If you don’t hit enough volume per campaign, all your hard work is down the drain. The result is what looks like crazy CPIs for paid acquisition while the blended organic/paid still looks normal. In general, that means at least 30 installs per campaign per day. But because Facebook uses so many of your SKAN campaign IDs for internal tracking, target, and measurement, Facebook recommends 180 installs per campaign per day.

Put simply: unlocking privacy thresholds is the key to get a complete and usable view of your metrics with SKAN.

Ultimately, we see more and more clients being able to use SKAdNetwork and scale with it. Often, they’re big brands which are less likely to go against Apple’s policies and therefore more incentivized to make SKAN work. Bigger companies also clearly have more to benefit from cross-promotion and are more likely to have robust pLTV models in place. And bigger companies are also more familiar with running brand campaigns.

But smaller companies test faster, adapt faster, and can unlock significant growth with few channels, so they have their own advantages.

Making mobile marketing simple again

I’m not sure we can quite achieve this, and I’m not 100% sure we ever had it even when IDFAs were free. But mobile marketing certainly was simpler.

The future is simpler too, but it’s more complex to get there.

That future involves building out varying views of reality and integrating them intelligently into a single source of truth. At Singular, we’re looking at marketing performance from known and aggregated spend data, from deterministic last-click measurement, from probabilistic aggregated results data, from first-party data, and from other sources. All of those have their unique perspective on what is actually happening as marketers market, whether putting dollars to work or investing in organic promotion. Each of them has value.

But then they also need to coalesce into a single source of truth to provide a simpler modeled view of reality.

Sure, marketers need to always be able to dive deeper, to investigate raw data, to analyze assumptions and insights from the various perspectives … but they also need a reliable data-driven way of simply getting a real-time scorecard on their progress.

Everything changes.

That’s the one unchanging constant.

And the marketers I’m talking to understand that and live that. They’re continuing to build, to test, to invest, and they’re continuing to deliver results. And we’re continuing to support them in every way possible.

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