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Don’t let iOS15 take a bite out of your email results

Don’t let iOS15 take a bite out of your email results

On 7 June 2021, Apple described some of the new privacy features it would offer in its forthcoming operating systems for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac computers — specifically iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8 and macOS Monterey. The changes to the iPhone might be the most impactful given the number of individuals who read emails on that device, using the native iphone mail app.

Email client share

The rollout will start as early as September. Beta testing has already begun. So, any company that relies on email marketing should start to prepare now.

What do you need to think about?

The Apple operating system privacy updates will impact email tracking — and by association email marketing — in three key ways:

  1. More Apple users will know they can hide their email addresses.

  2. Apple will hide IP addresses.

  3. Apple users can opt out of email tracking.

1. Hidden email address.

The first of these features, according to Geisler, has been available to Apple customers for some time, but Apple will promote it more prominently to users and make access easier.

An Apple support article from December 2020 described the process of hiding an email address as “a unique, random email address is created, so your personal email address isn’t shared with the app or website developer during the account setup and sign-in process.”

Hiding an email address may make it more difficult for list consolidators or even individual businesses to build customer profiles and track behaviour across websites or apps.

2. No IP address.

Apple’s Mail app will not share a user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, making it difficult to identify a user’s location and thus build a profile of that person.

3. No email tracking.

For more than 20 years, email marketing platforms have placed invisible tracking pixels on outgoing email marketing messages, allowing these companies to track unique and gross open rates. But not everyone likes being tracked. So, Apple will allow folks reading email on iOS 15 the chance to opt out of tracking, meaning marketers will not see open rates from those recipients.

Mail Privacy and Protection

Open rates are often seen as a vanity metric. After all, what good is an open without a click or, more importantly, a conversion? (With the possible exception of an old school informative real newsletter).

Primarily, a lot of campaign and automation workflows are going to be affected. Retention and re-engagement marketing, which depends on open rates as an engagement metric, is going to need updating. Deliverability tracking, which ensures that emails get to the recipients, will be affected.

Segmentation based on engagement, including conditional splits by opens, will have to adjust. It will also impact list hygiene, in which you determine how much a recipient wants to receive your emails based on, in large part, the open rate. Apple’s new privacy update makes deleting inactive subscribers more difficult.

Moving beyond iOS 15’s disabling of open tracking, IP-based geo-segmentation will be rendered useless if recipients aren’t showing their true IP addresses.

Hide my email

Moreover, the use of throwaway email addresses may confuse consumers when it comes to opting out. Users may subscribe using an apple email address but try to unsubscribe using their personal email address. Quite frankly, why Apple is choosing to provide this service when there is perfectly successful and appropriate legislation and opt-out management process governed under GDPR regulations remains questionable.

What You Can Do Before and After the iOS 15 Update

Preparing for the iOS 15 update is going to be important to help us set benchmarks for the new data we will have to lean on to measure engagement, deliverability and certain behaviour.

Here are some pointers that will help you get prepared for September.

1. Assess the portion of your audience affected - How much of your audience uses Apple Mail to read your emails? And can you capture data now for which client segments use the Apple Mail app most? If its low, fingers crossed, then the update might only have negligible impact on your program! In which case, you will still have enough data from other mail apps to provide statistically accurate data for running your campaigns.

2. Clean your audience lists - Clean up your lead quality, list hygiene and sender reputation, since you may not be able to rely on opens anymore as a sign of a deliverability problem. And consider creating audience segments and cohorts that rely on open data so you can keep on using them, at least in the near future

3. Know your benchmarks - Compare delivery to open and click rates, as well as variations by location, as these may become more assumption-based in future. This works more precisely when you can segment by goal and audience.

4. Test, test and test again! - If you do not already have a solid handle on what engages your email list and drives desired actions best, test as much creative and messaging variations as possible to solidify your audience understanding. Break it down to audience-segment level so you have data to guide future campaign design in place of recent openers.

5. Review your automations - Start A/B testing variations of your email subject lines for your core automations now so that you can find the winning version before the update. In addition to measuring the open rate, you may want to shift to measuring the effectiveness of subject lines by looking at which ones generate the most clicks. A/B test the content and copy of your automated emails. As measuring click rates for engagement tracking becomes increasingly important, you will want to ensure you are providing recipients the most optimised email possible.

6. Improve deliverability - Deliverability is affected by your email open rates. If you have low open rates, your emails could be classed as SPAM and blocked. Take the opportunity to clean up your lists, lead quality, and sender reputation now. It’s just good practice anyway! What could you do to track this in future without access to full open rates? For example, do your sales team need to be briefed about the increased importance of updating CRM information in a timely manner? Can more stringent list screening be done before campaigns are launched? And of course, always make sure you have a focus on content quality. Data integrity and fixing common data weaknesses is key here.

7. Avoid knee-jerk reactions - Just like for paid media, the worst thing you can do right now is completely shift your email marketing strategy. Stay calm and carry on with a proven customer acquisition strategy. There is still time to adapt. And as marketers, we have proven that we are a very adaptable sort! Keep assessing workarounds and alternative data quality strategies. For example, collecting higher quality client information in targeted form-fills or during the lead prospecting process, improved database design and more regular data auditing.

Is it the end of the world in email marketing (again)?

While changes in email marketing strategy over the next few months are inevitable - there may be a silver lining to this IOS 15 change. In nearly every event that has forced our industry to challenge our current "best practices" - we have increased the quality of our marketing strategies rather than the inverse – just think about the impact of GDPR. IOS 15 will be no different.

Sure, open rates have played a critical role in analysing engagement, segmentation, deliverability etc, however some email marketers argue that we may actually be too reliant on a metric that hasn't necessarily proven to be a direct correlation in driving desired conversion actions.

Focus on click rates: Yes, you are probably aware that the goal of any campaign is most likely not to have engagement but to have conversions, and marketers are already focused on click rates. But now we’ll need to lean on this metric even more.

Expand your engagement-based segments: Your engagement-based segments can no longer depend only, or mainly on, open rates. You should expand the criteria to include clicks and purchase activity. The amount of contacts who meet these criteria will naturally be smaller after the update, but it’s a good way to continue having highly-targeted engagement segments.

Refresh What Engagement Means for Your Brand: Rather than relying on open rates to determine email engagement - it's time to restructure what engagement KPI's actually drive success. Metrics like shopping recency, frequency, value data and more will soon be a key part of defining success in your campaigns.

Focus Initiatives on Lower Funnel Activities: Though the audience will be smaller - email marketers will be challenged to consider how to drive more bottom of the funnel activities focusing on elements like call-to-actions (CTAs), landing pages, layouts, flow and messaging to earn clicks and analyse engagement. Button CTAs such as "Click If You Love Hearing From Us" will give you stronger signals and segmentation than open rates may have.

Look to new channels: To be honest, if you haven’t already added other channels to your marketing strategy, then you’re already behind the industry. Other channels like SMS and push notifications can help you expand your reach. SMS has some pretty compelling stats.

Think more about Clicks and Conversions

In short:

• Clicks and conversions are better at measuring subscriber value,

• Clicks are better for subject line optimization,

• And clicks are more accurate than opens.

Thus, email marketers might better understand their subscribers and customers when they stop using open rates.

Good brands (with great digital partners 😉 ) will take this in their stride. They’ll continue to see high customer engagement with their campaigns and realise strong returns from their investment in the channel and be prepared that the method of measuring that success is about to change.

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