For the last month, the most popular discussion topic in the email marketing community are Apple’s latest privacy updates. How will this change affect email marketing programs? Is it another apocalypse time for email? What can email marketers do to prepare and how can AI help us evolve our email marketing program? We’ll have a deep dive into the topic, bring you suggestions from experts, and help you become bulletproof for any regulation updates. Buckle up!
Apple has been going after Facebook and introduced an App Tracking Transparency feature earlier this year. However, with the new privacy updates, it will not only be Facebook or small businesses affected by iOS 15 but any business sending emails, whether it is ecommerce communication or prospecting for new leads.
What’s all the noise about?
Let’s first understand what Apple announced and what it means for your email marketing program. On June 7, during its WWDC event, Apple announced its new privacy protection updates. These changes will be effective in September across iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8 on the compatible devices.
Apple Mail Privacy Protection:
Now, when you send an email from your everyday email app or from your sophisticated email marketing software, you can track the recipients’ IP address, their geolocation, whether they opened your email message or not even with the date and time details. The email marketing software you use places an invisible pixel which allows you to collect data about your subscribers or customers.
As it was clearly stated in the Apple Press Release, this will no longer be the case.
“In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”.
Once the new iOS 15 is released, the Apple Mail users will be notified when they open the app for the first time after upgrading the new version. The users will see a similar screen as on the screenshot below:
Considering the fact that 96% of the Apple users opted-out from Ad Tracking in the US, it is very likely to be similar, and people may not allow mail tracking as well. Mail Privacy Protection will significantly affect the way we do email marketing now.
Email open rate
When an Apple user turns on “Protect Mail activity”, Apple will first route email messages through a proxy server where the message content will be preloaded, then the messages will be served to users. The tracking pixels placed by senders will also end up at the proxy server which will limit sender’s ability to see who opened an email, when, and where via Apple Mail. In other words, the good old open rates metric will lose its importance for marketers as open rates will become inaccurate. Just a precaution: Your open rates for Apple Mail users will look like close to 100% in September. However, these over-inflated open rates, well, will not be accurate, just a result of image caching.
We know that it won’t just affect iCloud email service users but any email service used on the Apple Mail app. For instance, a message sent to Gmail but opened on Apple’s native Mail app. It’s worth mentioning that if a user has a Gmail app, Microsoft Outlook app, Spark app or another mail app on an Apple device, these privacy changes will not be in effect.
Live content in email messages
Email senders using live content elements will be affected as well. Considering how much brands strive for increasing customer experience using live content inside emails, they will need to adjust their email content. Live content like countdown timers, live polls, live maps, weather updates, sports results etc. populates when an email is opened. Due to image caching, all of this interactive content will be blocked.
Location information of subscribers
Due to the removal of the tracking pixel, the IP address data will not be available, and as a consequence, email marketers will not receive geolocation data of subscribers. Apple states it clearly: "Rather than share your IP address, which can allow the email sender to learn your location, Apple's proxy network will randomly assign an IP address that corresponds only to the region your device is in. As a result, email senders will only receive generic information rather than information about your behavior."
The loss of device type identification
Garrett Reid, Privacy Engineering at Apple, mentioned that the reading device type information isn’t revealed with the new privacy updates. However, we don’t know if device identification will be still available for email marketers. In the end, even if the device data would be out of marketing analytics dashboards, email marketers may still have enough to design messages accordingly.
We all know that email marketers love to optimize their content for the best reading experience on different devices. Having no reading device data, it will be quite difficult for committed email marketers to design their content for different Apple devices.
The end of forward tracking
Finally, Apple will also be blocking forward tracking. Usually, marketers can monitor if a subscriber forwards an email to a friend or a contact. It will come to an end since senders won’t receive any tracking information on forwarding activity.
Hide My Email feature:
Apple will introduce a new service called “Hide My Email”. While browsing the internet, you may often need to enter your email address to submit a web form or sign up for a service. Hide My Email feature allows users to have a random email address on iCloud, created for you by Apple, so that you can use it on the web without giving away your original email address. The emails sent to the random address will be redirected to the user’s inbox.
