When a marketing technology has been around for as long as email, it’s all too easy to visualize a sudden change in the eco-system, such as Apple’s recent iOS 15 Mail Privacy Protection update, as a potential extinction event. However, if we learned anything from previous “catastrophes,” such as the implementation of Gmail’s promotions tab in 2013 or GDPR in 2018, we should already know that email marketing is far more resilient than that.
Thankfully, email marketing is not a dinosaur, and Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection update is far from being the proverbial meteor that is about to slam into your subscribers’ inboxes. However, the update reflects a significant evolutionary step in the industry, meaning change is coming — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection?
If you’ve read of the recent “death of email marketing” articles, you’ll know that Apple started rolling out its Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) update on September 20, 2021, via the Mail app on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 devices. The update will also be coming to MacBooks later in the year with the release of macOS Monterey.
MPP does two things. It hides a subscriber’s IP address so that senders cannot link it to their online activity or discover their location. It also prevents marketers from seeing if and when an email has been opened. It does this by automatically loading remote content, including tracking pixels, to a proxy server before sending it to recipients. This update means any emails sent to an MPP-enabled device will automatically be flagged as opened, even if the recipient doesn’t open the email themselves. It also means marketers will not receive data relating to multiple opens because there will only ever be one open event recorded.
Understandably the loss of such an important metric like open rates is causing considerable consternation in email marketing circles — particularly as Apple now accounts for nearly 50% of email clients.
When will this start impacting open rates?
MPP is already skewing email marketing open rate data. Although its impact will be gradual, Apple’s market share of the inbox environment means that it cannot be ignored even at this early stage. Unfortunately, this means that your open rate data is a less reliable metric.
MPP is not currently the default setting on iOS 15 devices, with users prompted to opt-in to the update when updating their device’s operating systems. However, as MPP is positioned as a clear choice between “Protect mail activity” against “Don’t protect mail activity,” MPP adoption is expected to be high.
Previous iOS releases have shown us that 50% of users update their devices within the first month of release. This figure reaches approximately 90% within six months. This widespread adoption means that marketers will immediately see MPP artificially increasing their open rates significantly in the coming weeks, with the metric becoming increasingly unreliable in Q4, 2021, and beyond.
How should email marketers react to MPP?
It’s clear that open rates are no longer as reliable a metric to measure email marketing success. Therefore marketers should look to more “downstream” metrics such as click-through rates, conversions, and revenue-per-subscriber rates. Falsely reported opens will also impact the day-to-day management of campaigns and lists.
Marketing automation workflows that trigger sends based on opens will have to be adapted, as will any copy that references opens. Marketers will also have to reconsider how open rates influence decisions over the A/B testing of subject lines, send-time optimization, list hygiene, re-engagement campaigns, and CRM integrations where sales teams are prompted to contact subscribers who have opened a campaign.
MPP will also negatively impact interactive campaign elements. This includes real-time personalization tools requiring location information from IP addresses and countdown timers, which will reflect the time Apple pulls the content onto its servers and not the time a subscriber opens a campaign.
Undoubtedly, MPP will require marketers to enter a period of campaign maintenance, but this doesn’t mean that business has to grind to a halt. Instead, while marketers adapt to the changes, they can adopt a “business as usual” approach to sub-sets of their lists to ensure a continuation of service. The most obvious first strategy would be to create segments of subscribers entirely outside of the Apple eco-system.
Will MPP make us better email marketers?
If we are honest with ourselves, open rates have always been a borderline vanity metric. Being forced to look for engagement beyond a good subject line (which may just be an exercise in clickbait) will undoubtedly make us more focused and, therefore, successful marketers.
MPP will force marketing departments to take email marketing more seriously. The moment when email marketers start reporting data that demonstrate a real benefit to the organization beyond the anecdotal evidence of a decent open rate is when businesses begin to understand the value of email and prioritize their investment in the channel.
We all know that email marketing is about building relationships, and relationships need to be work at to be successful. Without IP addresses, marketers will need to get to know their subscribers better, collecting more valuable data (such as ZIP codes) to personalize campaigns more accurately. It will also force greater implementation of tracking pixels on websites to deliver the richer data sets required in a post-MPP world.
How will the industry react?
In the short term, we can expect email marketing service providers to manipulate open rate data — perhaps looking at creating a benchmark figure by analyzing open rates across email clients outside of the Apple environment. Although this won’t be a highly accurate metric, it will highlight variances in campaign sends and allow marketers to make judgment calls based on this “nice to have” data.
In the longer term, we may see the introduction of new metrics based on multiple factors such as valid open rate data, clicks, and website activity. As marketers, we’ve been calling out for this “complete view of the truth” in our reporting metrics for years. So MPP might just be the evolutionary tipping point that breaks email marketing out of its silo and gives us the data we deserve.
Email marketing is as powerful as ever
It’s important to remember that any email sent in the post-MPP era has the potential to be just as powerful as one sent prior to its implementation. As long as your email content is relevant, engaging, and timely, MPP will not have any impact on the perceived value of your emails to your subscribers or damage your conversion rates.
The fact that a company like Apple continues to invest in the evolution of email demonstrates that the channel is far from extinct. As email marketing evolves, it becomes more targeted, more engaging, and potentially more profitable. So don’t think of MPP as another nail in email marketing’s coffin. Instead, think of it as the wake-up call you need to re-invigorate your love for a medium where complacency has always been the greatest threat.
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