Data & AI
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Has Arrived: How to Evolve Your Email Marketing Strategy
September 20, 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 first part identifies the changes that matter most, gives you steps to evolve your email marketing strategy for future success, and walks you through three specific focus areas you should be paying attention to right now.
To get up to speed, click the webinar video excerpt to begin. Or, keep reading — because all of the important email marketing campaign strategy upgrades are summarized by Desta Price, CM Group CPO, and Tom Janofsky, CM Group CTO below.
Consumer data privacy changes have arrived with Apple Mail’s most recent update
Desta: In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of policy changes, global policies, and regulatory changes affect advertising technology, digital marketing, the ecosystem at large including the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, Canada’s anti-spam law, and also California’s consumer privacy law.
To navigate this evolving environment, we need to adapt our consumer relationships; we need to establish and grow them over time to build meaningful connections.
Our approach is gathering first-party data. We’ve seen this already in practice in our everyday world. For example, we give a phone number or email address in exchange for loyalty points or a discount. Consumers want and deserve to be in control of their data. And it’s our mission to enable personalized, engaging connections between you and your customers in this new world.
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Explained
Desta Price: For those of you technical-minded marketers, let me turn the conversation over to Tom, who can tell you about what our teams have found after testing and research over the last few weeks. All yours, Tom.
Tom: Thanks again for joining us today. I’d like to talk about the technical details behind the changes that Apple has introduced. At a high level, these Apple changes are consistent with broad trends we’ve seen in email marketing over the last few years including GDPR, Gmail image proxying, and open pixel filtering.
The new Apple features we’re discussing today are called Apple Mail Privacy Protection and iCloud-Private Relay. Both of these are now opt-in features for all iOS, iPad OS, and Mac OS users who update to iOS 15 — though iCloud Private Relay will initially only be available to users on a paid iCloud account.
Based on the user experience we’ve seen in the data, as well as the uptake rate for the recently released app tracking and transparency feature, we believe that many users will opt into using these privacy features. So, let’s go through what the new features are and then we’ll talk about specifically who it impacts and what features you use today that may be impacted.
When a user opts into Apple Mail Privacy Protection, the native mail application will first load all images that are shown in an email when the email is downloaded to the device. This is not how it works today. Today, email images are only loaded when an email is open including tracking pixels. This is how we determine open rates for an email. Those images are also going to be loaded through a proxy.
This means that the direct IP address of the subscriber is not going to be available to the email service provider. Additionally, the user agent, which is what an email service provider uses to determine what kind of email client is being used to open the device, is no longer going to be specific enough to identify the device.
In addition, if the subscriber has opted into the iCloud Private Relay that same functionality that hides the IP address from loading an email is also going to be carried over to the Safari browser. So, what subscribers does this impact? Any subscriber who’s using the native Apple Mail application to read their email — be it on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac — will be able to turn these features on.
Subscribers who use those devices, but instead read their mail through Gmail or through an Outlook application or on the respective web use are not impacted. Initial surveys show that for the consumer list this may be 30% to 40% of traffic, but the percentage of people who are affected will depend greatly depending on your specific audience.
How to Evolve Your Email Marketing Strategy
Tom: What does this mean for working with an email product? First of all, it means that open rates will become less accurate. Since email service providers measure opens by counting the number of times that an image is loaded and the Apple Mail Privacy Protection change will download all images when an email is opened by a device, this means that open rates will likely go up and also there will be no way of knowing if a specific subscriber has opened an email or not.
The changes regarding IP address masking will also affect geo-targeting features. So, if you’re currently building a list based on the geographic region that a subscriber is located in, that will become less accurate over time. Specifically how less accurate it becomes won’t be clear until the feature is available in wider use from Apple.
Additional areas of impact include engagement and open targeting. So, using engagement criteria that target opens or automation steps that target opens will be less accurate than before. Also, device and client segmentation as well as building lists that use devices or operating systems will be less accurate than it used to be.
In terms of timeline, Apple traditionally releases their updates in September, we will continue to monitor and test each new beta release. We believe that these changes will be widely released in Q3 of this year. And based on adoption rates from previous operating system upgrades, we expect that we will see those be quickly adopted across iOS, iPad OS, and Mac Mail.
Desta: Thanks, Tom. Let’s step back and take a look at how these changes may impact our marketing strategies and how we measure them. We’ll talk about specific best practices later in the presentation. Right now, let’s recap the key things you need to know about how these changes will shape your efforts in the near future.
