Data & AI
7 Apple Mail Update FAQs Answered by Email Marketing Experts
September 27, 2021
Recently, we discussed Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection and what that means for email marketers moving forward during our Navigating an Evolving Privacy Environment webinar.
If you didn’t catch the conversation live, we’re breaking the full experience down into three parts — and this final part features a fireside chat where retail and media experts answer all of email marketing’s most frequently asked questions about the most recent Apple Mail Privacy update and what that means for the future of email.
To learn everything you need to know about Apple’s most recent changes, click the webinar video excerpt. Or, keep reading — because this entire conversation between Desta Price, CM Group CPO, Monica Deretich, Sailthru Lead Retail Advisor, and Allison Mezzafonte, Sailthru Media Advisor below.
Industry Experts Discuss Apple Mail Update FAQs and How These Answers Impact Email Marketing
Desta: Welcome to our fireside chat. Joining us now are two industry veterans who work closely with commerce and publishing brands across the world. They’re also experts in email marketing, and they’ve gotten their background using both our tools at CM Group as well as others.
I want to welcome Monica and Allison to join me as part of our fireside chat. So, Monica and Allison, if you want to go ahead and unmute yourselves. Hopefully, that will then give me the option to start our chat by having you both introduce yourselves. Allison, maybe you can give us a little bit about your background to get started?
Allison: Thanks for having me here today. My name is Allison Mezzafonte. My background is in media and publishing. I’ve spent my career working at a variety of media companies and publishers, some digital, some print, some combination of the two.
Originally, I started my career on the editorial side of the house and worked my way over to general management, where I had been sitting for the last eight or so years until I left and went out on my own. And so I work now as an advisor to CM Group. And I get to participate in lots of great events like this one.
Because my background is very much in media and publishing, and I’ve been a customer twice now of Sailthru, I have this unique position where I get to sort of be the voice of the customer within the walls of the company — which is really fun. I kind of get to wear both hats having been on the other side of the table where you all sit. So, I’m really happy to be here and excited for our conversation. And thanks again, Desta.
Desta: Absolutely. And we’re excited to have you here and just hear a different perspective from somebody who’s kind of outside the walls and understands what happens day-to-day with any one of our customers. So Monica, maybe you can introduce yourself for us?
Monica: Of course. Hi, everyone. My name is Monica Deretich and similar to Allison, I also sit outside of the walls and was a previous customer of Sailthru. I spent my career almost entirely in retail embedded in ecommerce.
I’ve worked for subscription business D2C, and now consult with retailers ranging from startup to enterprise and even brick-and-mortar. So, I’m excited to be here and — similar to Allison — I also provide the lens of retail marketers and what’s important to retailers and the changing dynamics that I’m excited to talk about today. And I bring that to CM Group so that they can best serve their customers.
Desta: Well, we appreciate having you here as well. We’ve been talking so far today about the changes that the Apple Mail update is bringing, which is nothing new. Privacy continues to evolve. And so we’ve put some questions together that we really think our customers want to answer.
We’ve asked them to give us feedback and questions they have. But I think getting the two of you to kind of give your perspective on some things, since you’ve sat in their shoes, will be really helpful. So, let’s go ahead and get started.
Question 1: How do I get my executive team to understand the Apple Mail update?
Desta: Everyone in the industry is dealing with this issue. Privacy is changing for everyone. So I’d love maybe, Allison, if you could start us off with that?
Allison: Sure. I think if there’s one thing that we’ve seen across the media and publishing industry, it’s that we’re constantly having to adapt to industry changes. And I wish I could say that this is something new, but it’s not.
I do think, however, that we’re seeing two general reactions right now. For some, it’s sort of like the world is ending, the sky is falling, and marketers are wondering what are we going to do about this? And then I think there are other companies where they’re just feeling less urgency. there’s sort of a little bit of like, well, what changes are coming up? I think the thing that’s important to remember is that we’ve dealt with changes of this magnitude in the past. We’ve always gotten through it, right?
Change has forced us to adapt and be more efficient and strategic. We’ve dealt with GDPR and CCPA. Years ago, we dealt with Facebook and Google and all of their algorithm and policy updates. Media companies have gotten dinged left and right for things like bad UX, or bad ad experiences, or clickbait headlines. And it’s forced us to adapt.
