TMW #039 | Apple’s privacy dichotomy, loyalty programs and data collection, and the value of organic social media

May 9, 2021

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What does Apple’s privacy brand promise actually mean for the consumers, app developers, and advertisers who have all contributed to this $2 Trillion dollar company? There's been a flurry of news and reports this week around ATT, Apple’s future advertising business, and some research into how hard it actually is to build in Apple’s beautiful, but walled garden. All unpacked in today in #039.

I also look at the trade-off between loyalty and data collection, the fool’s errand that is organic social media engagement on Facebook and everything else, like a fully-fledged social network which is just a massive LinkedIn inside joke.

Also: Join me at The Lumery! Info is at the end of this post.

✍ Commentary

Apple’s false dichotomy: Privacy vs tracking. Apple is a company like no other. In its latest earnings call, the company increased revenue 52% last quarter, with the largest gains had in services, like Apple Fitness and Music. It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value. It took it just two more years to get to $2 trillion and the vast majority of companies will never, ever get there. Over the years Apple has been a silent partner to advertising as the App Store and the iPhone has exponentially proliferated and upheld the programmatic industrial apparatus, while taking the internet to everyone, everywhere. But recently the company has created an interesting brand promise around privacy, which strangely has created a confusing narrative of what privacy is and what Apple is actually delivering to consumers.

This has come to a head with the release of ATT, but also Safari tracking prevention, and a host of other ways in which privacy has been at the forefront of how products are designed. With more than 13% of the global population with an iPhone in hand, and that increasing year on year, marketers, on the whole, are still oblivious to the control Apple has over the experience they are delivering to consumers and increasingly, the data they are allowed to collect and use. Without a doubt,  Apple is working towards reshaping the internet in its own image, and yet remains inflexible with app developers and people building sites for iOS WebKit (the version of software you need to run web browsing on the iPhone platform). It appears that Safari, which takes about a 40% share in browser use is very behind the feature demand curve compared to most other leading browsers and in conjunction with ATT, showing an early indication of 4% - 10% of opt-ins globally, developers are getting less and less control over how their apps, websites and products perform on the Apple platform.

But here’s the thing, Apple’s ATT prompt is a big statement on privacy, but not on tracking. The dichotomy is this - that Apple promotes and works toward your privacy as a “fundamental human right” yet will still track your every location, workout, app install, time on device and your health metrics. So what’s the difference between privacy and tracking? The data is still being processed, and is sitting in the cloud somewhere, which is owned by a private global company, does that sound familiar? My Apple Music radio is personalized to my tastes, I’m recommended news stories in Apple News, I can check my screen time whenever I want, this all relies on tracking that is entirely possible for Apple Apps but no one-one else. The big difference in Apple’s vision of privacy is data availability, they don’t sell your data to advertisers as Google and Facebook do. But they still have a very strong advertising business which is looking to grow significantly over the coming months.

Apple’s advertising strategy in conjunction with ATT could be a game-changer. It’s laughable to compare revenues against Apple and the world’s largest programmatic buyers of ads, but let’s look at one product - The Airpods. Comparatively, one product line is in the same annual revenue ballpark of all the top major global agency groups - WPP, Omnicom, and Publicis. What would stop Apple from effectively cutting out the advertising middle layer and going direct to brands with an advertising proposition that includes one of the world’s largest mobile computing platforms, that collects some of the most intimate data on people in history? The key is availability - advertisers will never see data collected by Apple, but is it too much of a stretch of the imagination that Apple would offer something similar to Google’s FLoC? It could happen, under the banner of privacy, personalization, and better customer experiences.

In the same way Apple did away with flash a decade ago, and caused a major controversy, the writing is on the wall in the world of advertising and tracking. The company has access to significant capital, with a sky-high valuation and the global platform it needs to redefine what Apple believes is the future of privacy: Trust us with your data and no one else. Links  Do App Store policies harm developers? Early iOS ATT opt-in stats and commentary. Apple’s advertising plans. Facebook vs Apple.

Is your loyalty worth your data? Last week I unpacked what we mean when we say “first-party data strategy” but there was one thing I didn’t look at. This was the rise of loyalty programs as a response to the lack of third-party tracking and increasing collection of first-party data. To me, loyalty programs are cropping up as a band-aid fix to offer value to the customer in the exchange for data, and rightly so - as one TMW community member mentioned this week, cookie prompt rarely talk about the customer value of clicking “accept.” Darin Archer, the director of product management at Gap weighed into this conversation this week with a helpful article examining the value between seller and buyer for data collection and use. The point here is that the value exchange should be fair and balanced. Gap Inc. has developed a framework of 7 principles to guide their decision-making around how and when a value proposition is presented to a customer in the context of information exchange. Here’s the interesting perspective - as brands rush to create new loyalty programs, and haphazardly try to figure out their strategy for rewarding their customers, this is not enough to justify data collection. Darin’s point of view is that the link between data and value doesn’t come with incentives like dollar-off discounts, it is created when a brand builds technology to use that data specifically for a better experience for the customer. This, in my view, is why I think we might see a lot of failed loyalty programs and “lessons learned” in the next couple of years. Rewarding customers is great, trading data for discounts is probably not the way forward. Link

📈Chart Of The Week  

Organic social - is it still valuable? Turns out building social media followers has become a low-value activity when looking at research from Rival IQ who analyzed the average engagement rate across social posts. Sign up here to get a link to the full version and the chart. You won't be disappointed.