Even if Hide My Email is activated, brands can still send emails to their Apple Mail users, this time without getting the original email address. Moreover, Apple gives the option to delete the random email address anytime, so senders will lose those users. Imagine, subscribers don’t even need to click or tap on the “unsubscribe button” to leave senders’ list: They can basically delete the random email address to “opt-out” forever.
Fact: Hide My Email feature will also affect social media retargeting like on Facebook because advertisers will not know the real email address of users.
Embrace for the impact: recommendations to put to work
Use engagement metrics for email performance tracking
When Mail Privacy Protection is out there and available, email marketers will no longer be depending on open rates as a performance metric. The new reality will force email marketers to define their email analytics based on the metrics they can track performance.
Although open rates were not considered as the leading performance metric by many email marketers, we recommend focusing on clicks and conversion based reporting on your new dashboard wall. You can even combine these metrics together with some other critical performance metrics beyond the inbox such as offline activity, intent mapping on your website, logins, engagement on other channels.
While working with the engagement based metrics, it is worth mentioning that email marketing now should pay more attention to the negative metrics like complaints or unsubscribes.
Since you will be very busy with finding the right metrics in your email marketing program before the Mail Privacy Protection, make sure you get rid of the data fields you will not need anymore. Looking at the bright side, losing open rates may trigger innovation and also a little bit of housekeeping.
Tip: Use click or conversion metrics while testing your subject line performance. You can also create a pool with non-Apple Mail users to test subject lines with open rates, and implement the winner to the Apple Mail users, if open rates based testing is crucial in your business.
Find new triggers for your email campaigns
Marketers use subscriber opens for various campaigns such as reactivation campaigns and sales nurturing series. Moreover, it is very common practice to build journeys for certain customer profiles and usually open rates are used as one of the main segmentation rules for the next message to send.
In line with the review of your engagement metrics and finding the best set, you may want to determine which triggers suit the best in your email marketing program. Your creativity is the limit here. Any signals from the other channels you use could be a part of this calculation.
Time to look closer at your email deliverability
Remember what has been keeping you outside of the spam folder way before these pixel tracking changes? You focused on applying the best practices, keeping your messages relevant to your audience, making sure that you have rich personalization, in short, adopting a customer-centric email marketing program.
The good news is that nothing changed. Having a holistic email marketing approach is the way to the inbox. We have a few recommendations following the Apple privacy updates.
Cooperate with your subscribers for profile updates
A preference center in place can be a very powerful tool to listen to your subscribers and reduce churn. Allowing your audience to share with you their current communication preferences may help replace what Apple’s new privacy updates take away.
Marketers will no longer receive subscriber location information. You may ask your subscribers about their favorite location so that you can personalize your messages accordingly.
Since open rates as an activity metric will be leaving your marketing dashboard, you may check in with your subscribers and see their message frequency preferences. This may allow you to still communicate with your subscribers without overwhelming them. In the end, your email deliverability will be thankful to you as you would keep your complaints and unsubscribe rates down.
Another impact of losing open statistics may be losing the content interest of your subscribers. Including content preferences on your preference center would lead you to have a more relevant conversation between your brand and your subscribers. It can be crucial, especially if you offer many different kinds of products or services. Let your subscribers decide what messages they want to engage in.
Adopt 3rd party deliverability tools
Marketers rely on open rates not only as a performance metric but also they can determine if their emails are landing in the inbox or spam folder. With Apple’s new privacy updates, inbox monitoring through open rates will be faulty since Apple will show almost 100% opens for its native Mail app users.
We recommend email marketers to test and adopt email marketing deliverability tools to understand where their messages are landing. InboxGear is a real-time deliverability monitoring tool that can easily check your delivery rate grouped by mailbox providers, campaigns, IPs, and domains.
Replace opens with engagement metrics for list hygiene
Mailbox providers track engagement metrics to determine which email lands in an inbox through their spam filtering algorithms. Email opens have been one of the visible components which marketers think of as an important inboxing metric. However, with the Mail Privacy Protection, email clicks metric will become more significant. As Apple’s new privacy updates will show even inactive subscribers as openers, email marketers may be forced to take click metrics for list hygiene decisions.
We recommend maintaining good lust hygiene as a staple in your marketing program. Email marketers may want to regularly clean their list to get rid of invalid emails and inactives. Obviously, list verification and validating new subscribers can help deliverability regardless of these new changes.
