Apple’s IDFA Update and the Rising Importance of App Engagement

The world of mobile app marketing is changing, and Apple’s recent release of iOS 14.5 just added a turbo boost to these changes. Within the scope of this update, Apple introduced its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework, which limits mobile apps’ user tracking and ad targeting capabilities to a remarkable extent. Accordingly, apps will be able to track users’ IDFA, meaning Identity for Advertisers, only if these users opt-in.

Now, app marketers who have been reaping greater ad conversions with IDFA are stranded and looking out for alternatives. Like a knight in shiny armor, in-app engagement has come to the rescue, but does it serve as a perfect replacement to IDFA for marketers? 

We would discuss all that in this post, but first, we’ll explain everything about IDFA and the impact of Apple’s recent IDFA changes on mobile app marketers and app engagement.

What is IDFA?

Apple launched IDFA back in 2012 as a random user identifier assigned to each user’s iOS device -whether it be an iPhone or an iPad. In other words, IDFA was created as mobile advertising ID for Apple devices. Since then, it has enabled digital ad networks like Facebook and Google to track iOS users’ behaviors across websites and mobile apps. This made it visible for networks using IDFA to access individualized data insights to personalize the targeted mobile ads that display on the users’ mobile devices every day.

Brands leveraging these ad networks to reach their customers enjoyed more user clicks, higher conversions, and stronger campaign performance. Well, they were enjoying this up until Apple’s recent IDFA update introducing the App Tracking Transparency framework for privacy purposes.

What’s the IDFA update about?

Recently, Apple announced that mobile apps running on iOS 14.5 would have to explicitly ask their users for permission before gaining access to their data. This permission appears like the existing prompts on iOS associated with enabling push notifications or location tracking. However, this new prompt is very straightforward. It explains to users that granting IDFA access will allow the app requesting permission to track their engagement across all apps and websites on iOS. 

Source: Braze Perspectives

The apps seeking permission are able to customize the small text at the bottom (justification) that shows to the Apple users when they’re trying to access IDFA, however. For example, a mobile app may state that it will offer a more personalized experience when the user allows tracking. This statement appears within the prompt asking for user data tracking permission. Initially, mobile apps used to access a given phone or tablet’s IDFA after that user installed and launched their app without any permission. Thanks to the IDFA update (on the side of the users) and shame to the IDFA update (on the side of mobile app advertisers), ad marketing agencies can no longer access iOS users’ data in the case that users choose the option “Ask App Not to Track.”

The IDFA changes are Apple’s way of asserting its stance as the leading mobile operating system for security, privacy, and transparency. 

What will happen after Apple’s IDFA changes?

Now that Apple’s IDFA changes have come to stay, mobile marketers are at a loss. Without IDFA, their ads would be significantly less personalized and relevant, which would weaken these ads’ performance and make this kind of advertising less lucrative for both them and the ad networks they rely on for ad ID tracking. 

Also, without IDFA, mobile app marketers will not be able to understand the impact of their ad spends across various ad networks. As a mobile app marketer, you surely want to know the conversion rate of your paid ads. However, now, you cannot precisely know through which ad a user installed your app if the user refused to give permission for IDFA tracking earlier. 

Apple seems quite unaffected by these changes as they introduced a new API called SKAdNetwork, which might shake up today’s advertising landscape. This API would provide an alternative to much of the value that ad networks like Google and Facebook, as well as attribution platforms, are providing. However, this alternative has its own limitations since SKAdNetwork’s postbacks do not include precise information regarding install time, user’s location, and user’s activities on other apps or websites.

Hence, it is time to approach any mobile marketing strategy more comprehensively and pay even more attention to user engagement and retention. User acquisition will keep being important in itself. However, mobile marketers will not be able to retarget their users who stopped using the app if these users did not give permission to this app to track their IDFA. 

In this case, it would be a smart move to improve the engagement and retention strategies to minimize churn rate, which has a great potential to contribute to the efforts to compensate for the new limitations of user acquisition campaigns.

The Power of In-App Engagement

Engaged users are the ones who go beyond the action of install. They find value in a certain app and carry out a set of activities that might differ from app to app and vertical to vertical. In-app engagement strategies such as push notifications, in-app messages, and email marketing are a powerful way to boost your engagement and retention rate, mainly when you effectively utilize them. Here comes Storyly -an interactive way to increase in-app engagement.

You might have designed your app in a way to offer value to your prospective users. However, you should also put some thought into how you communicate this value proposition. Storyly, bringing mobile story format to your app, enables you to present your message in a striking way and without interrupting the experience. You can give your users an option to interact by utilizing polls, quizzes, and emoji bars on your stories. You can also produce and publish videos, a rising content form in the mobile age.  

You would have to start utilizing this option because the links you can attach to your in-app engagement ad campaign strategy are not affected by IDFA changes. These deep direct links link people into a specific part of your app or detailed screen or feature without seeking permission from the user. 

A standard URL schema, a universal link, or key-value pairs, which your application can parse, interpret and direct the user appropriately when the app is opened, is not affected by iOS 14.5. And in-app engagement marketing strategies employ the use of such kinds of links.

The Power of Retention Rate

High user retention rates translate into brand loyalty, something you should strive to achieve for your app. So, while IDFA’s changes affect acquiring new users, it is time to focus on retaining your users and increasing your app’s retention rate. You can read “7 Mobile Marketing Campaign Types To Boost App Retention” to discover more about increasing retention rate.

The beautiful thing about user retention is that when the retained users become loyal, they do the marketing for you. They give you feedback on how to improve your app, share your app with their friends (if you have employed the in-app engagement strategy of social shares), and help spread your marketing campaign that includes them.

So, you see that while IDFA changes affect user acquisition strategy for mobile app marketers, a higher retention rate from an effective in-app engagement strategy still ensures that you get a good number of new users.

Thankfully, engagement and retention strategies are not affected by the IDFA updates because the messaging channels and dynamic segmentation supported by the best-in-app user engagement platforms are generally built on the foundation of first-party data. This kind of user data refers to information on user behavior and preferences from your app, website, or physical locations. To discover more about IDFA Changes, you can read “Why IDFA Changes Will Make Things Harder for Marketers.”