I always think change makes us better. And so, I like to think of now as a great opportunity for the industry to improve, to really work on list maintenance, and our email strategies. There’s one stat that I recently came across. It said that 83% of consumers are willing to share their data if it creates a more personalized experience. And so, I think that’s important to keep in mind.
I think we have to figure out how we’re going to strike a balance here, not going too far in one direction, and making sure that we’re able to create great experiences for customers while still playing nice with Apple and managing these privacy changes.
Desta: Absolutely makes sense. Maybe, Monica, we can get your take on it?
Monica: Absolutely. So on the retail side, I think we’ve been dinged in different ways. We’ve all had a very interesting and unprecedented holiday season, and I can’t believe it’s August and we’re going into it.
I think the nature of retail is that it’s typically responsive to immediate performance. So, a little bit of blinders. And catching breath is sort of the sentiment I’ve gathered from my peers. I think with this new Apple Mail update coming and creating another unprecedented holiday season for retail, the approach I would take is repetition.
If I can give one tip to those listening in today, bring this up in your recurring meetings and communications with your internal, cross-departmental partners. This is a big milestone. Be proactive, start to understand and view your data, and then see how much of your email list is using an Apple device to understand the open rates and the differences.
This is going to help shape the conversation and educate your internal executive team. And if I can make a suggestion, in addition to understanding the current metrics, start building and bubbling up a high-level plan to pivot and demonstrate the agility that’s probably already been happening in the last year because of all the changes taking place.
Desta: Yes, it’s definitely been 18 months to remember or not remember, depending on how you look at it. And I know it’s changed the world here. Obviously, as we look at privacy, people have become kind of more aware, I think.
Question 2: How do you see these moments impacting what we do today? How did we deal with them in the past? And how do we take it forward?
Desta: Allison, you touched on it a little bit, but as we look at the past I think there are some moments where digital marketing has encountered some changes and disruption to the industry. And so Monica, maybe you start us off on this one? Can you tell us a little bit more about how you see these moments impacting what we do today? How did we deal with them in the past? And how do we take it forward with the most recent Apple Mail update in mind?
Monica: Allison touched on GDPR, and CASL, which in my experiences are the biggest destructors in email. That said, I do think that we have gained so much in the last year as marketers. We’ve become so agile and flexible to things like supply chain issues, shipping delays, and inventory challenges on the retail side that we’ve been able to be really flexible, and that’s the biggest learning.
While we may not have all the answers, and we’re sort of planning for the unpredictable, that is our biggest strength we’ve gained in the last year. While we may be talking about the specific tactics to make results better, GDPR and CASL were the biggest things and we’ve gotten through that, right?
It wasn’t easy. It had an impact. And as you know, we’ve navigated the worst successfully. Marketing is all about iteration optimization, you have to start somewhere, and then you have to test. It’s not a check the box and move on, it’s continue to work on and optimize.
Allison: I would add that GDPR and CCPA were definitely challenges that we had to face as an industry. But even thinking back before that, before Facebook and social channels were what they are now, we were able to use them as marketing channels where you didn’t have to pay to play. Where you could really control and own your own reach with your audience and control the message that you distributed to them. And then, of course, that all changed.
And when it changed, it was such an abrupt sort of a slap in the face for businesses whose livelihoods depended on their ability to reach these people who were engaging with them on these channels. But I think the takeaway is that there’s always going to be these types of pressures.
It’s like Monica said, we’re just always being forced to adapt. I think the reality is that as an industry, the sooner that we iterate and adapt the better off we’re all going to be specifically around things like changing KPIs. I think that the quicker we all get on board with it on the buy-side and the sell-side, the sooner we can kind of move forward collectively.
Monica: I agree 100%, I instantly thought “Accept the fate.” Let’s just move forward.
Desta: I was going to say that I agree too. Change is inevitable. I mean, that’s what we live and breathe. That’s life. And so, how do we adapt to it? And how do we become smarter and learn from it in order to apply it forward?
Question 3: Should we focus on dormant and disengaged audiences after the Apple Mail update?
Desta: So, slightly different question kind of related, is it still wise to focus on dormant and disengaged audiences? I know over many months of the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on this audience. And there are risks with deliverability in terms of domain reputation, etc. So, we’d like your take on that.
Allison: Sure, I can jump in on that. My opinion is, it’s probably not the best place to put your resources. We’ve seen the post-COVID slump — there was a ton of engagement during peak 2020, but since then we’ve seen a lot of that drop off. There’s been challenges across the board at all different types of media companies figuring out how to re-engage these users. That’s not to say it’s not possible, but in my personal opinion, it might swing a little bit too far in one direction.
