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How to Adjust Your eCommerce Approach in the Post-iOS Marketing Landscape

In the first installment of our three-part blog series on Apple’s iOS marketing updates, we likened the impact of Apple’s new privacy controls to a sucker punch that may hobble its fellow monopoly, Facebook. To appreciate the force of that punch, consider Facebook’s longstanding prominence in the digital climate. Since 2007, Facebook has been the go-to advertising platform for ecommerce brands, from small entrepreneurs to larger companies selling through Shopify or Magento, who preferred placing ads on Facebook rather than, say, Google Shopping because it was cheaper—and because of the billions of potential customers they could reach. In turn, those merchants rewarded Facebook with profits: In 2009, its ad revenue was $764 million. By 2020, that number had soared to $84 billion.

Facebook has been so successful, in part, because it’s so efficient at collecting user data and letting businesses serve customers ads that are hyper-personalized. But now that 96% of Apple users are opting out of sharing their data, the archetypal social advertising channel may no longer be the machine of money it once was. All that data it used to aggregate—a lot of it is now effectively useless. Apple has reined in Facebook from sharing email lists and device locations with data brokers, or using a third-party SDK that combines the data of the apps that you’re on, or giving advertising networks user ID information for retargeting campaigns. No, Facebook. Bad Facebook.

On and on the stipulations went, until Facebook came up with a retaliatory strategy: Sell more products and services through its own apps, so that it’s not as reliant on cross-site user tracking. Hence its PR blitz promoting Facebook Marketplace—its ecommerce generator that boasts over one billion monthly users—as well as announcing Facebook Shops, expanding the Shop tab on Instagram, and rolling out monetization features for “creators” on Instagram.

So is that the play—ecommerce? Kinda. Facebook is smart enough to know that it can’t land its own sucker punch against today’s ecommerce behemoths, like Amazon and Walmart. Instead, it seems to be trying to make money on ads that companies could run on influencer social feeds that link off to ecommerce storefronts that Facebook owns. A lot of the pressure of that pivot falls back on you, the online businesses caught between two brawling tech gods. To that end, let us drop a few tips on how to adjust your ecommerce approach so that you can wend your way through this kerfuffle—navigating the shifts in iOS marketing while also capitalizing on Facebook’s shop-centric initiatives.

Don’t Attract—Align

Even though Facebook has been among the most important channels in digital advertising for years, it’s not the only channel out there. Yes, marketers will have to scramble to keep up with Apple’s announcements, but, in certain ways, the larger problem that they encountered before these updates was an excess of channels to choose from, which can make finding audiences more difficult. Unless you’re Coca-Cola or, well, Apple, you can’t grab people’s attention because you don’t have the money to run ads on every channel. Instead, you have to align with the attention-grabbers on the right channels. So pick your platform wisely:

  • Facebook

Apple downsized many tracking capabilities that platforms like Facebook could offer, but a lot of the analytics remain intact. Platforms still own their first-party data. They can still study the behavior of their users (even if those users have opted out of tracking). And they can still serve them ads. In a previous blog, we pooh-poohed the efficacy of Facebook’s Aggregated Event Measurement solution, so watch us backtrack here and admit that those eight conversions can tell you a lot about your audience. Our advice? Make one of those events “purchase conversions” (that insight’s gonna be real handy), verify your business domain, and adjust your strategy to the attribution click-windows of seven days. That window used to stretch to 28 days. C’est la guerre.

  • Google Shopping

Shopify and Google have recently partnered up in a deal that gives Shopify merchants ample opportunities to place their products on Google searches, which will process payments through Shop Pay (Shopify’s payment app). Google has expressed no interest in becoming a retailer, but only the more credulous among us would think that they don’t have their eye fixed on the $4.2 trillion that global ecommerce sales are expected to hit this year. If you’re looking for a different digital billboard than Facebook, open a Shopify account and try Google Shopping—especially since Shopping ads and free product listings now comprise the bulk of most ecommerce vendors’ attempts to connect with their audiences online. Speaking of Google: All those limitations that Apple’s putting into place? They don’t apply to Android (whose operating system Google developed). So while you’re figuring out your new marketing tactics, consider reallocating your ad budget to users on Android devices, which currently clocks in at 2.5 billion people worldwide.

  • Snapchat

Apple’s pro-privacy pivot, as it happens, is making Snapchat look like it’s always been ahead of its time. Back in 2018, in a post titled “Privacy by Design,” Team Snap wrote: “Protecting privacy is a very important part of accomplishing our mission … That’s why we introduced the idea of ephemeral media with Snapchat—to set the assumption, just like in real life, that you’re not always on the record.” Mmm, maybe. Snapchat is also overprotective of its own data and has long been associated with poor mental health in its teenage users. Still, as a realpolitik channel for marketers to place ads somewhere other than Facebook, Team Snap offers a Facebooklike experience, with dynamic ad formats and product catalogs. Plus, it caters to the Millennial and Gen Z age cohort, so if that’s your core audience, Snapchat is an investment worth investigating.

