On 22nd June, an Apple press release introduced the next wave of changes for its mobile operating system: iOS 14. Alongside the typical changes to style and function, further user tracking protection was introduced so that, “all apps will now be required to obtain user permission before tracking”.
Further information about this can be found on the on this developer page for iOS 14.
Essentially, access to a handset’s unique advertising identifier (IDFA) - which help an advertiser identify the specific phone where an ad action took place - must be specifically requested from the user. Apple’s mock-up, although not final, gives a clear view of what this could look like from a user perspective.
To break down these changes and understand what it means for the industry, Awin’s Strategic Partnerships Manager, Clementyne Lavender, spoke with Branch’s Business Development Director, Simon Baptist:
Clementyne: Hi, Simon, thanks for joining us today to talk about the upcoming IDFA changes. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Simon: My focus is in building an ecosystem of strategic partnerships that help our clients unlock and realise the mobile opportunity. I have been working with mobile measurement since 2015, first with TUNE and now Branch; though my time with my mobile ads goes back to 2001.
Clementyne: Can you tell me a little bit about Branch and what it does?
Simon: Branch is a deep linking and attribution vendor. We offer a linking platform that can be used to drive users to specific content and measure their full journey along the way. Branch connects your app to all your channels, be it paid (such as display, search, or app, etc.), or be it organic (like email, mobile web and social). Branch is the most used linking platform in the top 200 apps outside of the gaming sector, with a focus on providing enterprise-level service and capabilities.
Clementyne: Apple made a recent announcement about IDFA. Can you explain what IDFA is and how Branch uses it?
Simon: The IDFA has long been core to the app attribution industry. Because IDFAs are unique and consistent across every app on a device, they are what makes it possible to deterministically match ad clicks with app installs.
Clementyne: What changes did Apple announce for IDFA?
Simon: Starting with iOS 14, Apple is making the IDFA available to developers only after a user specifically opts in, much like the existing prompts for push notifications, location access, and so on. Apple is making this change under the justification of promoting user privacy.
Specifically, since an IDFA is a common ID that all apps could read and recognize, it was perfectly suited for vacuuming up personal data from across the ecosystem to compile user profiles. By blocking access to this ID, Apple can crack down on what they likely view as an entire 'dirty data industry' based on IDFAs; use of the IDFA for responsible marketing (including the mobile attribution industry) is simply collateral damage.
Clementyne: Did this announcement come as much of a surprise and what is Branch doing in light of these changes?
Simon: Branch has anticipated this change for quite some time, and we are in a fortunate position as our platform has always been built to function with other identifiers when IDFA is not available; which is already the case for a large minority of iOS traffic because of Limit Ad Tracking. This means where the rest of the industry is reliant on basic probabilistic technology with accuracy rates of 60-70%, Branch can deliver more accurate attributions. Today, our predictive modelling engine already covers in the high 90s% of your mobile user base. We expect high coverage rates to continue in a world without IDFAs, providing you reliable and correct numbers where others fail.
Clementyne: As of 3 September, Apple have announced that these changes will take effect early next year, what impact do you think this will have on the affiliate industry?
Simon: With the IDFA gone, the most affected channels are the paid app install channels where the IDFA is used as the deterministic identifier to match the click to the conversion through the app store blackbox. Other heavily impacted areas are audience segmentation that was based on IDFA, retargeting campaigns based on IDFA, etc. Given this scenario, I personally believe non-ad channels become incrementally more valuable, and affiliates/partnerships will play an even more important role in this new world.
Clementyne: Can you talk us through a standard customer journey for affiliates?
Simon: Affiliate and partner marketing campaigns have always been transaction focused irrespective of platform. Users within the app are deep linked into the app, and users without the app can continue their user journey on the web. Most affiliate campaigns aren’t focused on app install, which, by design, insulates them to a large extent from the recent changes. Given that the intent of the user is to complete the transaction, and the best channel for the user to take action is the mobile app, this further reinforces the fact that rock-solid deep linking from affiliate channels into the mobile app is critical and remains so.
Clementyne: So predominantly the affiliate channel doesn’t rely on IDFA?
Simon: For a large majority of the user journeys/flows, the IDFA is far less important for the affiliate channels compared to the app install campaigns. Leveraging our partnership with Awin, Branch can accurately measure any in-app transactions and accurately attribute them back to the right publisher/affiliate through our predictive modelling techniques.
In case of complex user journeys where the user is redirected to a merchant’s website and at a later date installs the app and transacts on the app, there has been a certain level of dependence on the IDFA, but the Branch system uses an anonymous, probabilistic algorithm that incorporates historical attributions to deliver high accuracy attributions even in a world where there is no universal ID. So by and large, the affiliate channel remains one of the least affected by recent changes.
Therefore, we actively encourage advertisers and publishers to enable deep linking and app tracking for affiliate campaigns. With Awin, we already have seen the success of “unlocking the app” for affiliate and partner marketing channels. For example, one of the large fashion retailers saw over a 40% increase in average order value YoY within a month of integrating and over a 100% increase in overall revenue simply by enabling app tracking for the affiliate channels. We continue to invest in our partnership and enabling the affiliate ecosystem to transition from web to app.
Clementyne: How can a publisher/advertiser learn more about how to unlock deep linking and app tracking in a post-IDFA world?
Simon: We host webinars and industry education sessions for advertisers, publishers and networks. Also, through our partnership with Awin, we have some upcoming “Unlocking app for affiliate” industry roundtables and workshops where we will clearly outline how the ecosystem can use existing technologies to provide better deep linking and app attribution for the affiliate channels.
Clementyne: We have seen Branch gather quite a lot of momentum and success over the last few years, what do you think has made Branch stand out?
Simon: The cause for Branch's growth in the last few years is the methodology of cross-platform linking. This allows Branch to stitch together user journeys across websites and applications, yielding accuracy for cross-platform companies. This manifests itself in the accuracy of attribution, the success rate of deep linking and the unique ability to do anonymous identity stitching for multi-touch attribution. This is the future of attribution.
Another differentiation is Branch's investment in R&D. The company has raised over $340M dollars to date and continues to invest substantially in R&D to continue innovating. This makes us the both well-financed and heavily product-focused.
To hear more you can register for Branch and Awin's co-hosted webinar in September and if you would like to discuss app tracking for your Awin account then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.