Let this statistic sink in: 96% of U.S. IOS users opt-out of app tracking, which impacts marketers’ ability to target, measure, and optimize effectively. Numbers vary from study to study, but even if it’s half of that, it should be clear how big an issue data deprecation is becoming, not just in mobile, but for all digital marketing channels.
I received a lot of intriguing feedback from my post What’s Your Marketing Measurement Plan Against These 4 Data Deprecation Trends? The comments—both internally from my colleagues at Skai and externally from our customers—fell into two buckets:
First, readers were alarmed to learn that the data issues are not just about cookies!
Although marketers have been inundated with the death of cookies story late, many didn’t fully understand the issues around the larger data deprecation issue so eloquently explained in the Forrester Research report, which I cited in the post. Factors such as ad blockers, users opting out of tracking, privacy laws, etc., are all leading to a marketing landscape with dramatically fewer consumer data available than in recent years. Cookies are just one of many issues in the larger data deprecation conversation.
The second bucket of feedback was about how these changes are going to impact marketing measurement.
Although I’ve been writing about this topic for some time now, this particular post seemed to hit a nerve with marketers. I chalk it up to the fact that marketers are some of the busiest people I know, and people can only tackle so many issues at a time. Now, though, as we begin coming out of the heavy disruption from the pandemic and get closer to when Google finally turns off third-party cookies in Chrome, it seems that marketers are prioritizing their focus on this issue.
Should Marketers ‘Combat or Adapt’ to Consumer Data Changes?
I had an incredibly insightful conversation on the future measurement with the head of performance marketing who is the go-to person at his global agency on data deprecation challenges. He is currently sorting through these issues and coming up with an agency point-of-view with recommendations on responding to these changes. His POV will help determine how the agency will guide its clients’ billions of marketing dollars through this disruption, so it’s critical that he thoroughly thinks about how best to navigate this matter.
He’s currently at a crossroads: should his clients ‘combat or adapt’?
The initial reaction from his account team that started getting data deprecation questions from clients a few years ago was okay, so how do we combat these changes? Ironically, no one asked if they should scrap the status quo and find something new that is more future-proof.
There have been some industry initiatives to create an alternative tracking mechanism to third-party cookies but will browser companies and others even allow those solutions to become viable? The jury is still out on that. It all sounds good, but I’m not convinced that they will ever pan out.
So, what do you think? When should marketers stop combatting and start adapting to change?
For an industry like digital advertising that has constantly been in flux since its inception two decades ago, it makes sense to adapt when possible. But, at what point does the old way become too complex or too impossible to keep going, and adapting to the change is needed?
Ask Yourself These 4 Questions to Figure Out the Future of Your Marketing Measurement
In terms of marketing measurement, the consensus industry approach is multi-touch attribution (MTA). The big question on the table right now is how upcoming data deprecation challenges will ultimately impact MTA’s ability to report accurately.
This is critical to the future of digital advertising because today’s marketers are tasked with being data-driven, so our measurement must be airtight. At the heart of the issue for MTA is that individual customer journey tracking is a requirement of that approach, and that level of granularity will be severely challenged in our data-limited future. (Read Marketing Measurement Cannot Be Reliant on Individual Customer Journeys: Incrementality is the Fix for more on that.)
For those of you who may be at the same fork in the road, here are some questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you can adapt multi-touch attribution to work in the future or do you need to change your marketing measurement approach completely to best fit the new future.
1) How can I understand if my marketing measurement is being affected by data deprecation?
This is incredibly hard to figure out, but it makes sense to fully understand the impact data deprecation has on measurement. There are a few things worth considering:
Quantify the impact on advertising metrics. Are you seeing a decline in cookie volume, unique users, match rates, or device IDs across key audiences versus last year or two years ago?
Quantify the impact on business KPIs. Are you seeing a decline in advertising conversion rates even though your business has remained steady or is growing? That should be a major red flag that your marketing measurement is failing if conversions are going up, yet your metrics are going down.
Compare actuals to your MTA output. What is the true impact of your advertising? How does that true impact compare to your reporting through MTA? For example, if last week/month, your website had 10,000 conversions, but your MTA is showing 7,500, then you have blind spots.
2) How much inconsistency can I live with and still feel I can make solid data-driven decisions?
If the impact is more or less 5% of reality, it may not be that big of a deal. But at what point is it a big deal? 10%? 15%? 25%? And it’s not just your comfort level…think ahead to how those tense conversations may go with your boss or your clients. Even though you may understand all of the issues and be somewhat comfortable being uncomfortable, what amount of inconsistency do you care to defend?
Remember, we haven’t even hit the wall with consumer data tracking until Google shuts down the third-party cookie in Chrome. Once that happens, whatever discrepancies you are seeing now will be a lot worse. If it’s only 5-20% now, it may double or triple after Google’s Chrome shift.
What are you willing to live with?
3) What is the true goal of marketing measurement?
Don’t let data deprecation distract you here. Instead, as marketers, we need to stay focused on the core questions for our businesses:
- What impact are my investments having on my business?
- Which investments have the greatest impact, and which should I optimize out of or reduce my investments?
- What new strategies, tactics, and investments should I add to my media mix?
We need measurement solutions that allow us to answer these questions despite data deprecation (rather than employing too many hacks & workarounds due to data deprecation).
When you focus on the fundamental question of why we measure our marketing, it is clear that an inconsistent solution will not work. It’s time to adapt.
4) Will multi-touch attribution (MTA) even still be viable in a data-limited world?
Why has MTA been around for over a decade, yet still, only 9% of marketers surveyed believe their organizations really understand it?
Let’s face it, as an industry, we haven’t ever really trusted the numbers in our reporting, but we’ve accepted that an imperfect solution today is better than no solution at all. And in truth, that’s okay–so long as we continue to look at things through that lens. The unfortunate truth is that MTA has never been a great solution—and these data deprecation issues are simply going to make it worse.
We need measurement solutions that allow us to take a strategic view and understand the true impact of our investments. We can use these solutions to create our mid and long-term strategic plans and continue to use attribution, with all of its flaws, for our day-to-day optimization in each of the respective platforms we use for media activation.
I now realize combat is not an option. I need to adapt. When should I do that? Now or later?
It makes sense that marketers would want to hold off until these challenges become more problematic—we are all so busy—but what you don’t want to do is to be caught off guard. Imagine walking into your office after a long weekend and your measurement is completely broken. You will be scrambling to get a solution in place.
For agencies, this is even more important. Your clients need and expect you to protect their programs before things break. Why are you waiting? Wouldn’t you be better off giving yourself time to adjust? Especially if you went through that process while you could still compare what you learn to the data and measurements you’re used to reviewing every day rather than flying blind when your existing infrastructure no longer provides the same insight it once did?
It’s time to get started now. Even if you go through a period where you have both your current MTA in place and a solution for the future, the best practice is to get started early. That way, you’ll have had a chance to optimize your processes while you still have the data and measurements you’ve come to rely upon.