Switch to engage time optimization
In the email marketing community, send time optimization is an old topic. Almost all marketing automation tools and email service providers offer this feature by now. Usually, such systems use a subscriber’s last open behavior to determine the best time to send the next email. However, as mentioned earlier, Apple’s new privacy changes will lead to false open times, and STO will not be an accurate feature in an email marketer’s arsenal. It will be necessary for the email systems to adopt different metrics than opens for STO implementation like clicks or other subscriber behavior.
We recommend updating your current STO use to a multi-layer engage time optimization. If you’re not using STO now, it is high time to get started so that you can collect data about your subscribers behavior, and finally use this data to match with your new engage time optimization model.
Use AMP for email instead of risking live content
There is a reason why live content is favorable among subscribers. Certainly, emails with live content are more engaging and relevant but here is the catch: the live content elements need to be downloaded once an email is opened. And you guessed it right. Once Apple’s new privacy updates go live, the functionality of this content type will be obsolete. Moreover, Mail Privacy Protection will also show a “download warning” which may lead your subscribers to think that your email message is unsafe, and this is a serious risk for your email marketing program.
We recommend checking your facts on your live content. You may want to do your math, see if live content is a must for the performance of your campaigns, and test what happens if you go ahead with static content. If you have similar performance results, you may consider ditching it at least for Apple Mail users. The risks are more concerning than the benefits of having some countdown timers, location-based content or live results because Apple will no longer support a reliable live content experience.
AMP for Email was introduced by Google a few years ago, and it injects dynamic content blocks into your subscribers’ inbox so that your subscribers can interact with your brand already in their inbox - without even going to another tab! We believe that AMP for Email will be even more popular with these new changes, and Apple may reach a level where they can allow this feature in their native Mail app.
Play the email design game with the new rules
Probably, one thing you’ll remember from this article is that the email opens are to fade away, and you need to adjust accordingly. It applies to all aspects of your email marketing program. Considering the fact that you will no longer depend on email open metrics, subscriber clicks will be the new goal for marketers. If you want to get those clicks, you may start with your email design, and pay more attention to make your content look more attractive for your audience.
Remember, you are after clicks for engagement and, obviously, for more email revenues. However, the clicks you get from your subscribers will replace open metrics and become the new signals in your email marketing program.
AI is here to help - find out how to incorporate
Create an individual communication schedule
AI helps email marketers create a single customer profile where all subscriber attributes are unified in one place. This profile is continuously updated in real time based on customer activities. It is also possible to sync or enhance customer profiles with other systems or databases.
Even Apple wouldn’t allow receiving certain subscriber details, we can feed subscriber profiles with the information from various resources such as websites, message channels, mobile apps, offline behavior and more.
Discover your fans and deliver them
A commonly used predictive analysis model in marketing is scoring models. They can predict customers’ next action based on past behaviors. Using these models, email marketers can create highly targeted campaigns for certain groups. For instance; churn score for current customers or purchase intent score for new customers. Once the scoring model is trained on past examples, we can apply it on real customers to predict their future actions.
Apply a Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) based strategy
Since the Mail Privacy Protection update forces email marketers to become more creative and innovative in embracing new subscriber-centric performance metrics, brands will likely accelerate adopting CLV based strategies. Obviously, brands strive to meet customers’ expectations, so that they would stay for a longer time, and become loyal customers.
CLV is considered as one of the top marketing metrics, and extremely valuable not only for the ecommerce & retail industries but for all businesses. First of all, it allows marketers to see which acquisition channels deliver the customers with the highest value. This way, marketers can prioritize those channels and spend their marketing budget wisely. Moreover, it is crucial to identify and apply the right strategy for each customer whether they are newcomers or frequent shoppers.
For instance, you can work on retaining your existing customers through email marketing. Especially in these current circumstances, retention could be a key strategy.
Fact: Gartner states that acquiring new customers may cost 6.7x more than retaining your current customers.
Make better decisions at each stage of customer journey
We interact with each customer at a different stage of their journey with our brand.Once we accurately understand what they want, we can provide them the right experience. Doing that is not easy, and it gets even harder as we have more channels and devices that customers can interact with our brand.
