A Guide to navigating Apple’s email data privacy

It’s been a few months since Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection announcement, which will give Apple Mail users the option to “Protect Mail activity,” set to launch sometime between September – November 2021. It’s big news indeed, and it’s left many wondering what this means for the future of email.

A Guide to navigating Apple’s email data privacy 

We’ve been taking time as a company to understand the impacts to the marketing community, and to determine how Emma and CM Group can help marketers evolve and navigate these changes. More importantly, we’re considering the opportunity this presents to all of us all to think and engage differently. That's where this guide comes in handy- together, with the proper tools and tactics, we can all navigate these changes with a “work smarter, not harder” attitude.

Here’s what this guide covers:

  • A close look at the details of Apple's upcoming updates
  • How we move forward, tactically and strategically, in light of what we know of these changes
  • A look at some past hurdles we've seen in digital marketing, how the industry overcame them, and what lessons we can learn and apply to what's currently happening and the evolving state of privacy

The Evolving Consumer Data Privacy Landscape

How businesses interact with consumers continues to evolve. It’s important that we find new ways of creating and nurturing customer relationships that drive value. These relationships need to be beneficial to both the customer and the company.

In recent years, we've seen a lot of policy changes. Global policies and regulatory changes affect advertising technology, digital marketing, and the ecosystem at large, including the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, Canada's anti-spam law, and also California's Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). To navigate this evolving environment, we need to adapt our consumer relationships. We need to establish and grow them over time to build meaningful connections.

Our approach is gathering first-party data. We've seen this already in practice in our everyday world. For example, we give a phone number or email address in exchange for loyalty points or a discount. Consumers want and deserve to be in control of their data. And it's our mission to enable personalized, engaging connections between you and your customers in this new world.

We're going to provide examples and some ideas on how to move forward in this dynamic environment. But first, we want to give you more insight into the changes that are happening, from a more technical perspective

A Technical Overview of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection

At a high level, these Apple changes are consistent with broad trends we've seen in the email market over the last few years, including GDPR, Gmail image proxying, and open pixel filtering. The new Apple features are called Apple Mail Privacy and iCloud Private Relay. Both of these will be opt-in features for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS users. iCloud Private Relay will initially only be available to users on a paid iCloud account. Based on the user experience we've seen in the data, as well as the uptake rate for the recently released app tracking and transparency feature, we believe that many users will opt into using these privacy features.

When a user opts into Apple Mail Privacy, the native mail application will first load all images that are shown in an email when the email is downloaded to a device. This is not how it works today. Today, email images are only loaded when an email is opened, including tracking pixels. This is how we determine open rates for an email. Those images are also going to be loaded through a proxy. So this means that the direct IP address of the subscriber is not going to be available to the email service provider.

Additionally, the user agent – which is what an email service provider uses to determine what kind of email client is being used to open the device – is no longer going to be specific enough to identify the device. In addition, if the subscriber has opted into the iCloud Private Relay, that same functionality that hides the IP address from loading an email is also going to be carried over to the Safari browser.

Who is Impacted by Apple Mail Privacy Protection?

Any subscribers who are using the native Apple Mail application to read their email, be it on an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac will be able to turn these features on. Subscribers who use Apple devices but, instead, read their mail through Gmail, Outlook or on another web application are not impacted.

Initial surveys show that for consumer lists, this may be 30% to 40% of traffic, but the percentage of people who are affected will depend greatly on your specific audience.

So what does this mean for working with an email product? First of all, it means that open rates will become less accurate. Since email service providers measure opens by counting number of times that an image is loaded – and the Apple Mail privacy change will download all images when an email is opened by a device – this means that open rates will likely go up and also there will be no way of knowing if a specific subscriber has opened an email or not.

The changes regarding IP address masking will affect geo-targeting features. So if you're currently building a list based on a subscriber’s geographic region, that will become less accurate over time.