Let’s focus where we have an audience that is engaged, try to build out that profile, and maximize that audience first. I think if ever there’s a good time for us to be doing hygiene checks of our lists and get our audience to a good place, it’s now. So, I would — rather than focusing on re-engaging the people who’ve been dormant — think more about how can we build upon the audience that’s been incredibly engaged?
Desta: That makes sense. And maybe, Monica, your take on the retail side?
Monica: Well, it actually matches perfectly to what Allison said. I echo that and insist not to focus on dormant or disengaged audiences. Maybe that’s a strategy for a different channel, but focus on retention before they become disengaged. Last year, many retailers saw a trim in budget and headcount. So, I typically guide my clients to focus on high-intent and high-value users and customers who generate the most results for all of their efforts.
Question 4: Do subject line A/B tests still make sense after the Apple Mail update?
Desta: If we look at this new world of privacy, does it still make sense to do A/B testing of subject lines? Or is that now irrelevant based on the information that we have available to us? And maybe, Allison, you can kick us off with that one?
Allison: I think that there’s always going to be learnings that we can gather, even if they’re not explicit. I think the bigger question is, “How quickly will the technology adapt to keep up?” Because really, what this means is that KPIs are changing. And the metrics that we once used to inform A/B testing — opens, for example, are no longer an option for us.
So, which metrics are we going to be using to trigger these signals? And I think that’s a question for the technology partners that we all work with that will continue to evolve, I don’t think we’re going to have the answer all said and done by September when these updates are due to happen.
But, I do think it’s very important to be having these conversations with your technology partners to understand what they’re thinking about and how they’re planning to adapt, knowing that metrics and the means of trigger are going to change.
Monica: I agree. You should absolutely continue your work subject line testing. A subject line is still a lever for a marketer to engage a subscriber or customer. But if I run an A/B test on winter subject lines based solely on open rate, I probably would put out some losers to be honest.
A subject line test should be looking at open rate to see the performance of the subject line, but it should also look all the way through to click to conversion and revenue. I’m focused on click, but I think it’s important to follow the performance on your top winning metrics. So, if it’s a first-time conversion rate on retail, or RPM, or revenue for your existing offers, run your subject line tests. It’s still a lever for marketers, and look at a primary KPI.
Also, I wouldn’t discount the data that is still available after this Apple privacy update. It’s still a solid proxy for the rest of your audience and how they behave. And it’s still a viable way to understand what your customers want to see or what they’re reacting to.
Desta: Make sense. Coming from the product side and all of the solutions used out there, we’ve got to do a better job in helping to service the metrics that customers need to go beyond where they are with opens and clicks today and get to whatever is meaningful for their business. And so, I think we will continue to build off of that.
Question 5: How do we think that these changes will impact consumers differently on the media and retail sides? And how do we expect this to really change what consumers are doing?
Desta: A more general question I have as I wear my hat as a mom of teenage girls who do a lot of things retail online: they get a lot of stuff, but will this change consumer behavior? How do we think that these changes will impact consumers differently on the media and retail sides?And how do we expect this to really change what consumers are doing?
Allison: I go back to the stat that I threw out earlier, that 83% of people are willing to hand over their data if it means a better, more personalized experience. And so I don’t imagine that this is going to change consumer behavior directly. But I do worry about the impact it’s going to have on consumer experiences with our brands.
There’s a reason that personalization exists, of course. And there’s a reason that we collect data and build segments and try to create profiles of our audience. Because the more we know about them, the better experience that we can serve them. I hope the pendulum isn’t swinging too far in the other direction, where it makes this type of personalization obsolete and leaves consumers with generic email experiences. Because that could affect their relationship with our brands. And that’s obviously not what we’re going for here. So, that’s my concern with the Apple Mail update.
Desta: And I’ll say it just as a consumer, that isn’t what I want either. Because that doesn’t work for me or what I want in an experience. Monica, would love your take on the retail side.
Monica: So I put my consumer hat on, and I think about going on Instagram and seeing a pop up that says Show My Email or Hide My Email. Regardless of what I choose, it’s always had my email and it’s the default. I’m a marketer so that pains me to say it, but it’s kind of autopilot mode. So, I don’t think that the consumer is going to be aware of what impacts it’ll have on the marketing and messaging they receive as a result of this Apple Mail update. Meaning that I don’t think that consumer behavior is going to change as a direct result of this Apple Mail update.