- New subscriber acquisition is the most important stage. We should send a welcome series for strong engagement. AI can help stimulate interest by optimizing content and promotions for each subscriber.
- As subscribers become more active, AI algorithms can predict their behavior and provide relevant content.
- In the next stage, engaged customers may have different motivation levels so AI helps us read the digital body language of customers.
- Inactive subscribers can be sent new and engaging content along with some exclusive promotions and benefits.
- And finally, AI can predict churn sentiment and we can send win-back campaigns to bring those subscribers to the cycle again.
AI-powered systems can effectively build the customer journey and identify what action to take in each scenario. The brands which adopt AI technology will be ahead in the competition in 2021.
Provide a valuable experience with one-to-one personalization
When we talk to the marketing teams we work with, we notice that they are all aware of the essential practices. Although email marketers know that personalized messages are very effective, they find them very difficult to build. Using AI capabilities, email marketers can create highly-personalized message content at scale.
With personalization, marketers are looking to make email messages feel like they are one-to-one emails, and they are tailored to each individual. The goal is to build a stronger relationship with each subscriber, provide them a unique experience, and ultimately convert them into loyal, long-term customers.
Become more relevant with predictive recommendations
One of the most common AI use cases in content personalization is predictive recommendations. We see recommendations in our lives everyday. We even expect brands to show us relevant and personalized content that we might be interested in.
For instance, Netflix has about 80 percent of viewer activity influenced by its recommendation algorithms. The company estimates that they save around $1B annually by preventing canceled subscriptions. Their goal is to "achieve the maximum happiness per dollar spent" for each user.
Empower your email testing with MVT
In email marketing, we always say “Test it before you send it” because even some small elements in your layout may have their individual effect on email metrics.
Multivariate testing (MVT) is a method of email testing which allows marketers to test different combinations of variables at once. In the traditional A/B testing, we can compare different versions of a single variable.
For instance, using MVT, we can test multiple subject lines, images, and CTAs at the same time against different combinations of these elements. On the other hand, with A/B testing, we can only test 2 subject lines for the same email while all the other elements remain the same.
Engage subscribers when they want
As humans, it is impossible for us to estimate it for each subscriber at a scale but machines can do it. Send Time Optimization (STO) has been in the business even since 2009 but most of these models are based on subscriber opens.
With the new Apple privacy updates eliminating open time information, email marketers will need to optimize send times for behaviors that lead to a goal, rather than initial open rates. AI tools can analyze the full engagement behavior across multiple digital channels, and optimize send times for each customer.
Tune your sending frequency at scale
Alright, when it comes to sending frequency, there is a sweet spot we need to mention. If you send too many emails, you may risk overwhelming your subscribers. You should pay attention to the unsubscribe rate. If you send very few emails, then they may forget about your brand. AI-powered systems can find this balance at scale.
Engage with your subscribers on their preferred channels
Today’s customers are always connected and the multi-device environment just makes it harder to reach each customer at their preferred channel. AI can predict where to engage depending on subscriber behavior and customer journey stage.
Save time for things that matter
The new regulations or rapidly changing customer expectations.. Email marketers already have a lot on their plate to do, and they still need to allocate time on creating new strategies to adjust their email marketing program. It can be overwhelming.
Using AI technology enables marketing teams to save time for things that actually matter. They can focus on working on creativity, strategy and more revenue-generating ideas.
AI allows you to eliminate the guesswork in email marketing. Marketing teams can fully depend on the data-driven insights and signals for the next best action for each subscriber based on computational algorithms. The best thing is that they don’t need to deal with all those repetitive and boring tasks.
Keep high and stable deliverability
AI can help with deliverability in several ways.
- During subscriber acquisition, some automated email validation services use AI combined with statistical analysis to rate the quality level of an email address;
- AI can run a fully automated warm-up phase. It decides how many messages should be sent to which domain family at what pace;
- Before sending campaigns, AI does preliminary tests to identify any possible issues such as spammy words, blocklisted domains or broken links;
- AI can recognize ISP minute signals and optimise the resend rules.
Over to you
Regardless of any regulatory changes or eventful announcements, email marketers discover exciting AI use cases which would save their time, make them become truly data-driven, and bring more revenues through optimization.