Independent consultant Mark Baartse offers his two cents on the changing privacy landscape.
The invisible man is a recurring theme in Hollywood. There’s usually a man wearing a hat and his face is covered with bandages. At some point the bandages are pulled back to reveal nothing.
Perhaps some of our data is heading the same way - we see the ominous warnings from Facebook in our post iOS14.5 world: “in some cases, statistical modelling may be used to account for some conversions” and “1-day click-through opt-out data will be modeled for advertisers". Statistical bandages wrapped around the invisible man to give the illusion of solid form where the reality is just a hazy outline.
In addition, some powerful tools, starved of the data that feeds them, are being put to pasture. Facebook analytics? Gone. Facebook attribution? Gone (for now at least).
Facebook marketing is generally dominated by iOS, and while reports are still coming in, at time of writing in Australia it’s looking like about 90% of iOS data is lost, with Android and web intact - for now. It’s pretty safe to assume Facebook has lost at least half their data, and arguably the most valuable half (iOS users generally outperform). That data loss replaces accurate reporting with statistical mystery-meat, but worse, on a user level Facebook is also increasingly blind to the behaviours of those customers. Our rich user level targeting is gone, and replaced by Apple’s ill conceived SKAdNetwork.
Politics of privacy aside, regardless of whether you agree with what Apple has done, how they have done it is almost indisputably bad. Their consistently poor behaviour as a foundation of the modern tech economy is another discussion altogether, but I would argue it’s bullying behaviour and lack of transparency and engagement threatens to undermine the entire digital ecosystem. It’s not as if Facebook’s track record on the privacy front has been squeaky clean, and you could argue they have created the knife that was then used against them. Regardless of that, I don’t agree with how Apple have done it.
With Facebook user level data disappearing in a puff of smoke, and Google moving towards their bizarrely named (and generally poorly received) FLoC (“Federated Learning of Cohorts”) targeting, user level data will be vanishing soon enough. Google has less to worry about as, despite their massive data engine, at the end of the day if someone searches “car insurance” in Google, NRMA et al are gonna bid on it, with or without targeting.
There’s a cohort of digitally-led marketers who have been raised in a world where there was only user level data. They don’t know a world without it. As Alexander Meyer from The Iconic recently said "If the key differentiator in the future cannot be the ability to 'out-target’ anymore, you need to look at the completeness of how you approach marketing."
So where does that leave us marketers?
Lazy digital marketing tends to value user level data over messaging. User level data provides an easy, short fix. If the audience is really good enough, a poor creative will probably still perform. I know of one startup where ultra-tight Facebook audiences combined with mediocre creative are their only marketing channel. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes right now.
It’s a good time to be a creative ad strategist, and if we are lucky, the much maligned digital creative blandness may be coming to an end.
For startups, it’s another story. They don’t have the resources or knowledge to do such things. Google Ads and Facebook conversion campaigns, despite their challenges, have been a great way to kick start many a company from their first sale to a few million. It may be a challenge for those companies.
At the end, the only constant is change, and for those able to adapt, this is just one more change.
Mark Baartse is an independent consultant helping digitally led companies with growth strategy.