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When One Door Closes, Another Opens: The Challenge and Opportunity in Apple’s Email Privacy Updates for iOS 15

Yes, it's a major change that can make things harder for email marketing. But it's also the industry's chance to move closer towards truly meaningful measurements. Our email marketing expert goes deep into how it can work for you too

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Some of us are still reeling from recent announcements at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), where Apple explained that with its upcoming iOS 15 update, users would gain more control and knowledge into their own data. While the privacy updates may be great news for us as consumers, the email marketers among us are still rocking back and forth on the floor in the fetal position from the implications these changes will have in how we track subscriber engagement.

What’s changing?

When Apple releases its iOS 15 update – slated for some time in the fall of this year (and presumed to be released to the public in September when the latest iPhone models launch), there will be two significant changes that will directly impact email marketers:

  1. Available only to iCloud subscribers as a paid service, “Hide My Email” will allow users to have a fake email address created for each account they sign up for, a site they submit their address to, a form they fill out, etc. All emails generated from these acquisition points will land in the user’s actual inbox, but the websites will not know the user’s true email address.
  2. The change that’s creating the biggest buzz among email marketers – iOS 15 will block the invisible tracking pixel we all use to track email opens. Subscribers who engage with your email in Apple’s native mail app (either desktop or mobile) will no longer have opens tracked – we won’t see how often or when these subscribers are opening emails.

What’s the impact?

As an Apple user and brand advocate, it’s great to see how a company takes the privacy of its users seriously and advocates for it by putting it into action. However, from a marketing perspective, the most significant impact we’re about to see is the lack of engagement tracking due to Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection.

As email marketers, we can expect to see open rates decrease sometime this fall because some of us may be very surprised to learn just how large of a percentage Apple’s native mail app makes up of our total device/iOS breakdown for email delivery.

To help put this into perspective, while your email client breakdown may put Gmail at around 40%, Yahoo! at 30%, Microsoft-based domains at 15% and all others at 15%, anywhere from 50-70% of your subscribers may be engaging with your email content on a mobile device and we continually see 89-95% of mobile device usage on iPhones. That’s a lot of subscriber ‘open data’ not being collected if they only check email on Apple’s native app vs. if they take the time to look at their email on their chosen ISP’s native app on their Apple device.

What Does it Mean?

Well, if you’re focusing on open rates as a KPI for determining the success of your email campaigns, then once iOS 15 launches in the fall of 2021, using that data point as a measurement of success will become invalid.

Moreover, while we know that email engagement is a key determinant by each of the major ISPs in determining sender reputation and deciding on mailbox placement, putting all of our eggs in the proverbial open basket when suppressing potentially harmful addresses in batched campaigns may no longer be relevant as Apple’s privacy changes could be just the beginning of a global shift in the way email providers handle their user’s privacy.

How should we prepare?

If you’re an Optimove email client, now’s the time to start taking advantage of control groups. Optimail’s control groups allow you to understand if the marketing message as a whole is changing your customer’s behavior in the intended way you set out to with your particular campaign or template vs. if the customer would have behaved the same way having not received the email campaign at all.

This is a more comprehensive approach to looking at email performance and the uplift of a campaign comparative to a single data point like your email’s open rate – which only looks to see how the subject line, or even just your brand’s name cut through the clutter in the subscriber’s inbox.

Uplift allows you to cut through the additional noise of the marketing channel and digital landscape, considering how overwhelmed customers are with marketing messages from various brands across multiple verticals and even within multiple channels each day.

What About Deliverability and Segmentation?

While shifting away from email-only KPIs like open rates and click rates as a result of Apple’s privacy changes help to answer the data and performance questions that have come up since the June 7th announcement, many in the deliverability world have asked how to handle segmenting audience groups when using the date of a subscriber’s last open was a key attribute for suppressing potentially harmful addresses from campaign sends.

There are a few suggestions on managing your email program’s and list’s health now that privacy controls will be moving towards a more user-managed model.

1. Sending a regular confirmation campaign to subscribers who have opted into your email program within a specific period, who have not clicked past a specific number of days, or who haven’t engaged with your brand in so many days.

Asking subscribers to continually re-confirm their desire to receive your email messages can help to increase overall engagement and manage reputation as long as you have a clear set of rules devised internally on how to handle those that do not click through on this email after an initial or immediate resend.

2. Only using ‘date of last click’ as the attribute for determining email engagement when suppressing lapsed or non-engaged subscribers.

However, it’s important to note that this will take most marketers’ email audience sizes down by as much as 75% of what they currently are, as click rates are typically significantly lower than open rates.

3. Suppress or opt-out throwaway or “fake” created Apple email addresses. The assumption being that if someone has gone through the effort of having a fake address created when filling out your form or signing up for your program, then they’re most likely not as interested in hearing from you again or engaging with you as someone who has provided their actual email address.

Alternatively, they can be treated with more suspicion and have more aggressive sunsetting settings.

Rather than attempting to make an apples-to-apples change in target group settings to accommodate Apple’s privacy changes and they’re impact on the open rate, another thought is to move away entirely from email engagement metrics as they may become obsolete soon enough.

Instead, as marketers, we will need to find creative, innovative, and strategic ways to identify those subscribers who truly want to receive our content and, moreover, how often and when they want to receive it so that we’re certain that they’ll engage.

What does that look like for the near future?

There’s a lot that can still be done in time for fall’s iOS 15 launch. To pivot from batch & blast or larger scale sending strategies that don’t consider the likeliness of user engagement to a strategy that’s steeped in relevancy and personalization would be smart. It’s time to focus on segmentation coupled with content.

For example, consider moving towards an RFM segmentation model:

  • Recency: When did the user last engage with the brand? When was their last purchase?
  • Frequency: How often does the user interact or purchase from the brand within a determined period? Keep in mind that the tighter the time period (for example, six months vs. their lifetime) will provide a set of customers more likely to engage.
  • Monetary: This is the economic value of the customer, or how much they’ve spent with the brand over a specific period. It’s essential to look at this data point in relation to frequency as it will help determine the average purchase amount – which can also be used for further segmentation purposes.

Once you’ve developed several key RFM segments, now consider the unique messages for each.

For example, someone who has made 2 purchases in the last 6 months with their most recent purchase being 4 months ago and a monetary value of $50 should get a different message than a customer who has made 7 purchases in the last 6 months and their last purchase was a week ago, and their monetary value is $500. The more personalized and relevant the content of your email templates to each user and user segment, the more likely they are to engage.

While Apple’s news of its dramatic privacy changes has definitely left the email world all a-buzz, it certainly hasn’t shaken the team at Optimove.

And while you’ll begin to see a shift in your open rates come this fall, Optimove has always been prepared for changes in the email marketing landscape by focusing on what matters most – and that is customer behavior and uplift, which allows you to view the overall success and performance of your email program and campaigns rather than a single KPI. Focusing on email segmentation and relevancy will continue to deliver to user inboxes, build upon your sender reputation and grow your email program as more email providers move in Apple’s direction.

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Dana Shirlen

Dana Shirlen leads Optimove’s internal email marketing agency as Director of Email Marketing. Dana has over 15 years managing the email marketing strategies of many recognizable global B2C and B2B brands. As the Director of Email Marketing, Dana is bridging the gap for Optimove’s customers in providing a data-driven marketing plan and timely implementation grounded in best practices, targeted content and visually engaging design. Prior to her role at Optimove, Dana managed the CRM and email marketing strategies for enterprise clients at Tinuiti. Dana holds a BS from Ohio University, with a major in Advertising Management and concentrations in both marketing and creative writing.