But, similar to what Allison said, down the line it’s going to impact the relevancy of what we put in front of our consumers. As marketers, we need to sort of shift based on the decisions we can make and what we are able to collect. It may not be a return to analog and madmen advertising, but it’s going to be a balance. And I think it puts more, I won’t say pressure, but more of a focus on brand authenticity and storytelling.
That’s something I know that, on the media side in Allison’s world, is the product, right? And on the retail side, email has been such a revenue-generating channel that I think that it’s evolving to be a part of a broader customer experience across many channels where the metrics of success are more focused on engagement. It’s shifting so many things that we have to take into consideration as far as how we are building relationships with the consumer, how to unlock better KPIs and metrics, and ultimately how to increase customer lifetime value.
Question 6: What other metrics should we use as a new baseline as we go beyond opens and clicks?
Desta: So, we’ve touched on metrics a few times. If we dig into that a little bit more, what are other metrics that you think people can use as a new baseline as we go beyond opens and clicks? And how do we measure that? So Allison, why don’t we go back to you?
Allison: It’s hard to say specifically what those metrics are going to be. There are, of course, a number of them. I think we all know what they are. In my mind, the opportunity here is increasing focus on how to optimize for a customer experience. That’s ultimately the direction that we should be heading in. Because if we have an optimal user experience, theoretically, all else should follow. And I think that shifts the focus a little bit.
It’s not just about opens, it’s about other actions that might be further down the funnel that might actually be more meaningful or be greater indicators of brand affinity or your likelihood to convert. I’ve seen this so many times within the industry and the industry’s relationship with outside platforms. We become dependent on a certain way of doing things or measuring things, and then something like this happens where we’re forced to change and it feels sort of like the world might end. But then we move past it, and find new ways of operating.
So, some of the other metrics to look at could be recency of signup, purchase (in Monica’s case and in some cases on the media side as well), on-site behavior, and email engagement. I think that there’s plenty of data that will still exist, it’s really about surviving a paradigm shift within the industry to get everybody both on the media side and the advertising side to shift the way that they view their KPIs.
Monica: Agreed. We’re not getting any new metrics out of this, if anything we’re losing a little bit. But at the end of the day, there are top-line KPIs that we hold ourselves to in regards to goals and budgets, that in a retail organization that are not on the positive side of things. So, I think it’s going to force us to be a little bit more creative on how we gauge performance, and it may involve some more qualitative ways of looking at how consumers are engaging with the brand. We’re spoiled.
Question 7: What options do brands with self-contained newsletters have?
Desta: We can continue that way. We just have to figure out what to be spoiled about, I think. If we look at a specific example like, if I have a self-contained newsletter, what options do I have?
Monica: Allison, I’ll take this one. I honestly think this may be the fun part of all this as a creative marketer. I think there are tools out there that may have been sort of nice-to-haves before that are now viewed as a necessary layer of your email toolkit, like Liveclicker for example.
There are a lot of tactics that have been used in social programs, like Instagram stories and live polls, that are great ways to get engagement and user clicks that can be easily translated into an email. And not only to generate the click, but to then pull back into your ESP and leverage for segmentation purposes that continue to collect zero-party first-party data to build those relevant messages. I think that is a really cool thing that could come out of it that we could see changing email campaigns.
Allison: I would add this is one of the first things that came to mind for me, because particularly in the media space we’ve seen such success with these types of self-contained newsletters where consumers are increasingly becoming accustomed to consuming their content in a way where they don’t expect having to click to go back to a website to read the full story. The full story is in the email, and I don’t anticipate that that’s going to go away.
Like we were saying earlier, if you do right by the consumer and you provide a good experience that meets their needs, I’d like to believe that all else follows and falls into place. I don’t want to say that it’s all smoke and mirrors, but we shouldn’t be changing our email strategies and changing what we deliver to our consumers because the KPIs don’t line up, or don’t make sense, or we can’t report back to an advertiser about an open rate.
So, I think it’s important to keep our focus on that. I know that that’s easier said than done. But again, it’s like I said before, the sooner that the industry as a whole adapts both on the buy-side and the sell-side, the sooner we can kind of move past this Apple Mail update and get back to just focusing on creating great email experiences.
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