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How Marketers Move Forward from Apple Mail’s Privacy Protection

Apple’s iOS 15 update brought many new features. You can upload your vaccination card to your wallet, for example, and share your screen during FaceTime. 

But with it came a new Apple Mail privacy setting option that will affect marketing teams in several ways:

  • Inflated open rates from Apple Mail users
  • A change in internal reporting to focus less on opens as a main KPI for email marketing
  • Some work on the front end to re-adjust email strategies that depended on information cloaked by the privacy setting, such as IP address and location

If your team is reeling from this change, now is a good time to take a deep breath and think back to what marketing is all about. Our job is to drive bottom-line business results and we do that by prompting a user to action, whether that’s downloading a white paper or signing up for a webinar or re-upping a contract for another year. Open rates, IP address, and location are all great data points, but they’re not tied to the essential user actions we’re trying to encourage. 

If your marketing strategy depended on any one of those three factors, here are some alternatives and tips for re-orienting your strategy towards the consumer.

APPLE MAIL TO EMAIL MARKETERS: NO 💙

Data is everything to an email marketer. As technology has become more advanced, marketers have come to expect more tracking capabilities from their marketing tools. Performance indicators like open rates, click rates, and click-through rates can tell us what’s resonating with our subscribers, and what we can focus on in future sends. 

Unfortunately, data collection on emails is becoming less reliable due to privacy protection measures like iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection setting (MPP). If a user enables this setting, which was rolled out in September 2021, it will block senders’ ability to capture information like the recipient’s IP address, location, and opens. 

For opens in particular, the MPP opt-in results in Apple pre-loading email content and creating a cached version of the email’s image contents. This is registered as an open before the user ever clicks on the email in their inbox. The result of this is a predicted 75% open rate for Apple Mail users (the average email open rate is 21.33%). Close to 50% of all email users—over 100 million people—utilize an iOS mail system, so this increase in open rates will be widespread once the MPP setting is widely adopted.

The impact of this goes beyond data accuracy. Workflow automations, send-time optimization, and audience segmentation based on opens will all be affected. 

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

To get around an inflated open rate from iOS mail, we first need a grasp on what exactly the impacts could be. Example scenarios that depend on open rate include:

  • Email workflow automations 
    • Workflows that wait for an open before sending a follow-up email may end up spamming the wrong recipients if their mail app triggered the initial open
    • Workflows that trigger if an email goes unopened, which may exclude eligible recipients whose mail app triggered the initial open but the recipient never engaged with the email
  • A/B testing subject lines where the winner is chosen based on opens
  • Creating audience segments based on opens to differentiate engaged and disengaged users
  • Automatically unsubscribing customers with a history of low open rates

Email scenarios that depend on IP address or location include:

  • Content personalization based on geography or time zone
  • Embedded countdowns or real-time inventory updates

Beyond making tactical changes to account for MPP, email reporting will also have to change, especially if opens or open rate were major KPIs for your email tracking. 

Follow the below checklist to come up with a game plan for adjusting your tactics.

MPP PREPAREDNESS CHECKLIST

There are many scenarios beyond reporting that depend on opens, IP address or location. To ensure your email strategies are in a good spot to adapt to the MPP, go through the following steps.

