Apple’s Privacy Change to Email – And How Marketers Should Respond

Kerri Driscoll, VP of marketing strategy, Merkle

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

 Today’s column is written by Kerri Driscoll, VP of marketing strategy at Merkle.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced its intention to put additional privacy parameters in place for email with its Mail Privacy Protection feature.

Specifically, as Apple called out in a release, the feature stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information, helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks a user’s IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine location.

Although it’s too early to say how broad the ramifications of this announcement will be, there will likely be a significant impact to email-specific metrics. The native Mail app delivers almost 40% of emails on iPhone, desktop, and iPad, according to Sparkpost.

On top of that, Apple also explicitly referred to a new approach whereby all content within an email will be preloaded as opposed to dynamically served. Gmail and Yahoo have both implemented similar approaches in the past few years.

This means that the pixel indicating an open will fire, and open rates may be highly inflated. Marketers beware. Not only that, but once these images are cached, they will remain the same. Therefore, any use of real-time content or forwarded images from device to device will become stagnant.

So, what does this mean for marketers? The main takeaway is that small- and medium-sized enterprises need to prepare for a few potentially substantial implications.

Rethink your testing strategy

Send time optimization (STO) will be delegitimized in some capacity, because the email open time will be inaccurate or potentially not reported back at all.

Machine learning and tools, such as the Einstein STO features within Salesforce’s marketing cloud, will likely have to pivot in order to address this concern. A/B testing and test-and-roll will also be sidelined since as open winners will likely be at parity within messages. Also, resending to non-openers will be diluted and likely a nonviable strategy going forward.

To that end, customer journeys should be reassessed for modification based on historical open rate and decided by a click or next best message that doesn’t assume an initial read.

Reassess dynamic content

Real-time personalization technology companies have built an entire business arm dedicated to dynamic content based on location, countdowns, inventory, weather and the like. Given that Apple will cache images, this could make that dynamic information irrelevant.

Rethink your approach to focus on what you know about the customer and pull in attributes such as complementary products with an existing purchase, customer preferences or a piece of content that doesn’t assume someone has engaged with previous messages.

The point is to create some other relevant consideration that gives an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your customers.

Prepare the organization to think – and measure – differently

Whether it’s with your own team or your leadership team, start conversations now about migrating to different metrics.

Opens, for example, will no longer be a viable metric of success, because Apple will likely signify most emails as “open” when it preloads a message.

So, how do you create that deeper relationship?

Build experiences based on what you already know about your customers and manage beyond opens and clicks.

It’s challenging to lose foundational metrics, but opens are considered by many to be a vanity metric in any case. It’s time to move on. Although opens may still be an historical indicator of list hygiene, they will likely no longer work as an indicator of success.

My advice? Consider each email message to be an experience.

Use this opportunity to reach beyond the open and think about the multichannel moments and points of connectivity that will provide that next best message and experience for your customers.

Follow Merkle (@Merkle) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!

1 Comment

  1. We should correct something here. According to Litmus, only 11.5% of opens occur in the Apple Mail app, not the nearly 40% cited above. That 40% is opens on an Apple device, not the app. Only opens in the app can automatically download the open pixel, and even then, only if someone has opted into the feature.

    Given that a lot of people already open emails, the assertion that open rates will be “highly inflated” does not stand up. “Slightly” is more accurate. Remember, a lot of emails are already opened. So that 11.5% of people using the app doesn’t mean that app users jump from 0% to 100% open rate. The impact on open rates will be fairly insignificant.