Tips From The Trenches: Sustainable App Publishing In A Post-IDFA World

Mike Brooks, WeatherBug’s SVP of revenue

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Mike Brooks, SVP of revenue at WeatherBug.

WeatherBug has participated in dozens of closed-door partner and ecosystem meetings regarding Apple’s impending iOS 14 release, and one thing has become painfully clear:

App publishers bear the entire risk of iOS 14 violations.

If an SDK we work with violates Apple’s new tracking framework, for example, whether that violation is perpetrated in our app or not – we’re liable.

And so, as the launch of iOS 14 is likely just days away, we hope our publisher friends ­are battening down the hatches for some serious change. We certainly are.

The team at WeatherBug has put an incredible amount of thought into a few key questions we find ourselves being asked frequently in conversations with clients and partners.

We believe the ecosystem only thrives through transparency. So if you’re one of the many publishers, advertisers, tech partners or monetization partners considering what your product should look like in the year to come, here are a few points our team would like you to consider.

Risky business

Brilliant people debate all day about Apple’s intent with its iOS 14 changes and whether its policies represent an overreach. But we won’t go down that dark, dark hole today.

The changes are coming, and our team is making decisions to optimize for the long-term success of our business by assessing the risk to our iOS business over the next five years.

On its developer privacy page today, Apple goes out of its way to state that publishers are responsible for any third-party code they place in their app. If an SDK combines user data from a publisher’s app with user data coming from other developers’ apps to target or measure ads, that counts as tracking – even if the publisher doesn’t use the SDK for those purposes.

In other words, every vendor partnership could be a liability. Considering that publishers are the ones that maintain a direct relationship with Apple – as well as the full risk of being removed from the App Store for violations – they should keep this firmly in mind when evaluating partnerships with the many ecosystem partners now touting their solutions.

Having a deep relationship with marquis partners is therefore more important now than ever. At WeatherBug, led by our head of advertising operations Ron Duque, we’re formalizing a process for auditing and vetting our partner integrations that rely on an SDK.

We’re reviewing precisely what data points are collected (seriously, the full list), what the end-state and end-product of the data is and setting a constant cadence with each partner to keep us on the right side of Apple and Google’s policies.

Prioritize

Publishers were given two years to deal with the deprecation of third-party cookies in Chrome. Apple only gave teams two-and-a-half months to figure out the iOS 14 changes.

The tight time constraint means you can only hope to execute on a few major changes. At WeatherBug, we’ve chosen to focus on how to optimize IDFA collection using soft prompts thereby minimizing revenue loss during the first two months after the iOS 14 rollout and on whether we should create different product features depending on the presence of an IDFA.

The iOS 14 dialogue box prompted by Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework is a wasteland for opt-ins. Two of the three text fields provided are aggressive and un-editable. The default option is “no” and publishers are only allowed to ask for permission once. WeatherBug anticipates that overall IDFA availability will decrease significantly.

That is why getting as much IDFA coverage as possible in the short to mid-term will be a competitive advantage. We, like many others, are testing soft prompts that appear prior to the hard prompt from Apple with a message that focuses on how targeted advertising helps us achieve our mission of making the world a safer place through real-time weather information.

The next logical question is always: “Why don’t you create a separate user experience and feature set for those that don’t opt in to IDFA?” For example, WeatherBug could present a three-day forecast as teaser content to attract IDFA opt-ins which, once received, opens up the free version of the app we provide today.

Leaving any legal or policy issues aside, WeatherBug will not pursue this strategy for two main reasons.

For one, we feel that creating a feature set specifically for opted-out users runs counter to our mission. And the second reason has to do with game theory. If we were to develop a non-IDFA tier and our competitive set did not, our “entry-level” users would likely flock to competitors by the millions after comparing their offering with the limited product they’d be exposed to when first opening our app.

We believe that this first-mover disadvantage will prevent many pubs from adopting this strategy.

Going contextual

One last point to consider is the future of contextual advertising.

Today, there are two main conversations happening in the background to do with contextual advertising and first-party data.

In the more strategic conversation, we dream of a world where our first-party data, be it weather-related, in-app activity, location or otherwise, can be used seamlessly at scale by large buyers in the same way that DSPs harness third-party data today. But that would require a common syntax across publishers, or at least a way for buying technologies to understand the exact data they would be leveraging, as well as a layer of validation.

Neither of these exist at scale today, but that is how we aim to drive higher monetization in the long haul.

As for the other conversation we’re having about context and first-party data, it’s limited to passing impression and device heuristics to DSPs and SSPs. Though this is a short-term solve, the future of monetization will go far past that stake in the ground.

As industry juggernauts jockey for position, the balance of power sways each day. But the one thing we do know is that the world is changing, and that the way we approach our businesses and partnerships must also change in lockstep.

Follow WeatherBug (@WeatherBug) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.