The impact of Apple iOS 15 launch on email marketers

Updated: November 06, 2021 4:22 PM

Apple’s Mail app will hide the user’s IP addresses and locations from tracking pixels

Marketers have to find new ways to identify preferences

By Raviteja Dodda

For long, this is the challenge that marketers have been grappling with – how to make subscribers open the mail and how to give an enhanced email experience. An opened email is half the battle won, marketers believe.

‘Open rate’ has been the gold standard for measuring the effectiveness of email marketing. Simply put, an email open rate for a brand is the percentage of its subscribers who open a specific email. Mathematically speaking, email service providers (ESPs) say open rate is a ratio of number of people who open the email by the number of emails sent to the same set that did not bounce.

While this is challenging enough to accomplish, here’s another challenge that marketers have to contend with – the launch of Apple iOS 15. An update in iOS 15 is said to act as a barrier to getting accurate open rates from email subscribers who use Apple Mail. Needless to say, this will have a widespread impact on measuring email performance.

Lately, we’ve been hearing deep sighs from the marketing departments of various brands about the launch of the Apple iOS 15 and its effect on open rate measurement. Although it will mean a transformed email marketing scenario, it’s definitely not the end of the road for marketers and marketing strategists.

The first lesson to be learnt before we dive into the topic is that no one metric should call the shots in a brand’s marketing strategy. And open rate measurement is no exception. While every good marketer does look for a high email open rate to determine the success of her email marketing strategy, the reality is that technology keeps evolving and there are bound to be new challenges in the branding battlefield. Therefore, multiple metrics is the way to go such as whether the timing of the email was appropriate or the content relevant.

How Apple iOS 15 will impact open rates

To put things in perspective, let’s look at the launch of Apple’s new feature that could be a deterrent to the use of open rate metrics. It’s one of several major changes to email that Apple is implementing to help protect user privacy and prevent emails from being tracked by marketers.

Statistics point out that, globally, 35.2% of email opens occur on a mobile device. Apple’s Mail app will hide the user’s IP addresses and locations from tracking pixels. All email images will be run through proxy servers to hide the information. This will affect all Apple Mail app users on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and MacOS Monterey devices.

The new update from Apple will give users two divergent choices:

  1. Protect mail activity, hide IP address and privately load all remote content
  2. Don’t protect mail activity, show IP address and load any remote content directly on the device

Of course, most iPhone users will select the first option, leading to three primary effects:

  • Mail privacy protection will disable the capacity to accurately track open rates. Open rates have been tracked through a tiny invisible image embedded in the email code. When the email is opened, that image loads and the loading of the image tells the sender that their email was opened. Now, with the Mail Privacy Protection option, Apple Mail can pre-load the image, other scripts, and code data when the email reaches the inbox, rather than when it’s opened. The result: it will show an email as open, even if one has not actually opened it. So, the new challenge is: have customers actually opened the mail?
  • Private relay will hide the user’s IP address while browsing on Safari. Apple will implement this by re-routing the server request through a cyber maze that will conceal the identifying headers and IP address. This will prevent marketers from sending geographically-targeted emails.
  • Hide my email will allow users to use a proxy email address that will route messages to the real one, but the email sender will be in the dark about the subscriber’s real address. Even after the recipient has stopped using the proxy email address, it will show up on the business’s email list, and businesses will lose the opportunity to retain the user before they leave.

Tweaking brand email strategy to prepare for the change

Well, it’s not all bad news. So, marketers relax!

This new feature from Apple will definitely not sound the death knell for email marketing. There is a roadblock ahead for sure, but it’s nothing that great technology muscle cannot overcome.

While we say that open rates are a great measurement for engagement, there are more precise ways to segment emails and determine what’s working. Marketers can narrow it down to these metrics and ensure that email marketing efforts remain effective.

Use other engagement metrics

Marketers have to rework their rate goals and benchmarks. If mail open rates are gradually losing value, then marketers can turn to clicks, conversions and unsubscribing which will define the active customers.

Currently, A/B tests on subject lines are gauged by measuring either open rates or click-to-open rates. But soon, email marketers will have to look for other measuring options like the impact of subject lines based on more important metrics like conversions. Another way is to surmount the challenge and turn it into an opportunity to divert attention from the subject lines to the message content.

Create customer segmentation criteria

Marketers may be surprised to know that customers who hanker for privacy also want personalisation now. Then isn’t this the best time to build client relationships? This entails making the best use of data to understand what is relevant to customers. This could reap better benefits as customers have actually taken an action on the marketer’s mobile app or website instead of just opening their email. Hence, this leads to better conversions.

Marketers have to find new ways to identify preferences. In the current scenario, mail personalisation has become important as it reduces the number of emails people receive and are more relevant to customers. Earlier, for subscribers who had indicated clear interests in certain topics, marketers could use open rates to segment content based on the data collated. But now, marketers can use other routes to reach out to their target customers by using survey data, prior purchase patterns, click behavior, and other information to create the same types of segments. This helps marketers personalise their communication to customers to an extent and they do not end up sending emails that aren’t relevant to their target list.

Use location-based email marketing

Let us assume there is a live event in a particular area and marketers have to find a way to email the segment of customers who live near the area. What is pertinent here is acquiring the location information of subscribers. This can be done through means such as surveys or can sign-up forms that ask for the location. The thumb rule here is to be upfront with customers and request them to share their location data via the mobile app or the website. Transparency helps. More importantly, marketers have to be clear about their privacy policy and assure customers know that their data is in safe hands.

Don’t abandon email

The key takeaway here is email is still one of the best ways to communicate with the audience. It continues to be an effective marketing channel and an integral part of a connected omnichannel marketing strategy, and this isn’t going to change any time soon.

Like they say, don’t let an obstacle stop you; climb over it, go through it or work around it! Marketers must work around the email strategy, find multiple metrics, and adopt clever ways to engage with the customer.

(The author is CEO and co-founder, MoEngage. Views expressed are personal.)

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