During its annual developers conference last June 7, Apple announced that new versions of its operating systems iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey would include functionalities to strengthen users’ privacy protection and limit tracking of email activity.
Given that Apple is the largest messaging provider in the world with a market share of over 49%, this change marks a revolutionary shift in the email marketing industry, both in terms of performance tracking (which informs decision-making regarding what actions should be planned for email campaigns) as well as marketing automation using email open as a trigger.
In this article, we’ll explain what Mail Privacy Protection is about, what this update changes in concrete terms for marketing managers, and how they should respond to these changes.
After having launched the App Tracking Transparency Framework, which revolutionized advertising for mobile application editors, Apple now intends to allow users of its email apps (Apple Mail and Mail on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and mac OS Monterey) to prevent their activities from being tracked.
In its press release, Apple explained that “Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. [This prevents] senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their [geographic] location.”
This new functionality will be offered to users who update to iOS 15 by way of a message asking if they would like to protect their email privacy.
That said, last May, an article from AppleInsider revealed that only 4% of American users accepted ad tracking, so there is little doubt that this functionality will be widely adopted by Apple users.
In concrete terms, every email sent to a recipient using an Apple email reader (Mail or Apple Mail, whether on an iPhone, iPad or Mac) will return information to the sending email platform that the email was opened, even if this was not the case. This element alone will have repercussions on a number of email marketing parameters. Here we’ll focus on the two effects that will make a difference to most marketers.
For email marketing specialists, it’s expected that the open rate for emails will increase dramatically. Is this a problem? Not really, because the open rate has been considered only a minor indicator of a campaign’s effective reach or performance for quite some time. Basically, over the years, the arrival of many technological changes has diminished the measurement quality of email open, and the open rate has never been an indicator correlated with a channel’s financial performance. Email click rates therefore remain the preferred measurement for tracking performance. However, email open rates are important for marketers that track campaign recognition through this indicator or who use the “Click to Open” report to optimize their email content (this indicator allows you to evaluate interest in the content of an email based on the subject line and the preview text that incites recipients to open the email). To mitigate the effects of Mail Privacy Protection on open rates, there are solutions that can be adopted, which we’ll explain later on.
Many automated email marketing functions rely on decisions based on email open. Such is the case, for example, with segmentation rules concerning email engagement (which enable the activation of re-engagement campaigns), the tracking of conversations (especially in B2B with nurturing programs), send time optimization for certain platforms such as MailChimp, etc.
If you have customer lifecycle campaigns or automated campaigns using email open for message segmentation or personalization, Mail Privacy Protection is going to have direct effects on your operations.
This technological transformation means you’ll need to methodically adapt your strategy. We recommend three actions to take now to begin your adaptation to this new change.
With this initiative, you’ll be able to evaluate the effects this new update will have on your email contacts database. However, pay attention to B2B companies: While they may seem to be less affected by the update (Microsoft’s Outlook and Google’s Gmail are the leaders in B2B messaging), many professionals use several messaging clients to check their email, including their smartphone. The effects of this update may therefore be just as significant for them, since Apple has simplified the connection of its Mail application with the Google and Outlook messaging servers.
On the one hand you’ll need to look at your segmentation rules that use email open and, on the other hand, the content of your emails which may use messages relating to opening an email. If you use contact engagement with your emails for your ad campaign audiences (for example, retargeting ads or look-alike audiences on Facebook), consider also putting in place segmentation that will allow you to avoid targeting (or excluding) people who didn’t really open your emails.
If you use the open rate as a performance indicator for your email strategy, you have two options for a solution. The first is to no longer track the open rate and shift instead to the click rate. The second is to adjust the open rate measurement, offsetting it to take into consideration the share of your contacts using Apple Mail. As an email marketing specialist, you may also be using the open rate for A/B testing of your campaigns. In this case, you’ll also need to find another way of identifying the winning email.
While this change may strike fear in the hearts of some, there’s actually no need to panic! Email has been constantly evolving over the past 15 years, and it has maintained an excellent performance record, with an ROI between 30:1 and 45:1, while its adoption level continues to surpass those of social networks (3.9 billion active users worldwide, compared to 3.5 billion users of social networks in 2019).
This evolution brought by Apple fits coherently into its positioning on privacy protection and responds to user demands at a time when digital is being integrated everywhere in our lives.
In closing, if this change in parameters is giving you a hard time, our team is here to help you recover your email marketing strategy through a comprehensive plan for adapting to all the changes brought by the iOS 15 update and the advent of Mail Privacy Protection.