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Apple Didn’t Kill Attribution. Advertising Agencies Did.

You’ve heard the reports that the sky is falling and advertising is dead due to the death of cookies and iOS 14 updates. And to some degree, that is accurate in terms of marketing attribution.

But, any agency blaming poor performance on recent privacy updates is looking at the wrong metrics. Channel-specific reporting was always going to show a decrease in performance after these updates, and the pendulum is only going to swing further towards enhanced user privacy.  

Marketing measurements are more modeled than ever.

Generally speaking, every single media channel now models conversions.  Meaning, it’s next to impossible to get 1:1 attribution from platform to end source of truth. That is true for email, Facebook, foot traffic attribution, or any other media channel.  

And ya know what? That is ok!  Directionally, most platforms have enough user data to say with relative confidence how, when, and if users are converting—even if those projections are taken with rose-colored glasses. 

However, if the agency or internal team is relying on platform metrics to determine success or failure of advertising efforts, they are looking at the wrong numbers! Platform metrics were only meant to give a slice into a siloed view of performance. They do not indicate holistic business results.

How did we get here?

For years, agencies relied on inflated media metrics produced by platforms to beef up their own numbers.  In many cases—a singular conversion would be given credit multiple times across a campaign running social, programmatic, and SEM. And on top of that, those same conversions could be counted under email or affiliate efforts that were also performed in-house, which only further inflates results.

Taken separately, often without de-duplicated conversions, those channels all look great.  Recent attribution challenges have made those numbers fall off. To a certain extent that is, as it may be important to reiterate, because many platforms are modeling numbers to make up for the lost attribution. This modeling is causing fire alarms to go off, with claims that reporting is no longer truly accurate. In reality, they may never have been 100% accurate. 

Ultimately, these fire alarms and changes mean agencies and their clients must look elsewhere for their source of truth.

So, where do I go now?

The new source of truth may sound too simple.  

It all relates to the business results. Trends in underlying business metrics—be that revenue, margin, profit, return on investment, or any other business metric—will be the ultimate key to success. 

But hitting a channel’s primary KPI does not necessarily indicate a successful campaign. At Arm Candy, our goals are to help build our clients’ business. That means understanding how the business KPIs are affected by the media efforts and using a holistic view of the business to understand what might be working best, which are the types of insights available in our planning and strategy tool, Cyris.

For too long, most media has been optimized based on channel-specific metrics, while mostly ignoring underlying business goals. So, perhaps we should thank Apple instead of shaming them for helping companies find new insights to get them closer to their goals.

Written by David Mahaffey

David is the resident operations nerd here at Arm Candy. As as naturally competitive person, getting in platforms and seeing how we can beat ourselves keeps him loving the job. Outside of campaign performance, you can usually find him sipping an adult beverage in the pool or reading a thrilling historical biography.

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