iOS 15 Update: Email Marketing is Next Up on Apple’s Privacy Conquest [UPDATED]

June 13, 2021

o details of iOS 15 were announced earlier this week during Apple’s WWDC 2021 conference kick off. (It’s Apple's biggest developer conference!)

As an email marketer or interested SME business leader, what do you need to know about iOS 15? 

Well, I can sum it up for you in one sentence. Following the iOS 14 crack down on advertising tracking, iOS 15 is now going after email tracking

tweet against apple ios 15

Just like paid media marketeers with iOS 14, it’s the email marketeers turn to feel the burn of Apple's quest for privacy-led dominance. 

Launch is estimated for September 2021, and it will apply to all iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey devices.

Many of the cool new iOS 15 releases have social media abuzz. However, virtually every feature had a privacy component involved.

Apple has been pressing the privacy message more and more heavily since 2014. Apple says it believes privacy is a fundamental right, and since stepping in the role of CEO of Apple in 2011, Tim Cook has continued to emphasize privacy as a priority for Apple.

With the iOS 14 and iOS 15 developments, it seems privacy has become a core brand identifier and competitive differentiator against other tech giants like Android and Windows.

Key iOS 15 Email Privacy Updates

klaviyo analytics screensot
Some of the email analytics this iOS 15 update will affect
  • Mail Tracking Pixels Removed - The Apple Mail app will start running images through proxy servers to remove tiny image-based tracking pixels that report when and where messages were opened
  • Private Relay to Remove Location Data - This service will hide users IP addresses, which usually infers a location. It’s not a VPN, but traffic will run through Apple servers and a third party server to remove identifying information. Traffic leaving a user's device will be encrypted so that third parties can't see what users are searching for (and that supposedly includes Apple too).
  • Hide My Email Feature - iCloud subscribers can create and use temporary, anonymous email addresses - sometimes called burner addresses - inside the Mail app.

Privacy Dashboard Feature - The new privacy dashboard will show users which apps are collecting their data and when. It’s a continuation of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature from iOS 14. Users will be able to overview which apps have been given permission to access data, what data they’re using, and see how often it’s accessed.

To provide context for how emails are processed now, nearly all marketing emails contain hidden pixel sized images that knows when you’ve opened an email. Most general email users are unaware that these hidden trackers exist, but in fact, these images collect information about you, including your IP address and where you are.

The email open information from the tracker is then leveraged, mostly by marketers, to better optimize email campaigns and other marketing initiatives based on the engagement data received from the emails. Some browser extensions actually already block these invisible trackers, but with Apple's participation in making this activity more difficult to track in the Mail App

You might think that these updates are somewhat ironic while Apple also announces an expansion into online payments, identity, and health data - meaning that they’ll hold more customer data than even before. Also announced on the first day of the conference was:

  • Health Data Updates - iOS 15 can record more health data, and you’ll have the ability to share this with your family and with healthcare providers.
  • Identity Data Updates - Government IDs, keycards and car keys are to be stored in the Wallet app. Perhaps soon you’ll be able to use it as identification in participating US states airports!

Apple claims it will quickly produce products that will safely comply with government regulations.

phone with apple email privacy prompt
The new Apple Privacy Prompt

What Does It Mean for Email Marketers?

Over 45% of Apple users use the Mail app. The loss of open rates, behavior, and location data will drive significant changes to how email marketers are able to effectively engage and interact with a sizable portion of their lists.

It’s going to have big impacts for:

  • Optimizing deliverability by removing unengaged contacts
  • Split testing your campaigns
  • Real-time personalization
  • Targeting re-engagement campaigns
  • Respecting privacy by identifying and deleting unengaged contacts
  • Triggering sequential emails in an automated nurture flow
  • Optimizing send time to maximize open rates

Naturally, we completely agree that privacy and personal data security is an absolute priority. But as marketers, what can we do to keep delivering the content targeting and personalization that customers expect, and our jobs kinda depend on?

Here’s five pointers that will help you get prepared for September.

  1. Assess the Portion of Your Audience Affected - How much of your audience actually uses Apple Mail to read your emails? And can you capture data now for which client segments use the Apple Mail app most? If it’s low, fingers crossed, then the update might actually have little impact on your program! In which case, you’ll still have enough data from other mail apps to provide statistically accurate data for running your campaigns.
  2. 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.
  3. Test, Test and Test Again! - If you don’t 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’ve got data to guide future campaign design in place of recent openers. 
  4. 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 keep tabs on 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 really key here.
  5. Avoid Knee-jerk Reactions - Just like for paid media, the worst thing you can do right now and 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 work-arounds 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.

The Glass Half-Full Perspective

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

Sure, open rates have played a critical role in analyzing engagement, segmentation, deliverability, and so-forth, 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.

Anytime we are pressed to think about how we can drive more activity further down the funnel; ie. clicks and purchases, OR diversify our interactions with our customers in new and unique ways - it's oftentimes a healthier push towards something we all already know - marketing thrives off of proactive and diversified actions.

Here are our glass half-full thoughts on IOS 15 Email Marketing:

  • 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 (CTA's), landing pages, layouts, flow, and messaging to earn clicks and analyze engagement. Button CTA's such as "Click If You Love Hearing From Us" will give you stronger signals and segmentation than open rates may have.
  • Opportunity to 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.
  • Meet People in Newer, More Personal Destinations: We've heard it 1000 times. Build an SMS infrastructure. Get campaigns live and become more personal with your customers. Open rates are the thing most people rave over when it comes to SMS, but our team raves about the level of relational communication you can have with your customers. If done right, SMS and communication vehicles like it be continue to rise in value over the next era of digital marketing.

The Bottom Line

photo from WWDC iOS 15
Apple's planned email privacy updates from WWDC

Like myself, some of the marketing community is a little skeptical about how effectively this update allows marketers to respect customer privacy and experience if we can’t see whether they’re engaged on not.

Actually, research has shown that a majority of consumers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience. Buyers also expect to receive personalized and relevant content as part of their trust in your brand.

However, if you prioritize the steps above to mitigate the potential impacts now, hopefully you won’t suffer too much impact as a result.

Half Past Nine is always here to provide extra support to your team while you charter a course through the ever-shifting currents of digital marketing. Listening and devising great solutions that address our clients’ business challenges is what gets us out of bed every morning! If you do need anything, please just give us a holler.

Research Worth Reading:

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