Get Technical

Let’s say that you read through that list above and concluded that Facebook is, indeed, one of the platforms where you want to advertise. To perform your best on that platform, pay attention to some of the niche marketing mechanics at your disposal:

  • Leverage On-Social Signals

Create campaigns based on user interactions with top-of-the-funnel content. Those insights can help you develop precise retargeting tactics without having to rely on data of how users behave outside of Facebook—or other platforms, for that matter—since third-party visibility is now limited.

  • Use Properly Hashed First-Party Data

Remember how we said that platforms still own their first-party data? Well, that data’s valuable—maybe more valuable than cookie data. If you’ve already dedicated time to earning your customers’ trust, or building email lists of qualified leads, or providing products and services that people enjoy so much that they’ve given you permission to market to them directly, all your past efforts are about to sustain you in the future.

  • Consolidate Account Structures

Just as there are too many channels to count anymore, there are too many metrics to help you count them. Analytics have become so rarefied that, in some ways, they result in marketers speaking to each other, rather than speaking to their customers. Consider lumping all those granular audience segments that you’ve delineated into one remarketing bucket, especially if your audience pool is somewhat small.

Revisit Marketing 101

Our master thesis in this blog series, if you haven’t noticed, is to get back to the fundamentals of marketing that made us sharp before we started thinking of customers as aggregations of their own micro-digital decisions. Use analytics to connect with your audience—rather than stalk them online—and harness some of these strategies to engage with them:

  • Email Marketing

We’ve said all we need to about email marketing in the SMS versus email marketing blog in this series, but we’ll say it again: Email marketing is one of the most useful tools available to digital advertisers, app developers, and ecommerce businesses. Avoid purchase email lists, because they’ll end up routing your newsletters to spam. Instead, personalize your outreach efforts. Shape your messaging according to where people are in the sales process. Offer discounts. And make your copy and design feel human instead of automated. (We’ll elaborate on this point later.)

  • Referral Marketing

Perhaps the most effective form of advertising is positive word-of-mouth. People trust online reviews, so wow your users, and then encourage them to leave reviews on Google, Yelp!, or anywhere else that people go to for recommendations. Promote the content that your users are generating themselves about your services and products. And expand your brand awareness through your customers’ existing networks, offering free storage or cash incentives when they get their friends and family to sign up for what you’re offering.

If you didn’t know, affiliate marketing works like this: You display an ad on your site for a separate store that’s affiliated with your operation. If one of your customers clicks on that ad, it’ll link them off to the affiliate’s site. And if that customer buys something from the affiliated store, you get a commission off the purchase. You can track sales, join affiliate networks, and automate payouts. Just make sure you partner with the right people. (In affiliate marketing, as in life.)

  • Influencer Marketing

The ad world has, of late, been raving about the ROI from influencer marketing. So if you’ve got some influencers in your network, reach out to them. Don’t  feel like you have to collab with internet personalities who boast followings of 20 million+. Social media accounts in the 50,000–500,000-followers range can also help you promote your brand through reviews, reels, and how-demonstrations.

No matter how trendy your TikToking, how appealing your emailing, how Instafamous you are to your following, extending your CLV is the stalwart defense that will always obliterate fancy offense in the championship game. Respect your customers. Personalize your offerings. Upsell and cross-sell to your audience depending on where they are in your funnel, so that they leave your ecommerce shop feeling like they have exactly what they came looking for.

Bring Back the Humanities

Just to reiterate: We’re not anti-analytics. Imagining that some perfect ad exists that, by itself, can stun your audience into acting on a sale and zoom through the right channels at the right times—that’s crazy talk. You need to know who your customers are, what they want, how they behave. But the recasting of consumers as participants in iOS marketing who choose whether to share their data indicates that the way forward for marketers is to remember the business value of good creative. 

Once upon a time, the internet was cool. Now, with every year that passes, it looks more like a mall. We are so used to robots tracking us through that mall and talking to us as if we, too, were robots. To stand out as an ecommerce brand, fuse your analytics with your creative so that you know which channels your audience frequents, but once you find them there, meet them on equal terms and speak to them like the humans they are.

The End of an Era

And so concludes our three-part blog series—just as the story of the Wild West era of user tracking comes to a close. Well, to be candid, no one knows what’ll happen from here. Facebook might be playing possum right now, acting as if it’s floundering under the pitiless storm of bad press but actually poised to slip out from the ropes and drive its own uppercut into Apple’s gullet, landing them on the mat. Maybe users have wrested control of their data from the platforms for good. Or maybe the platforms’ attention to privacy could morph into a Big Brotheresque ability to scan all encrypted data. Time will tell. In the meantime, stay calm.

Don’t pull your marketing budget out of Facebook if you see fewer conversions over the next quarter. Don’t rethink all your user personas or reroute all your sales journeys in a frantic pitch to stay ahead of the changes. If anything, these developments have forced the ad world to adopt more diversified marketing and ecommerce approaches, investing in a broader range of channels, and appreciating their loyal customer base. Make amends with these people. The disyllabic birdsongs of the social platforms, the first families of tech, the apps and the widgets and the OS updates—they all come and go. But the admiration of the person you’re selling to, the esteem of the clients who value you for what you alone can deliver to them, can keep your digital shingle waving in the wind for years to come.

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