Where do Apple’s new privacy features leave email marketers?

Advertising, Blog, Featured, Marketing

Where do Apple’s new privacy features leave email marketers?

Advertising, Blog, Featured, Marketing

With many marketers still reeling from the iOS 14 app ad tracking announcement made last year, many of us were waiting nervously for this year’s edition of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.

As it turns out, our anxiousness was not without good reason. Apple once again made new privacy features a cornerstone of their upcoming iOS 15 software update. What’s on the chopping block this time you ask? Email tracking.

Suddenly, companies all around the globe are rethinking their email marketing strategies with the metrics they once relied upon no longer available for the majority of Apple users. That goes for Apple iPhones, iPads, laptops, and desktop computers.

So, let’s take a closer look at what the new privacy features are, what they mean for email marketers and why it may not be quite as “doom and gloom” as it first appears.

Note: If you haven’t already, check out this article we posted in December 2020 regarding the previous significant privacy update that Apple made which in turn, took a considerable bite out of Facebook’s bottom line.

What is the iOS 15 privacy update?

To sum up, this update will present Apple users (across all email-capable devices) with a pop-up that will allow them to enable a new Mail Privacy Protection feature.

If you are rightly wondering what that entails, it means, once activated, Apple will prevent those sending you emails to track you in any way. It hides your location, the type of device you are using, your IP address, and even leaves email marketers guessing as to whether you’ve even received/opened their email in the first place.

While users can opt-in to be tracked, it’s not something marketers should be counting on. Not when you consider that option is labelled “don’t protect mail activity” within the pop-up in question.

Apple Mail Activity Protection

Does iOS 15 mark the death of email tracking?

Claiming email tracking is dead is perhaps a little over the top. However, this update (which also rolls out in the next macOS update) will have a dramatic impact on companies in all kinds of industries, not to mention the software platforms whose entire business model is predicated on delivering email tracking metrics and automated email campaigns to their customers (e.g., Mailchimp, Active Campaign, AutoPilot etc).

Make no mistake. This is a big deal. In a few short months, companies sending emails to Apple users will lose their ability to measure user engagement, carry out split a/b testing on email headlines and taglines, and improve their open and conversion rates.

One particular subsection of email marketing that will be badly hurt by this update is automated marketing funnels. Most email-based sales funnels take their next automated step based on the user actions reported back via tracking data. For example, if an email has been opened (and assumably) read, or a button/link within it clicked, then they are moved onto the next step in the sequence. If the first email has been ignored, then a new, more persuasive email is sent as a follow up to try and gain a potential customer’s attention. With no tracking data to speak of, this entire concept is, to some extent, dead in the water.

Now, many will be grasping onto the hope that Apple users don’t make up that much of a percentage of total email users. Unfortunately, that is very, very wrong. Apple’s iPhone mail client accounts for 47% of email client market share alone. You can add a 13.1% market share for Apple mail (Mac) and 1.3% for iPad.

Remember, this is a global update across all Apple devices capable of sending and receiving email, not just apps, as was the case with the iOS 14 update. So well over half of all emails sent will be affected by these changes. It’s THAT big of a deal.

Furthermore, as with other privacy updates Apple has made recently both to its browser (Safari) and email client (Apple Mail), it won’t be long before others such as Microsoft and Google also follow suit.

Apple continues to put a squeeze on marketers and advertisers.

Worse still, there are further privacy restrictions in the pipeline. Apple’s new Privacy Relay feature (which currently sits behind an iCloud+ paywall) prevents email marketers from circumventing the new email privacy feature by encouraging users to click on web links within the emails.

Privacy Relay ensures nobody (including Apple) can track your browsing activity. It’s a two-factored VPN that masks your browsing IP address by passing it through multiple proxy servers, preventing anyone from holding enough records to identify who you are.

With both features enabled, Apple will be able to shield its users from advertisers across the entire web. Impressive from a user standpoint but potentially disastrous from a marketing viewpoint.

So, where does this leave email marketers and companies that rely heavily on email marketing campaigns?

How severe is the damage that Apple has inflicted on marketers?

After what many felt was a hammer blow last year, this new privacy update will feel like a kick in the teeth to many in the digital marketing world. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Firstly, email is one prong of many digital marketing channels for most companies, agencies, and marketers. Very rarely (if at all) are email opens viewed as a measure of how well your brand is performing. There are much better metrics that remain available.

Yes, marketing automation platforms will indeed have to reinvent themselves. However, teams such as Active Campaign, HubSpot, and Mailchimp are not just going to roll over and die. They will adopt a Bear Grylls approach – improvising, adapting, and overcoming the challenges Apple continues to present.

Hopefully, it will change the way marketing takes place. Instead of covert tracking and siphoning personal data that customers often have no idea they are sharing, perhaps companies can gain permission from their users and operate in a much more open and transparent way.

When the time comes, it has to be better than Facebook’s recent attempts to extol the virtues of personalised adverts, which badly missed the mark.

On the whole, people generally don’t like blatant advertising, especially when that advertising is in their ‘personal space’, such as a Facebook feed. However, they do like brands. In some cases, customers are so loyal to brands that they wouldn’t mind allowing tracking, allowing their favourite companies to deliver even better products and services. Perhaps this is the angle from which companies, agencies, and solo marketers need to approach this problem.

Be at the forefront of industry changes.

Only time will tell what the appropriate solution is to the damage about to be inflicted on many email marketers. However, email marketing and the tracking of email performance is far from dead. For now, until email marketing platforms ‘find another way’ (and it’s only a matter of time), we just need to measure performance in a different way.

The road ahead will be rocky for marketers. That much is a given. But it’s important to remember that not being able to track a customer does not prevent them from buying products and services from you. If anything, these changes put the onus on you to develop closer ties to your customers to foster greater brand loyalty and gain a deeper understanding of their behaviour.

We stay abreast of all the latest industry news and digital marketing techniques to ensure we deliver industry-leading ROIs on your marketing campaigns. Whether you are looking to develop your social, website, or email performance, we can help.

This blog article was also published on our main website, Nous Digital.