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Email + Automation


How email marketers can prepare for Apple's iOS 15 update

Email + Automation / 6.23.21 / By Christina Nordquist

By now, you’ve probably heard the chatter around some major consumer updates coming our way. Earlier this month, Apple announced a big change at its Worldwide Developers Conference: When iOS 15 rolls out this fall, the update will block the tracking pixels marketers use to measure engagement. That means information like who’s opening your email and when, their location and online user activity—metrics that are often tied to personalization and automation triggers—will become unusable.

The privacy-minded consumer side of your brain probably looks a little something like this. But the marketer side is probably looking for some answers.

So we sat down with email expert Emily Benson to get her take on the ripple effect of Apple’s update on email marketing as we’ve known it. Plus three critical steps marketers can take right now to get ready.

Here’s what we know:

What is Apple Mail Privacy Protection?

Apple’s iOS 15 update will include a Mail Privacy Protection policy that gives consumers the choice to protect their mail activity, preventing senders from seeing their location and if/when they’ve opened an email.

When is iOS 15 being released?

Other than “fall 2021,” no one knows yet. But we’re keeping a close eye on September, when Apple unveils its iPhone 13.

Does this apply to all ESPs, like Outlook and Gmail, too?

The privacy enforcement will affect any email application routed through an Apple Mail native app. This includes iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey devices. So if your recipients use Gmail or Outlook as standalone apps on their iPhones, these changes won’t impact them. If they route Gmail or Outlook through the Apple Mail app, they will.

The impact

In 2020, Apple Mail accounted for 46% of email opens. You can dig into your audience list to see what percentage of people use Apple Mail to get an idea of how big the impact will be on your business.

Based on iOS 14 adoption rate, it’s expected that nearly 100% of users will download iOS 15. It’s unclear, though, how many people are expected to enable these privacy settings or how Apple will handle users who don’t.

According to Accenture, 83% of consumers would willingly exchange their data for a more personalized shopping experience. This friction between privacy and personalization is happening across industries, and marketers are walking a tightrope across these overlapping consumer goals. So it begs the question: Will this move backfire on Apple? Time will tell.

Closing time for the open rate

As far as reporting metrics go, the open rate has long been a hot topic for debate in the email marketing community. In some instances, it matters. Reengagement campaigns and automated nurture programs are generally tracked on opens. Send time optimization is based on open rate, so that’s not going to work anymore. Deliverability monitoring, A/B tests, live content (like a countdown timer) and location-based content (weather updates, shopping notifications) will all require some rethinking.

Open rate is also used as a list health metric, indicating that the person you’re emailing has an active inbox and demonstrated interest in what you’re sending. On the flip side, many email clients fire that tracking pixel whenever an inbox opens or in the preview pane if images are automatically enabled, delegitimizing its accuracy and value.

Love them or hate them, open rates won’t be a trustworthy engagement metric anymore. At the end of the day, it’s going to look like everyone who received your email opened it.

“None of this is super surprising. This is the way the winds have been blowing in terms of GDPR, CCPA and of course the coming cookiepocalypse. This is just the next phase, and Apple’s the first one to do it. I think Gmail is going to follow pretty swiftly behind.” —Emily Benson

What can email marketers do now get ready for iOS 15?

1. Understand the impact on your email program

Start cleansing your lists as soon as possible. Tools like Email on Acid and Litmus can help you understand the breakdown of your contact database: who’s opening your emails, what client they’re using and on what device they’re on.

Create segments of the most engaged (regularly open your emails and click through), somewhat engaged (regularly open but don’t click through as often) and unengaged (don’t open at all) so you know where to focus your communication efforts.

And test your creative so you can see which copy and visuals drive high engagement. Grab your baselines now for delivery rates and click-throughs so you can measure the impact on your efforts come fall.

2. Engage your content creators and copywriters

Make sure your content teams understand what these changes mean so everything your brand creates is designed to engage and delight audiences. Subject lines will be more important than ever, as will quality content that positions your brand as a thought leader with value to add and a perspective to share. Content should drive engagement beyond an open rate anyway, and better measures of success can be observed through things like click-throughs and conversions.

3. Explore new tracking solutions and agree on metrics that matter

ESPs’ out-of-the-box email reporting has long been lacking, so this change will force progress in that space. We should see more robust analytics packages and non-pixel-based reporting solutions in the coming months.

The takeaway

This is a big change. And it’s indicative of greater change to come in the consumer privacy space. Let’s face it—change is never super comfy. But look at where email marketing was 10 years ago or even five years ago. Email marketers have proven time and again how good they are at pivoting and adapting.

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Christina Nordquist

Christina Nordquist is DS+CO’s director of content marketing, creating strategies that elevate our agency and our clients.