Apple is changing Mail Privacy Protection and email marketers must prepare

The most critical phase in a marketing team’s mix and overall multichannel strategy happens after you press send on an email campaign: the post-send and performance pillars of email marketing.

During this phase, marketers should gather metrics and data to guide insights impacting future emails and entire marketing campaigns. Email metrics can influence ad messaging and social posts and guide the design, content and product marketing teams. When used strategically, these metrics increase email programs’ ROI while raising marketing channel and workflow efficiency and effectiveness.

As one of the most lucrative channels for reaching target audiences — for every dollar invested in email marketing, brands receive $36 in return — email enables brands to reach their core consumer base: email subscribers.

Just as they adjusted to accommodate the evolution from print to digital, marketers must pivot and accommodate this new disruption to remain competitive — and successful.

They have opted-in to email touch points because they want to hear from the brand. By applying these insights via analytics, marketers optimize marketing spend and messaging to hit business goals.

Email impacts marketing strategy and enables better overall business success. It’s the lifeblood of an effective multichannel campaign. However, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection — announced earlier this summer with its iOS 15 update — attempts to eliminate metrics and data associated with email.

According to the Litmus Email Client Market Share, in 2020, Apple iPhone, Apple Mail and Apple iPad accounted for nearly half of all email opens. Lacking these insights will create marketing roadblocks for segmented and personalized touch points. Marketers and businesses must prepare by adjusting email strategy and processes before the update occurs.

Companies and consumers have talked about privacy quite a bit lately. Companies fearing breaches, reputation damage and potentially lost revenue want to protect consumer data. Consumer awareness of privacy concerns has grown, too.

In a 2021 survey, over half the respondents expressed more concern about online privacy than in 2020. Consumers expect brands to demonstrate trustworthiness before they willingly share sensitive personal information.

Recognizing an increased desire for better privacy control, Apple revealed new privacy protections in its iOS 15 update, including its Mail Privacy Protection. Apple Mail users may hide their IP addresses, locations and additional data from senders, preventing brands from pulling information like open rates and location. Apple said that “Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user.”

What does this update mean for marketers? The potential disappearance of a critical phase in the marketing mix and multichannel strategy: the post-send and performance pillars of email marketing. No open-rate-specific data — the brand will appear to have a 100% open rate.

Litmus data collected from over a billion email opens worldwide found Apple Mail held a 48.6% total share across iPhones, Macs and iPads in June 2021. Though down slightly from April (51.1%), the data still suggests Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will significantly impact email marketers, entire marketing teams and especially consumers.

The impact on consumers

Email data isn’t the same as third-party cookies, but Apple is treating it as such. Marketers use email metrics to analyze consumer wants and customize content and information relevant to their needs. The relationship and permission-based channel — email — allows consumers and businesses to “know” each other. Apple’s decision could result in a less personalized, informed relationship, despite over 80% of consumers indicating a willingness to share data in return for a more personalized experience.

Brands will lose insight into consumer interests and default to sending generic emails not contextually relevant to their needs. Apple’s move is a blow to consumers — the timely, relevant, personalized experience they demand will be harder for brands to deliver.

How to prepare

Consumers want personalized touch points and brand experiences. Brands want to deliver on their promise of personalized, on-point content. Otherwise, ROI and engagement suffer and reputation falters as consumers see messaging as “spammy,” not useful. What steps should marketers take next?

Effectively leveraging email analytics and data to inform future emails and entire multichannel campaigns requires marketers to start preparing now.

  • Before Apple’s iOS 15 update rolls around, know its impact on your lists. Identify your subscribers using Apple Mail. Though industry benchmarks suggest about half of email opens happen via Apple Mail, this percentage may fluctuate greatly. For example, a company’s industry impacts this metric. Many people subscribing to retailers or e-commerce brands use iPhones to access those emails. They probably have a higher percentage of Apple Mail subscribers than SaaS or pharmaceutical companies or law firms. Each organization should evaluate these metrics and identify other email solution providers. Track preferred device usage among subscribers to learn how many subscribers will have access to the new iOS 15 update. Specific email solution providers allow the user to find this information while still respecting subscriber privacy. Look for email analytics solutions that block personally identifiable information and remove IP addresses. Also, some email solutions have released features to help alleviate the stress of segmenting between Apple and non-Apple users.
  • Review how you’ll analyze engagement long term. Understanding, analyzing and applying engagement drives success. So before the update, make time to plan for future multichannel and email campaigns. Lean on click-throughs as a more prominent metric, especially if you have many Apple subscribers. Segment out non-Apple Mail users and A/B test everything: creative, messaging, timing, subject lines, for example, to create a future baseline for analyzing engagement long term.
  • Check where you rely on open rates as a key metric. Though the open rate is an imperfect metric, it helps evaluate engagement within an email campaign. Identify where you use open rates now, because those processes may need updating to align with the required adjustments. Don’t get caught unprepared by the iOS 15 update. Instead, review:
    • Automated touch points and workflows.
    • Re-engagement campaigns.
    • Localization, deployment and content optimization.
    • Inventory analyses or countdown triggers.
    • A/B testing.
    • Engaged and unengaged subscribers.
    • Deliverability.
    • Reporting.
  • Update your subscribers. According to Salesforce, 86% of consumers want more transparency in understanding how companies use their personal information. Another 81% won’t buy from brands they don’t trust. Perhaps the most critical step in this privacy prioritization process requires that email marketers:
    • Explain the brand’s email data information strategy and email tracking processes to subscribers.
    • Explain how regulations like GDPR and CCPA guide the protection of brands’ PII and compliance processes.
    • Respect consumer choices about sharing personal data and value stakeholder relationships.

Apple’s iOS 15 update and Mail Privacy Protection will impact all marketers. Just as they adjusted to accommodate the evolution from print to digital, marketers must pivot and accommodate this new disruption to remain competitive — and successful.

Developing a creative, strategic approach now will enable brands and marketers to continue delivering personalized experiences consumers crave via their preferred communication channel: email.