Is your email marketing strategy ready for Apple’s tightening?

Monday, 11 October 2021  |  Posted in: Articles, Most Recent  |  5min read

Marketers have never had access to more data. Every website and app tracks its users in some way and even physical locations are using beacons and other technology to track devices that move in and out of spaces. However, while the marketing and advertising tech companies have been creating new ways to track, use and store data the community has started to push back on the basis of privacy – and some big players are listening. 

In 2020, Google announced plans to kill the third-party cookie. While the cynical will point out this does nothing to impact Google’s thriving first-party advertising platform, it is still a step towards a more private focussed web. Most people have an idea of what cookies are and what they do, they are code snippets left behind in your browser as you navigate the web. As you navigate the web your cookies build up and develop a profile of you – online habits, previous visits, search history and whatnot that can then be used for targeted advertisements and personalised content. Abracadabra! You are targeted by companies for ads based on your profile.

Phasing out third-party-tracking

Google is phasing out third-party cookies on chrome browsers by 2022, preventing individual-based targeting. They will join Firefox and Safari who have opted for a more privacy-centric experience a few years back now. Google is obviously not the first to do it but they are the largest as they take up the majority of the global web browsing market. This will have huge implications for digital advertising technology (hence why there has been such a lead up to the transition). As marketers, we love a good cookie (choc-chip and the online type), but the death of the third-party cookie is coming.

At the end of the day, there is a lot of different motivating factors but the community crying out for a more ‘private’ web experience was certainly one of them, and Apple has in a sense been leading the charge to respond to this demand. In early 2021 they released their new App Tracking Transparency feature as part of iOS14.5 and now Mail Privacy Protection with the new iOS 15 (in addition to a handful of other privacy features).

Email Marketing, in the right hands, can be a clever way to share B2B or B2C information, keep customers engaged or even bring them back into a buying cycle. As a tool, it is fairly simple to understand and use, with limited tracking options available. From a marketers perspective, the power of email marketing is that you can send an email to a list of individuals (rather than a vague demographic cohort or persona) and then track that email from send, to open, to click, to sale. This chain is clear and provides a lot of opportunities to optimise and tweak, but, as you can see it is very identifiable every step of the way.

Apple’s disruption to email marketing is a blunt object but will very effectively break this chain and savvy marketers need to be aware of what this means for their workflows and reporting.

The way Mail Privacy protection (MPP) works is that if you use the Mail app on an iOS device you will be asked if you would like to activate MPP. Doing so will result in your email being routed through a proxy server where Apple effectively opens the email and loads all the content, even before a user actually opens their email. When the user does open their email the content is sent to them by Apple’s server, not the original sender’s server.

Why is this important for marketers to know?

Doing this is going to mess with your reporting. Every marketing email includes tracking pixels that report back when an email is opened by a user. When Apple opens this email it will trigger this reporting, even if the user never opens this email. This will change the reporting of email openings and complicate open/click ratios for email marketers everywhere. The chain is broken, with Apple opening every email to pre-load content there is no straight line from send to sale.

At first glance, this seems an odd move for Apple but it does track with their user first operating model. They see MPP as a way to obfuscate the tracking of individuals without ultimately breaking revenue models. Their argument appears to be, we can improve user privacy and confidence in our offering and if users were going to click they still will, you can pick up the data trail once they reach your website.

From this perspective, they are probably right. How important are open rates really? Open rates are more driven by customer relationship and history with a brand – it certainly can’t be based on email content as the user hasn’t opened it yet!

At the same time, this change does have its effects. Marketers that rely on open tracking to automate list cleaning will have to rejig their automation. Similarly, tracking opens can help diagnose deliverability issues, optimise send-time configurations and allow A/B testing of email structures.

How marketers will respond is still settling but it’s important to review how you are tracking the success of your email marketing campaigns. Companies like eDM specialists Litmus, who have built themselves on email expertise have some great suggestions which are worth reviewing.

The key takeaway is to firstly not be too worried about this update. You should review your measuring metrics for what you define success as, make sure your email content is motivating to interact with and be aware of the ongoing changes to privacy which will continue to make waves and encourage us to be more creative.

Looking for help building templates, setting up an email publication calendar or are wanting to find out more about how email can support your business?


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