📰 Latest Developments

Twitter rolls out Tip Jar. This is an interesting move - Plug in a payment provider, enable a pay button and your entire audience can give you tips. No cut taken. Someone helpfully pointed out the obvious comparison with OnlyFans which takes a 20% cut of the income. This is what’s called feature disruption and another example of social and commerce merging worlds. Link

Verizon sells AOL and Yahoo for $5B. This comes off the back of a string of sold companies that didn’t quite make it, like HuffPost and Tumblr. Verizon made a big (and expensive) attempt at targeted advertising, dabbled in the subscription game and it didn’t work out. Now it’s time to move on and focus on internet infrastructure. Link

7-Eleven’s digital transformation. Turns out a lot of things have been happening at the petrol/gas station down the road. The company announced a number of new initiatives centered on the mobile app offering and including loyalty programs and partnerships with Virgin. The connected car is becoming more of a reality every day. Link

📚 Reading

Going beyond data: The retailer’s choice. A study out of McKinsey released this week looks at omnichannel strategies adopted by the most successful online retailers. The idea here is that brands need to understand that channels are something we invented and most consumers don’t care about the limitations to deliver something congruently across different mediums. The same conversation was happening 5 years ago about, data and now it’s shifted to how to actually use it to meet customers where they’re at. McKinsey. Beyond data differentiation.

Financial gain and experimentation. David Mannheim, the global VP for CRO at Brainlabs UK is saying stuff a lot of experimentation practitioners have been afraid to say for years. That is, experimentation has been crippled by the incessant need to justify value on revenue terms. Predicting uplift, reporting on ROI, and all the things in between have become inextricably linked to the work of optimizing but why? If companies will hire brand agencies for multi-million dollar projects with no clear revenue expectation, why is experimentation so different? Thought provoking. Link

Apps as utilities. A great read on how mobile apps now have a mostly functional purpose in the experience of the customer. It’s the old world to just release push notifications and wait for customers to buy. At best nothing happens and at worst, customers delete the app. The goal is to create contextual experiences that get ahead of what customers are trying to achieve within the app experience. Link (Disclaimer: My wonderful boss co-authored this article but it was subject to the same elimination process as every other link in TMW).


🔢 Data & Insights

Future of fashion. Some interesting stats from the UK on how consumer trends have changed fashion shopping online. A huge 69% of consumers would prefer to buy clothing online after Covid-19, with the majority of them shopping 3 times per month. Link

Teenagers and tech. A new Oxford study suggests that there is no plausible link between mental health problems and technology use, including social media. It’s a huge study, surveying more than 430,000 young people up to 15 years old. Link

Marketing state of play: Technology and data. Some research out of Arktic Fox analyses the trends in technology adoption and use of data in some of Australia's largest brands. The trend is fairly similar to other global studies - marketers just really struggle with analytics. Link


💡 Ideas

Roblox, enabler for scaled creativity. A great article unpacking the ability for young people to build mini worlds that have some serious audience scale. One New Zealand  23 year old is Roblox’s most successful citizen developer, with his games reaching more than 1 billion plays. He only knows how to develop Roblox games and has no technical development skills beyond that. Link

A lesson in rapid positioning with Wynter. Peep Laja has jotted down his 1 year retrospective after launching Wynter, formerly known as Copy Testing. It's all about making rapid and bold bets, rebranding six months in, pivoting from B2C to B2B, figuring out what drives adoption - it’s a ruthless journey towards PMF. It goes to show, you really don’t understand a market problem until you start building. Link

APIs are the highways of the internet. As more brands adopt individual tech products to deliver customer experiences, do analytics and build products, API architecture is usually something that is an afterthought. Here’s an argument for thinking about APIs as one of your most important customers. Link


✨ Weird and Wonderful

ShlinkedIn. A real life satirical version of LinkedIn, with influencers, thought leaders, trending news and of course, advertising! Whoever put this together spent a great deal of time making the platform work almost the same as LinkedIn. Kudos. Shlink.

Applying for a ransomware job. A fascinating investigation into how ransomware hackers find and recruit people. Turns out the process is slightly more enjoyable than your typical interview. Link

McKinsey for kids. I know that when Facebook announced Instagram for Kids there was some serious backlash, but this content series aimed at kids from McKinsey is something else. I just don’t understand what the goal is here, to raise a mini-army of type A corporate consultants? Link


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Juan Mendoza

Marketing technology strategist at The Lumery, I analyse marketing, data, and technology trends for some of the most well-known Australian and global brands.

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