• Jervis Koo

Apple iOS 15 Update: Nail in the coffin for email marketing?

As an email marketer, email open rates are a metric of success in email marketing campaigns.

Achieving a high open rate could indicate that our subject line did its job to attract readers or our emails are being sent at the most engaging time of day. When it's low, it signals that our email subscribers might not even be reading our content. iOS 15’s new privacy features curb those open rates, hindering some from even appearing in personal inboxes, meaning in-email link clicks will become increasingly important.

  • Mail Privacy Protection (Free): Apple Mail will allow users to opt in to mail privacy features that mask IP addresses and block third parties from tracking email opens or other IP data.

  • iCloud+ (Subscription): An iCloud subscription with additional privacy features including a VPN-like Private Relay feature—preventing sites from tracking Safari users who opt-in and allows users to see which websites they're sending information to.

  • Hide My Email (within iCloud+): An email address-cloaking feature allowing users to give websites a throwaway email address. NB: Promotional emails sent from companies to the throwaway address will be forwarded to the user's inbox and shouldn't impact important communication. iOS 15 is Apple’s latest push to make a world without individual tracking a reality. It builds on top of already restrictive measures including those aimed at fingerprinting and iOS 14 updates that made mobile targeting capabilities more difficult. This most recent iteration complicates the process marketers use to track people through emails.

Ahead of its official launch, email marketers have already started talking about the impact iOS 15 may have on their work.

iOS 15 builds upon iOS 14, which pushed many marketers that rely on social media to build an audience to diversify their ad spend sooner rather than later.

Marketers also speculate Apple is moving away from allowing third-party tracking to build its own walled garden and ad business.

What does iOS 15 mean for email marketing?

Since its announcement, iOS 15 has been a talking point for marketers, many of which are still wrapping their heads around the changes iOS 14 delivered on mobile tracking capabilities.

iOS 15 introduces more user protection from third-party trackers, including mail privacy protection that stops email senders from collecting data via invisible pixels. The update also hides user IP addresses, limiting third-party entities’ ability to track users across the internet. The Hide My Email feature allows Apple product users to utilise random email addresses that forward to their inbox to their personal inbox, keeping personal email addresses private.

Marketers say the update hinders advertisers’ ability to measure success across email marketing campaigns. Apple has made it clear that it’s looking to end “surveillance marketing,” “where marketers can snoop on indirect interactions that consumers have with brands,” and phasing out third and second-party data, said Wayne Coburn, director of product at cross-platform marketing platform Iterable. Given that open rates will be an unreliable marketing metric in the near future, marketers will need to focus on more meaningful email engagement, such as generating clicks.

How are marketers responding to the changes?

With the iOS 14.5 update, businesses have lost some targeting capabilities with social advertising platforms, lowering their returns. The problem was that businesses previously relied on someone else for customer data.

Platforms like Omnisend, have discussed a new approach by pivoting email marketing to accommodate Apple’s latest changes. Recommendations include cleaning up current email lists to remove unresponsive contacts and start performance testing.

Some agencies are recommending clients to focus on stepping up their own first-party data and prioritise opt-in messaging where users can choose if they’d like to receive email communication from advertisers, and personalize messages so users are more likely to interact.

iOS 15 isn’t necessarily the end of the world. The update is just the latest in a series of the end of third-party data tracking, pushing advertisers to rely more heavily on first-party data.

With Apple’s crackdown and Google's upcoming changes on cookies, what should email marketers and advertisers expect?

Email deliverability will remain at the forefront of email marketing as it’s most likely not the end of the privacy battle. It will, however, mean email marketers will need to find new ways to measure email marketing campaign effectiveness.

Some marketers believe that email opens are not necessarily a measure of success and simply a vanity metric, and emphasising the need for measuring email campaigns against higher quality metrics such as link clicks, website clicks and sale conversions. While there are valid reasons to monitor opens, marketers should be focusing on meaningful metrics that drive value (and indicate revenue) for their businesses.

How Email Marketers Can Navigate Apple's Open Privacy Changes

  1. Continue following updates from Apple. As Apple's iOS 15 features are starting to roll out, there's still a lot that we're still learning about and how it could impact the ways we work with email.

  2. This change won't impact all email readers. Although Apple Mail and Apple mobile devices make up over 35% of the email provider market share globally—Google, Outlook, and other email providers haven't announced similar privacy moves—which means their open and IP data could still provide solid tracking information for email marketers.

  3. Adjusting open-rate goals. Open rates may not be going away any time soon but a large chunk of email audiences might become untrackable. Because of this, you might need to lower or pivot your open rate goals to determine what your new low, average, and high open rates are. A good exercise will be to measure post iOS15 open rates on Mail with pre-iOS15 to get an estimate of expected change after the full rollout. You might also want to consider tracking your email open rates for a month or so after the rollout to see what new averages look like based on hard data.

  4. Leveraging other email marketing data. While open rate is a key email marketing KPI at many companies, it's certainly not the only data to measure success. Consider using metrics link clicks or click-through rates to measure intent and how people are engaging with your email content. On top of leveraging KPIs that are less impacted by the changes, you can also use email tools or benchmark reports to see how your email rates compare to that of other brands in your industry.