Additional areas of impact include engagement and open targeting. Using engagement criteria that target opens or automation steps that target opens will be less accurate than before. Also, device and client segmentation, building lists that use devices or operating systems, will be less accurate than it used to be.

Apple Mail Privacy Timeline

When is this all happening? Apple traditionally releases their updates in September. We will continue to monitor and test each new beta release. We believe that these changes will be widely released in Q3 of this year. And based on adoption rates from previous operating system upgrades, we expect that we will see those be quickly adopted across iOS, iPad OS, and Mac Mail.

How Apple’s Email Privacy Changes May Impact Your Marketing Strategies & Measurements

Let's step back and take a look at how these changes may impact your marketing strategies and how you measure them. As a recap, here are the three key things you need to know about how these changes will shape your efforts in the near future.

  • Reviews, referrals, events, and more. Drip series and campaigns can influence user behavior just by being in a customer's inbox. Use lengthier time windows to measure success.
  • Collect data directly from the consumer when it's important for segmentation or targeting. Ask. Don't infer about language, location, time zone, and device preferences. Previously used inference methods are becoming increasingly less reliable.
  • Consider collecting additional personal identifiers, phone numbers, and social handles, to help bridge gaps in conversion.

Where Do We Go from Here?

There are several areas that we can focus on for the future. First, going beyond opens and click-through rates. Opens and click-through rates were and remain integral to larger success metrics, such as revenue or page views. Clicks will remain a relevant metric for engagement, but they don't need to be the only success metric that you're following. Email marketers often refer to single mass sends, what we used to call “batch and blast,” as campaigns. The irony is that these sends are themselves just a moment in a series of customer experiences. The aggregate of those experiences is what matters.

As we all embark on this together,  know that our goals are centered around knowing about your business goals. We'll also be focused on making reporting on key metrics easier for you and making the integrations between your systems and our systems seamless and as real-time as possible.

Open rate and click to open rate are metadata points about consumer behavior, but they're rarely the true business goal of email campaigns. A consumer's loyalty to a product or a brand persists even if they don't visit it, consume it, or use it every single day. Deriving the type of phone or browser from a web call from a device to server, mapping an IP address to a city or a region, hinging the definition of success on long-form newsletter because it was opened but for an often indeterminate length of time, these are examples of metadata points.

Why Email Marketing Still Works

Let’s remember that, in spite of evolving privacy practices, email still works. And when it comes to building loyalty, end-users don't think of their interactions with your brand as a campaign or a statistic. Consumers rely on email as a trusted, direct medium that delivers information, news, discounts, and shopping enticement – all in a mailbox that also houses critical bills, medical alerts, and messages from loved ones.

A study in 2020 showed that email engagement was up 200% since the pandemic began, at a time when things were pretty uncertain. That's a great indicator of confidence in a medium that can cue app downloads, website logins, product reviews, travel plans, donations, event registrations, and so much more, all from a tap or a click in the palm of your hand. As our solutions continue to evolve to better tie push notifications, SMS, chat apps, and so much more to the overall workflow, we know email remains a tried and true method of communication.

Learn More About Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection

This isn't the first technological change affecting digital marketing, and we know it won't be the last. That’s why we encourage you to learn more about this important subject. We recently hosted a special webinar event with industry experts on Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection. We talked with our guests about how to prepare for these changes and what to do to manage expectations for your stakeholders. The webinar covered:

  • What iOS privacy changes mean for your day-to-day
  • Solution best practices, recommendations, and practical applications in response to the evolving conditions we live in
  • Updating your landing pages, preference setters, and subscription forms to collect informed customer segments
  • How Emma clients and partners can leverage our platforms to evolve their plans and identify success metrics beyond opens
  • Our predictions for the future of privacy and customer expectations
  • Answers to your most frequently asked questions

This webinar is available now on demand, so you can watch it any time at your convenience. And check back on our blog regularly, as we will continue to provide more updates on this and other key digital marketing and data privacy issues.

Learn more about Apple’s email data privacy here

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