As email marketers, we’ve all heard cries that “email is dead!” and had to defend these allegations with facts including increased open rates, click rates, and revenue. Now, Apple’s mail privacy protection changes have some people ready to discuss trying to pull the plug on email marketing once again. 

The good news is that email marketing is far from dead. If we could survive GDPR, we’ll make it through this too. Customers will continue opening, clicking, and buying products and services driven by marketing emails.

To further ease your mind, let’s dive into the upcoming changes, what they mean, what they don’t mean, and what actions you can take to continue getting the most out of your email marketing strategy. 

What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (and Why it Matters)

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will change email because of the way it will pre-load tracking pixels before a user even opens the message. These pixels have historically been used to send user activity like date and time opened, device used, and IP address back to your email service provider as reporting data. 

According to Apple, “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.”

In the past this event would be triggered when a user opens an email and the images load within it. Mail Privacy Protection will first pre-load all content to a proxy server, including the pixel, regardless if a reader actually opened it, essentially making any behavioral data collected unreliable. 

This update will roll out to iPhone, iPad, Mac computers, and Apple Watch, enabling users to mask information such as when and where they open an email, on what device, and any other online activity linked to that device. 

So, why does this matter?

There’s a high chance that a large portion of your list are Apple Mail users. If Apple’s Mail app and iPhones weren’t such a huge part of the email landscape, we might be able to shrug this one off. Unfortunately, this change affects all of us no matter the size of your list or who you send to. 

At first read, this definitely sounds alarming. Open and click rates are bread and butter for email marketers, but there’s no reason to panic. Although this is a big change for email, it’s impact on being able to market to your lists is limited.

We know how it will work and who it will touch so we can start to predict what to do next. 

What To Expect

You guessed it — some things will have to change. What it doesn’t mean is that it’s time to scrap your email marketing plan entirely, not even close! But the good old days of putting all the pressure on open rates are gone. However, you can start now to prepare for the roll out this fall. 

We know there are a few things marketers will have to learn to live without. That means rethinking the metrics often used to measure success, being creative with some long-standing email triggers, and finding new ways to manage list health. However, these are things that teams can begin adjusting now.

Less Reliable Metrics:

  • Open rates will be inflated since many will be reported “opened” that were not.
  • Click-to-open rates will decrease but will also be unreliable because of the open data.
  • A/B testing that uses opens to pick a winner like subject line and time testing will be less reliable.

Certain Automation Triggers:

  • Resends to unopened will no longer be an effective way to push campaigns in front of more people as many users who did not open would not get the resend.
  • Triggers based on open activity such as if a user does or doesn’t open will have to be reworked.
  • Countdown timers or dynamic content triggered by an open may not display correctly.

Limited User Data:

  • Marketers will have limited insights into the time or day and email was opened, what device was used, or where it was opened.
  • Open activity can no longer be how active and inactive users are determined. This means that traditional methods of list cleaning that involve pulling all contacts who have not opened within a certain amount of time will need to be re-thought

Now you have a pretty extensive to-do list in front of you to start re-imagining what email marketing will look like for your business. Luckily, there are lots of ways to restructure and still run a successful email marketing program.

What You Can Do

Privacy protections are here to stay and, as we’ve seen consistently in new updates and restrictions, they are going to continue to expand and the world of digital marketing will have to adapt with it. Mail Privacy Protection is said to be rolling out to all users in the fall of 2021 which means the time to get creative is now.

Rethink Success Metrics

First step is to rethink how your business defines success for email. If open rates were a main driver, then explore some of the other key email marketing metrics that you’ll still be able to use such as Conversion Rate, Overall ROI, List Growth, Forwarding, and Clicks.

Clicks will continue to be a reliable metric of user engagement and can be used in a lot of ways to replace open rate. When re-thinking how to score most engaged contacts, teams can remove open rate metrics and focus on contacts that click consistently. Certain automations that rely on opens as a trigger, such as when the next email in a series should be sent, can be reworked to make use of clicked or not-clicked triggers.

Review Automations

Of course, automation triggers are not limited to opens and clicks. Now is a perfect time to do some housekeeping with any drip campaigns that use opens as a trigger. Consider how the customer journey could work if the triggers were time delayed, date-based, or based on e-commerce activity. 

Look to New Channels

We’re not waving the white flag yet, but as digital marketing changes, we’re going to have to change with it. That might mean looking to implement new tools like SMS marketing or optimizing channels like social media with robust planning and listening tools

These channels can also be used as tools to help lists grow. Utilize the power of social media to make sure lists stay fresh and active. Pairing a content strategy with paid efforts like retargeting can give you an even bigger boost in subscribers.

Ever Evolving

The great news is that, really, email marketing isn’t changing at all! The goal was always to be an arm of support in increasing sales, reaching new customers, and engaging current ones. That isn’t changing moving forward. Email still has the highest ROI with $42 returned for every $1 spent.

While we might have to get a little more creative in figuring out what customers really want to see in their inboxes, the goal is still to connect with people to create customers and brand advocates and open rates don’t change that. 

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