  1. Check what percentage of your email lists utilize an iOS mail system, to see how large the effect of the MPP could be for your sends.
    • You can do this by creating a segment for Apple Mail users. Keep this segment around in case you want to filter it out of reporting, or from campaigns where you want to leverage elements like personalization or send-time optimization.
  2. Check whether you have any workflows that depend on opens. If so, adjust them to respond to a different metric.
    • Example: a workflow that sends a follow-up email if the subscriber opened the previous email. This workflow could send follow-ups to Apple Mail subscribers who never personally opened the email. Consider changing the workflow logic to something else, such as a subscriber who clicked.
  3. Check whether you leverage A/B testing that depends on opens. If so, consider using a different metric or mechanism to select the winning version, or testing with just a segment of your list.
    • Example: Many subject line A/B testing scenarios depend on opens to choose a winner. You could consider filtering out Apple Mail users from your testing, and sending to mail users with more reliable open rate data. Or, use email clicks as the winning metric instead of opens.
  4. Check whether any of your segments depend on opens. If so, adjust them to pull from a different metric or combination of metrics.
    • Example: Many email marketers like to create engagement-based segments to distinguish engaged subscribers from less engaged subscribers, who may receive different volumes of emails based on their status. Fixes for this could be asking subscribers to indicate the volume of emails they want to receive as part of sign-up or in a preferences form, using clicks to measure engagement instead, or implementing more regular re-engagement campaigns to ensure your lists are healthy. That way you KNOW your list is full of engaged users (pro tip: you might want to revisit HubSpot’s ‘don’t send to unengaged contacts’ setting).
  5. Check if you’ve used send time optimization for past sends, and hold off on implementing it for future sends. Email marketing platforms will likely come out with algorithm updates to ensure STO is accurate moving forward, but they may be a little ways out.
  6. Identify any of your planned email campaigns that feature personalization based on geography or open times, and choose alternative ways to either get that information or deploy personalization.
    • Example: If your emails perform best when you present local information for subscribers based on their reported location, you may need to switch to collecting subscribers’ location information on sign-up, and hold off on location-based personalization until you’re confident that location data is accurate for your lists.
  7. Identify any of your planned email campaigns that focus on real-time content, such as countdowns or inventory, and shift towards more evergreen messaging.
  8. Re-format email reporting to focus on broader metrics. If opens and open rate had been prioritized in past reporting, shift your dashboards to focus more on the metrics that matter for your business, and tell the story of how email is driving performance.
    • Example: If your business success depends on leads and closed deals, bring those metrics to the fore. Clicks and click-through rates, conversions, and lifetime value of email subscribers are all possible metrics that could get a little more focus in your reporting moving forward.
  9. Conduct an audit of your recent email campaigns and identify the strongest performers. Pull out the elements that you should keep including in future sends. Strong calls-to-action that lead to high clicks and conversion rates should be your goal.

Get Checklist PDF

RE-PRIORITIZING THE CUSTOMER

If your company deploys email marketing tactics that fall into a lot of the above scenarios, it might seem like MPP is a total disaster. But all is not lost.

Marketers have always had to make do with incomplete data on their audiences and use creative data manipulation to glean insights. For example, analytics tools like Google Analytics only share demographic data for audience samples, and marketers just have to hope that the sample is representative of the entire site audience. With email reporting, clicks on plain-text links can go unreported, or recipients’ spam filters will click every link and show high click-through rates in the reports. 

In short, dealing with inaccuracies in marketing analytics is not a new thing. The way we move forward is by turning to KPIs we can trust. And who can we trust above all? The customer.

The emphasis on data privacy has led to a more empowered customer. They can set the rules for how they want a brand to engage with them. And as marketers, we can lean into this by giving customers even more opportunities to tell us what they want, and build more customized experiences based on those preferences. 

Example scenarios that put the customer in charge of their email experience:

  • The customer selects what type of communication they want to receive from a list of segments provided by the brand, such as News, Event Updates, Newsletter, or Deals
  • The customer selects how frequently they want to be contacted from a list provided by the brand, such as weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly
  • Rather than automatically being unsubscribed based on low open rates, the customer receives an email (delivered to the entire list) reminding them to update their preferences on a regular basis, such as yearly

Putting the customer in charge of what they sign up for, how often they receive communication, and giving them opportunities to adjust subscriptions will help ensure email lists stay healthy without automated interventions based on opens. 

FOCUS ON WHAT REALLY MATTERS

Once the customer has had a chance to express their preferences, we can measure their satisfaction by tracking other email KPIs:

  • Click rate
  • Click-through rate
  • List growth rate
  • Conversion rates from email
  • Overall email ROI

For the specific scenarios that depend on opens, such as A/B testing or nurture flows, we can choose one of the above KPIs to measure against instead. This may require re-tooling certain workflows and reassessing their value. At the end of the day, the final result should be a better email experience for both your customer and you.

Email is a tool to nurture your leads or customers and to grow your business. Ultimately, your emails should be prompting your lists to take specific actions. Data on location, IP address, and opens matter less than clicks, website traffic, and conversion actions. 

The MPP setting has given marketers the perfect time to reassess their email marketing. Is it customer-centric? Does your email reporting focus on what really matters for your business? Changing email flows or personalization that once depended on data scrambled by MPP will be headache-inducing now, but a smart marketer would use this as an opportunity to further refine their approach and put the customer back at the center of the strategy.