Facebook Ads & iOS 14: What Can You Do to Overcome Data Loss?

If you’ve looked at your Facebook ads data recently, you might be worried about your dwindling conversion insight. Starting with Safari and Mozilla’s default blocking of cross-site tracking since the release of ITP 2.1, continuing last summer with the rollout of Limited Data Use that limited tracking in California to comply with CCPA, and most recently with the reduction of conversion tracking from 28 days down to 7 days globally, many encroachments into performance data have already impacted reporting.

As noted in their announcement, Facebook made that last change to conversion tracking windows as a step toward the biggest expected change to data visibility: the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) prompt Apple has included in the most recent iOS 14 update.

How do we (marketers and publishers who leverage Facebook ads for content distribution) cope with the erosion of this data that’s been so central to performance management for the better part of the last decade?

In the midst of this change, it will be necessary to focus on three core truths:

  1. Channel data was never fully comprehensive
  2. Savvy digital marketing decision-making does not change
  3. Engaging creative and user experience still rule

Embracing these principles will help navigate the broader impact of iOS 14, and increased regulation similar to CCPA/CPRA and GDPR. Let’s dive into each of these thoughts to help alleviate anxiety about changes to attribution and provide you with concrete principles to succeed despite them.

Channel Marketing Data, Especially Conversion Actions, Has Never Been Comprehensive

Marketers should value all view-through, cross-device, multi-touch, and offline conversion activity from each digital channel to value investment appropriately, optimize the marketing mix, and maximize results. Still, most performance marketers don’t value these consistently, thoughtfully, or even at all, putting them at a disadvantage to brands that have built an understanding of these “hidden” values over time.

Let’s touch on just one example of this: cohort maturation. Facebook’s previous 28-day attribution window may have provided more data than the new 7-day window, but it had never accounted for any conversion actions beyond 28 days. We know that in some cases with our clients, more than 50% of their conversions came in beyond the 28-day window of first site visit, let alone the first ad served. If you’re not accounting for how your customers buy in relation to the limitations of each platform, then you could already be making decisions on data with massive blind spots.

Of course, accounting for these blind spots, whether they be cross-device, multi-touch, or conversion lag, can be tricky. There’s a lot of overlap between categories, and you can easily take it too far. Stick to adjusting for where the data is most clear, make incremental changes, and revisit and update the metrics over time as the business and audience changes. It will never be perfect, but remember — neither was the data you’ve been using up until now!

Key next steps:

  • Create multiplier benchmarks to account for data blind spots
  • Create a clear record of assumptions and clarify the thinking with stakeholders
  • Adjust channel performance goals accordingly
  • Revisit and iterate on a recurring basis or when major business changes occur

Savvy Digital Marketing Decision-making Does Not Change

Our approach to performance has always included using channel data for comparative purposes to find the audiences, creative, and user experiences that drive optimal performance. Whether the goal be simply leads and sales or deeper goals involving LTV, qualified leads, or new-to-file customers, our approach doesn’t change.

The main question isn’t, “How many conversions did my advertising drive this month,” but rather, “How is my advertising contributing to the growth of my business?”

The main question isn’t, “How many conversions did my advertising drive this month,” but rather, “How is my advertising contributing to the growth of my business?” With this in mind, the focus is on incrementality – how many new customers you’d miss out on if you hadn’t invested. Answering this question is the key to optimal budget setting across marketing tactics, and is even more critical in a changing world of data clarity.

In one example, we partnered with a rapidly growing marketplace client, leveraging incrementality in order to unlock the optimal media mix for three market stages: Launch, Growth, Mature. Each market stage had specific benchmarks to hit in order to move forward and focus on relevant goals. Initially, standard channel data indicated greatest efficiency in bottom-funnel efforts in launch markets. It also continued to point to middle-funnel value in mature markets.

What the channel data was missing was multiple touchpoints in a customer journey, and how many bottom-funnel individuals would have converted without the additional touchpoint – the critical data of how many more conversions are generated from each tactic. Incrementality testing illustrated when each marketing tactic had its greatest impact. By investing when it had the greatest incremental impact, we were able to cut the cost of market development by 30%. These savings allowed us to aggressively grow active markets and launch new ones ahead of plan.

Key next steps:

  • Determine a methodology for measuring incrementality that makes sense for your business
  • Build a roadmap of suppression tests to determine lift driven by channel and tactic
  • Revisit and iterate on a recurring basis or when major business changes occur

Invest in Engaging Ad Creative and User Experience Through Personalization

Consumers are not thinking about how their conversion will be attributed, or how many days it has been since they saw or clicked an ad. What will move people is relevant and timely messaging and a seamless user experience that delights them and minimizes the work involved.

What will move people is relevant and timely messaging and a seamless user experience that delights them and minimizes the work involved.

So, our work involves finding the right combination of audience and messaging. This may require revisiting processes to identify audiences and their place in the customer journey in the absence of Facebook’s automated tracking. The approach to messaging shouldn’t change much, if at all. Successful marketers will double down on testing structures that define specific hypotheses and success metrics. This testing, with the new data constraints, is how we’ll adapt and iterate for successive tests, refining audience-message fit overtime to win customers.

Key next steps:

  • Build your ideal audience segments along with specific attributes
  • Audit 1P audience data to identify gaps for both prospects and customers that you’ll need to execute your strategy
  • Determine messaging and offers to test for each audience and stage, along with creative requirements
  • Place focus, time, and effort on the creative execution, which requires an agile and talented team equipped with the skills to deliver strong digital experiences
  • Utilize channel data for comparative signals as to what is working to drive business growth

Despite the inevitable challenges that will arise with data loss, you won’t need to completely rewrite your approach. Intelligently incorporating the unknown into goals, embracing incrementality to help make budgetary decisions, and investing in both audience data and creative to improve the customer journey will prepare you to take on those challenges with minimal impact to,  and likely even improvements in, your marketing success.

Everyone knows the question about a tree falling in the woods. Perhaps the marketing version in 2021 would be “If my advertising drives a purchase online, but my channel data didn’t report it, did it happen?” The answer to this one is simple: yes. By letting core marketing principles guide you, you’ll be well-positioned to continue growing, perhaps faster than you ever have before.