Apple Privacy Changes – How Email Marketers Need to Adapt Their Measurement & Omnichannel Strategies

Jenny Baban, SVP, Customer Experience Management | Jordan McDowell, Associate Director, Customer Experience Management | Matt Strehlau, Senior Analyst, Customer Experience Management

August 18, 2021

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Background  

Apple aims to be on the forefront when it comes to its users’ privacy in the tech world. The company has made several recent moves to improve how their customers’ data is protected. Over the past several years, Apple has introduced updates to its operating system, iOS, that have added features to protect user privacy, such as content blockers, permissions for photo access, location access, and app tracking. However, none of these updates have had much impact on email marketers until now. 

Apple’s iOS 15 release, coming this Fall, will enable users to opt-in to “Mail Privacy Protection”. This feature will roll out within the Mail app across iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac devices. Once the user has upgraded to iOS 15, they will be prompted to enable this privacy feature the first time they open their Apple Mail app. Once enabled, this feature will mask user IP addresses, prevent visibility into email opens, and limit the ability for marketers to track user activity after engaging with emails. Apple will do this by pre-fetching email content; this means that content, along with tracking pixels which are embedded into most emails to measure open rates, will be downloaded automatically upon delivery. This pre-fetching will report back to the Email Service Provider as an open, making it difficult to determine if an open by the end-user has truly occurred. 

Users who pay for an iCloud subscription, will also have the option to “Hide My Email” which will randomly generate an email address that is forwarded to their real email address inbox, to be shown to marketers. This will make it more difficult to know the real email address of a user, and these randomized email addresses can end up in marketing databases at the time of subscription. As a result, a single user can now have multiple email addresses, which can skew marketing data. 

These updates will have drastic changes on how we measure the success of marketing campaigns involving email.  

Impact  

The upcoming iOS 15 update has the potential to force profound changes in the way we, as marketers, speak to our audience and evaluate their interest in our messaging.  

First, the “Hide My Email” protection. To understand the impact of this new feature, we first need to understand how we’re able to contact audiences via email. In most cases, we typically ask customers to opt-in to future communications when they register for an online account, request information via a web form, or engage in a transaction, at which time they provide their permission to receive future emails. “Hide My Email” will allow users to have Apple auto-generate a temporary email address at this point of service, thus cloaking their actual address. For the time the temporary email address is in use, the messages marketers send will still be forwarded to the user’s real address, but the user maintains the ability to stop any future communications at any time without ever revealing their real email address. This can make maintaining a clean customer database more difficult and can potentially shorten the length of time that users are opted in to receive marketing information. The “Hide My Email” users will cloak their address with an @icloud.com address, which can help marketers identify if they are using this feature.  

However, this feature will only be available to paid iCloud users, will not be automatically applied, and must be actively utilized by the end user at the point of service. For that reason, CMI Media Group expects the impact of this new privacy feature to be relegated to only the most acutely aware users, thus limiting its impact on marketers overall. Additionally, despite the lack of visibility into email addresses, the email will still ultimately reach the end users.  

The new feature that marketers will have to adjust to the most is “Mail Privacy Protection” as any users of Apple’s Mail application, regardless of the email client they subscribe to, can be prompted to activate the new privacy features. This can affect many email addresses, as it is common for users to have several personal and/or professional email addresses all directed to Apple’s Mail app for convenience. CMI Media Group expects the utilization of this feature to be very high amongst Apple Mail app users, as it will require only a one-time opt-in and will be easy for users to enable. According to CMI Media Group’s most recent email data, we expect this change to impact about 40% of email recipients. With such a large audience in question, marketers will need to adapt their strategy going forward.  

Recommendations  

As a result of the decreased visibility into email engagement, marketers must find alternative approaches to measure performance and consider how these changes will impact their ability to orchestrate omnichannel campaigns.  

Measurement 

From a measurement perspective, CMI Media Group recommends the following approaches to modify how email performance is measured once the iOS update goes into effect. 

By using a combination of email open timestamp and user operating system data, marketers will be able to infer which email opens came from iOS users and therefore are likely not true opens. If the timestamp shows that an email was opened immediately upon deployment, particularly if it is paired with operating system data, we can deduce that this is likely an iOS user and we do not have true visibility into their open rates. Instead, CMI Media Group recommends utilizing non-iOS user data as a sample set to extrapolate and estimate open rates across all users. 

For a clearer picture of engagement, CMI Media Group recommends placing greater focus on measuring behaviors other than open rates:  

  • Measuring other actions, such as click through rates on links within the email, can be used as a proxy to measure overall engagement and compare the relative performance of emails.  
  • Consider including other engagement drivers within the email, such as links to videos or helpful resources, where engagements like views and downloads can be tracked.  
  • Tagging brand websites with 1st party pixels allows marketers to measure on-site engagement for users that click through to the website and to tie back their activity to previous website visits.  
  • Email opt-outs should also be monitored closely to gain insights into the type of content or frequency of messages that audiences are not positively responding to.    
  • The iOS update will place more emphasis on the importance of quantifying the long-term impact of email marketing, by measuring lagging indicators like Rx behavior. The change also renews our focus on building long-term relationships with customers, rather than the short-term impact of single emails.  

Omnichannel Strategy 

The iOS update further emphasizes the need to have a cohesive marketing strategy across multiple channels. An omnichannel marketing strategy, where the coordination of multiple channels can be measured, can help mitigate the impact of changes to any single channel.  

For clients who are utilizing marketing automation platforms to orchestrate omnichannel campaigns inclusive of email, this iOS update will likely require changes to the campaign structure and business rules. For marketing automation platforms which include features to react to customer behaviors like email opens to trigger next best messages, such as CMI Media Group’s proprietary platform PROACT(TM), CMI Media Group recommends differentiating business rules for iOS vs-non-iOS customers. Where available, the email open timestamp and operating system information as described above can be used to infer which customers are iOS users. Systems like PROACT, can use automation technology to extrapolate these users in real-time, and apply different campaign business rules accordingly.  

  • For non-iOS users where email open data can still be used, no change is needed to business rules and open rates can continue to be used to monitor opens and non-opens to determine the next best action to take or message to deploy.  
  • For iOS users, CMI Media Group recommends treating these customers like non-openers when determining which next best action to serve.  
    • Typically, most email marketing campaigns include 1-2 email resends to non-openers. Since marketers will no longer have full visibility into email opens, CMI Media Group recommends limiting resends to 1 email for non-openers.  
    • While treating iOS users as non-openers will result in some users receiving duplicate emails, the negative impact of this can be mitigated by utilizing different subject lines and different senders, such as a 3rd party email providers, per deployment. 
  • CMI Media Group also recommends incorporating non-email targeted media tactics into omnichannel campaigns. Many 3rd party media suppliers offer alternatives to email, such as onsite or app-based alerts, that can deliver a similar type of message as email, but in a 3rd party environment where they will not be impacted by these iOS limitations.  
    • Technologies like PROACT can integrate with many different media channels and tactics, across 3rd party sites, apps, custom programs, and social platforms, providing additional ways to reach users in omnichannel campaigns.  
    • When using media automation technologies, these 3rd party tactics, which will now provide clearer insight into user engagement, can be prioritized to be sent prior to email in the sequence of deployed tactics.  

It’s important to note that until these new features are made available to the public this Fall, it will be difficult to gauge their complete impact on marketing practices. The solutions offered above are recommended by CMI Media Group to best adapt to the anticipated changes, and we will continue to monitor for updates in this rapidly changing landscape to adjust accordingly.