The Evolution of Mobile Attribution: What's Coming Next

By Alon Chicorel | April 26th, 2017

Much has been said about how mobile apps have changed the world. The tremendous growth we’ve seen in the ecosystem ever since Apple launched its App Store “way back” in 2008 has completely turned the marketing space on its head. With such massive change, a new industry has sprung up in no time, and multiple services formed to meet the demand.

One such service is attribution. Since their inception, mobile attribution companies had to heavily invest in R&D to build robust attribution and marketing analytics engines that could handle the industry’s hyper growth - from millions, to billions, and then to tens of billions of install and post-install app events measured on a daily basis.

What’s next for mobile attribution? What are some of the recent and upcoming trends that will shape this industry in 2017 and in the years to come? Let’s explore five such trends:

1. Advanced Fraud Protection and Analysis

With money pouring into the mobile ad space, it should come as no surprise that fraudsters have been following suit. This has led different players across the ecosystem to roll up their sleeves and fight back, be it media players, anti-fraud specialists, or mobile attribution companies.

Although an effective counterpunch combines cross-industry expertise and collaboration, mobile attribution providers are playing an increasingly important role in this effort. Why is this the case?

First, because of their regulatory-like role in the industry and their unique, centralized position connecting the buy-side, sell-side and service-side. Second, because of the massive scope of their data that spans different channels, networks and publishers. Beyond the ability to gain deeper insights thanks to more data to train on and learn from, attribution companies are able to draw vital cross-industry parallels to more effectively pinpoint bad actors.

It is important to note that although mobile ad networks are responsible for maintaining a clean network of publishers, it is a difficult task to achieve alone. With the ever changing nature of the mobile ad ecosystem, fraud prevention and detection is gaining more prominence, increasing the need for mobile networks and attribution partners to work closely in order to ensure fraud is marginalized.

2. Ad Revenue Attribution

total-ltv2.pngAd revenue attribution has the potential to change the way mobile marketers acquire new users. By including revenue from in-app advertising in their ARPU and LTV calculations, mobile marketers can make better decisions and better recognize valuable users based not only on their IAP contribution, but also on the ad revenue they generate.

According to App Annie’s recent app monetization report, mobile publishers made over $52 billion from in-app advertising in 2016, and this figure is expected to surpass $117 billion by 2020. In fact, in-app advertising commands a significant portion of revenue (nearly 60% although IAP revenue in the report did not include mobile commerce revenue that occurs outside of app stores).

Clearly, with such numbers, the inclusion of ad revenue attribution is an extremely important piece in the app revenue puzzle.Ad revenue attribution started to pick up this year, and I believe it will make a significant leap forward in H2 thanks to higher client adoption, and more integrations between attribution and monetization providers. The inclusion of this missing piece in an attribution company’s dashboard forms a complete picture, helping the marketer make smarter decisions, easier.

While attribution companies inform mobile ad networks about users’ in-app activities so they can better optimize their campaigns, there is still a way to go before in-app advertising data is shared and used with them as well. It will be interesting to see how marketers and ad networks embrace this new data to optimize their campaigns and hit their KPI goals.

3. Cost and ROI Reporting

In 2011, mobile marketers optimized their campaigns based primarily on click-through-rate or cost per click KPIs. With the rise of mobile attribution platforms in 2012 and 2013, marketers shifted from media-based metrics to post-install user-based metrics.

Last year, the rules changed once again. Leading attribution solutions began collecting media cost from their partner ad networks, allowing advertisers to better optimize their mobile campaigns and calculate their ROI.

I believe 2017 will be the year of cost and ROI reporting. Advertisers will realize that they can easily measure their mobile ROI, and those who don’t will be left behind. The same will hold true for ad networks. Just to put things in perspective - in the past four months, we at AppsFlyer have doubled the number of the supported ad networks that share with us cost data - reaching 86 and counting.

If you are wondering why this is considered a new trend, you’ve got a point. I mean, measuring your return is basic right? Surprisingly it is not as most marketers can’t or don’t measure their mobile ROI, according to Forrester. It is up to us to educate the market that this is completely within reach as ROI data is already displayed in dashboards alongside other metrics marketers care about.

4. Omni Channel Attribution and Reporting

A familiar buzzword in the digital ad space is “the 360-degree” view of the consumer. I don’t want to spoil the party but this so-called holy grail of marketing is far from reality. Even Google and Facebook don’t have this view as they don’t share data with each other (and others).

The good news is that more and more dots are being connected through measurement all the time and that’s progress! For example, TV attribution where app installs can be attributed to TV campaigns, or offline attribution where in-store sales can be traced back to an app install.

However, there is still quite a bit of road ahead as there are different technical as well as business challenges to bridge. Technically, mobile device IDs (GAID and IDFA) and cookies do not represent people - they represent devices, making it very hard to link them to the same user. There are different ways to do this, mainly via deterministic methods like log-in data (e.g. your Facebook account, or Gmail), or the use of a loyalty card number for instance, and via probabilistic methods which use data at scale to predict, to a high level of certainty, that two devices represent one user.

Because of the extremely high demand for this view among marketers, it is inevitable that more progress will be made as it holds the key to understanding the user’s journey across different devices, platforms, and touchpoints.

5. Fractional Attribution

Since its inception, the mobile app install industry has been dominated by the last touch attribution model, in which the last source that touched the user (with a click or Impression) before the install gets all the credit.

In the last 1-2 years, mobile attribution companies have begun to support multi-touch attribution to enable marketers to view X (usually 3) touch points the user interacted / engaged with before an install. Although this did not affect the actual billing that is based on last-touch, it offered important information to advertisers about which media sources actually led users down the funnel.

The clear evolution of multi-touch attribution is fractional attribution, which will enable mobile marketers measure the true ROI of each media source based on different models (e.g. linear, time decay, equal weight etc., first and last). As far as dividing actual payment based on a fractional model - this will take some time. Even on the web, where fractional has been around for quite some time, we have yet to see significant adoption of fractional payment.

Although I don’t foresee widespread use of fractional attribution in mobile anytime soon, it is definitely worth watching as 2017 could be the year it begins its momentum.

Alon Chicorel
Alon Chicorel is the Partner Development Team Leader for the APAC region at AppsFlyer. AppsFlyer is a leading mobile attribution and analytics company that operates from 11 global offices. Alon has joined AppsFlyer after spending a few years in the mobile marketing industry filling a various sales and consultancy positions.

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