Two of the biggest companies in the world are casually turning everything marketers knew about digital marketing upside down in the span of a year. (No big deal, right?)
Quick refresher: Apple released an update to iOS 14 in early 2021 that allowed users to choose whether they wanted advertisers to track them across apps, severely limiting the reach of said advertisers. Meanwhile, Google announced it would end support for third-party cookies in the Chrome browser from early 2022.
Apple’s iOS Update
Is it remotely surprising that Apple — a $260 billion software and tech behemoth — can find a new industry to disrupt?
No, not really.
And yet, the company has gone and done it again — and this time, it’s shaking up the digital marketing world.
Apple has used their majority market share (in the U.S.) power to redefine safety in the eyes of their consumers.
With iOS 14 (originally released Sept. 16, 2020), Apple continued its long-held focus on increased security. The organization did this by allowing consumers to decide whether they wanted apps to track their activity across other applications on their iPhone.
What This Means for Consumers
If you check out a pair of Nikes on your Amazon app and then browse through Instagram, you’ll probably see those exact shoes appear on your newsfeed in the form of an ad.
If this scenario seems familiar, it’s because your phone, by default, was set up to allow tracking across apps. With the new update, however, Apple is allowing consumers to make this choice for themselves. For the customers that decide to opt in, there is reallly no detrimental effect to the overall experience. The customers that don’t allow this capability will likely start seeing slightly less relevant ads because they’re getting lumped into aggregate consumer groups. We’ll get into that later.
What This Means for Marketers
First and foremost, this doesn’t affect every marketer in exactly the same manner. For marketers who are exclusively B2B and handle almost all of their digital marketing on LinkedIn or by targeting via first-party data, this is practically a non-issue.
First-party data is information consumers directly share on the internet themselves. That’s what makes LinkedIn a powerful advertising tool; of all the social media channels, LinkedIn has the highest volume of first-party data. Think about it: As a LinkedIn user, you probably update your account every time you get a new job. Most people don’t update their “About” section on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, or Twitter.
However, if you’re building advertisements based on user activity rather than demographics, you’re going to face some challenges.
In order to track behavior across apps today, you need each Apple user’s explicit permission — and that’s pretty rare. In fact, this TechRadar article says a vast majority of Apple users are blocking app tracking: “While 13% of iOS users across the world have allowed tracking, only around 5% of daily users in the US opted in to being tracked, even after two weeks of the feature being rolled out.”
So, in one swoop, activity-based targeting has shrunk by 95% of all US-based Apple users, who make up a majority share of the US market.
But there is a silver lining. It’s not impossible to target your audience — they’re just getting lumped into aggregate groups to protect individual privacy. So, aside from a few bumps in the road with Facebook updates required to adjust to the iOS update, targeting an audience happens in much the same way as it did before, but with a smaller audience.
A Cookieless Future with Google Chrome
The iOS 14 issue pales in comparison to the complications caused by Google announcing they were going to discontinue third-party tracking on their web browser, Chrome (which has a majority market share in the US).
Third-party cookies track your behavior online, whether it’s on a phone or a computer. Apple’s iOS 14 update allows you to limit how much apps can track your activities across other apps on your phone, but won’t impact Google Chrome users until 2022.
How This Affects Consumers
Ultimately, consumers can enjoy increased privacy and less relevant ads. No longer will you receive the hyper-specific, seemingly mind-reading ads for the thing you just browsed on an online store.
Instead, you’ll see ads based on — you guessed it — your first-party data. To reiterate, this is data that you’ve willingly shared online about yourself. This can come from social media bios, keywords you’ve searched for, memberships and associations, and much more.
How This Affects Marketers
You might be thinking, “Unlike Apple, one of the major ways Google makes money is by being one of the most heavily used ad platforms on the market. Why would they do something like this?”
Privacy is the answer. Consumers demand privacy, so the corporations will supply it. Plus, this policy actually positions at least one of Google’s ad formats in an even more advantageous light: the classic Google AdWords.
Searching on Google counts as first-party data. If a consumer is searching for the “best plumber in Tampa, FL,” that’s information the consumer is revealing about themselves (i.e., they’re looking for a plumber). Thus, keyword-targeted advertising will be very much en vogue in 2022.
Another way marketers can adapt to the changing times is by collecting their own first-party data. Enter: lead generation forms.
Offer your customers what they want in exchange for some information. Downloadables, discounts, and giveaways are all great gated opportunities to ask for first and last names, emails, company names, addresses, and phone numbers. Once you’ve collected this first-party data, you can advertise via email campaigns, upload retargeting lists to social platforms, and more.
What the Future Looks Like
Companies like Apple and Google wield a ton of power not only because of their obvious size and influence, but also because they have a lot of information on their consumers. These policies to protect the privacy of customers help shine a better light on them while simultaneously protecting their users.
For us marketers, it’s simply another adjustment we need to make. The only constant is change, and this is yet another example of that truism. Our audiences may be smaller than they were two years ago, and we may have to work a little harder but, ultimately, there is always a way to connect to the right audience.