So the three key things to know: first up is reviews, referrals, events, and more. Drip series and campaigns can influence user behavior just by being in a customer’s inbox. Use lengthier time windows to measure success.
Number two: collect data directly from the consumer when it’s important for segmentation or targeting. Ask, don’t infer, about language, location, timezone, and device preferences. Previously used inference methods are becoming increasingly less reliable.
And three: consider collecting additional personal identifiers, phone numbers, and social handles to help bridge gaps in conversion. Masking identifiers and features such as Hide My Email could make it harder to use a lone identifier as a single source of truth.
This isn’t the first technological change affecting digital marketing, and we know it won’t be the last. Let’s talk with our guests on how to prepare for changes and what to do to manage expectations for your stakeholders.
Three Areas You Should Focus on for Future Email Marketing Success
Desta: So, where do we go from here? There’s several areas that we can focus on for the future.
First, let’s talk about going beyond opens and click-through rates.
Opens and click-through rates were, and still remain, proxies to larger success metrics such as revenue, or pageviews. Clicks will remain a relevant metric for engagement, but they don’t need to be the only success metric that you’re following.
Email marketers often refer to single mass sends, what we used to call batch and blast, as campaigns. The irony is that these sends are themselves just a moment in a series of customer experiences. The aggregate of those experiences is what matters. A campaign is a series of actions leading toward a goal, or multiple goals.
It’s time to talk about those goals. What are they? And what do they mean to you? As we look forward to our roadmap in the coming months, know that our goals are centered around knowing about your business goals.
We’ll also be focused on making reporting on key metrics easier for you, providing you with a one-stop-shop for your success metrics across your digital channels, and making the transfer of data between your systems and our systems seamless and as dynamic as possible.
Secondly, let’s start leveraging metadata.
Open rate and click-to-open rate are metadata points about consumer behavior, but they’re rarely the true business goal of email campaigns. A consumer’s loyalty to a product or a brand persists, even if they don’t visit it, consume it, or use it every single day. Deriving the type of phone or browser from a web call from a device to server or mapping an IP address to a city or region can change the definition of success on long-form newsletter because it was opened, but for an often indeterminate length of time. These are examples of metadata points.
Digital Marketing has always relied on processing metadata about consumers to position itself as a more attractive mechanism for selling products and delivering information. Any instance to give precise understanding of ROI appeals to executives. Media has long dealt with imperfections in measurement, ratings books, print circulation numbers, even subscription counts.
These were traditionally accepted measures of scale and success, but they never correlated to a precise number of eyes and ears consuming the content. It was and remains at best an estimate.
Commerce marketers benefit from straightforward attribution models thanks to cookies and URL parameters. Purchases and revenue are often easy to collect and retreat back to ad hoc campaign sends. However, affiliate marketers know the difficulty in tracing things back to the right source every time. Revenue and purchase count are easy to calculate. But not every commerce company sees those values as the same, nor are they always the measure of success, other stakeholders are evaluating.
And finally, let’s cover the explicit shift to implicit attribution. Across all verticals, digital marketers need to look and start taking credit for more consumer activity. We have existed far too long in an explicit attribution model where peers and other marketing channels display direct mail events and are able to take credit through more implicit and less conservative attribution models.
Here’s what’s going to be different though. If you’re wondering, “What’s the catch in all of this?” Digital marketing and digital marketers will undergo a shift to be even more comfortable with implicit attribution models for measuring success.
Maybe a product review happens within seven days of receiving a post-purchase automation series. Let’s take credit for that.
If a user clicks on a smiley face or a thumbs up in your long-form, self-contained newsletter at least once a week, take credit for it. Own that success and create a new baseline for active engagement.
When a user attends an in-store or on-site event or webinar, attribute that back to the most recent automation or mass send as a met goal.
What we owe stakeholders and executives is an understanding that we and they were already comfortable with implicit models of attribution in digital marketing. We can expand that universe to report, attribute, and segment on so much more than email opens and clicks.
So, why does email still work? Remember, when it comes to building loyalty, end users don’t think of their interactions with your brand as a campaign or a statistic. Consumers rely on email as a trusted, direct medium that delivers information, news, discounts, and shopping enticement all in a mailbox that also houses critical bills, medical alerts, and messages from loved ones.
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