With almost 40% of all people checking their emails on an iPhone — the single largest platform ahead of Gmail’s 27% — there is an obvious concern when Apple makes a change to its mail software.

And that is precisely what the tech behemoth did in June 2021, when Apple announced that it was offering Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), a new feature available with the iOS 15 update last fall that gives consumers more privacy over their personal data.

Some brands that use email heavily to connect with their customers spoke at a Loyalty360 Brand-Member Digital Roundtable and said they saw an immediate change in collecting customer data through Apple’s MPP changes.

Problems With Some Email Systems
“It almost broke our email system,” one brand retailer said at the Loyalty360 Brand Roundtable. “It overloaded us. We had to redesign entirely how we send emails and the content to combat this.”

Another brand told the Loyalty360 group that the Apple MPP “strips out IP tracking and geo-location, which impacts personalized promotions.”

The MPP changes — which were long advertised as coming — allow Apple Mail users to opt into having their IP address masked or to anonymize their email addresses when that data is requested. Industry experts say the result is an impact on the accuracy of email open rates and engagement tracking.

Tim Glomb, VP of Content and Data at Cheetah Digital, feels the MPP update creates false positives for brands when it comes to open rates. He says Apple Mail recipients may not have actually seen an email, but the brand’s email service provider (ESP) may have received a signal that they did.

“This disrupts consumer journeys that may be based on ‘email was opened’ triggers, especially transactional emails that may ask customers to potentially review, edit, or update the information to complete an order, as an example,” Glomb says. “One thing to consider is that every ESP and brand has to deal with these issues. It is not unique to their brand.”

Although disruptive, Glomb says the opportunity is to go beyond the email ‘open and start’ prioritizing ‘engagement’ in your strategy.

“Actions within an email are absolutely still trackable,” he says. “These are signals that show your audience is engaging with the content within an email.”

Further Complicating Loyalty Marketing
Cassie Preston, Director of Client Services for CRM and Loyalty at Baesman, says Apple’s MPP feature has most assuredly complicated marketing efforts, impacting behaviors that trigger email campaigns and automated touchpoints, and ultimately how we measure campaigns conducted through the email channel.

“Most brands we work with use email as one of their primary channels of customer engagement,” Preston says. “We’re advising our brand partners to be proactive about understanding and responding to customer privacy needs and the solutions like Apple’s that are brought to bear to meet those needs.”

When it comes to utilizing data models for email strategies that work post-Covid, the market has fallen considerably behind, according to Dave Andreadakis, Chief Innovation Officer at Kobie Marketing.

“Brands are using outdated models, and Apple MPP adds a whole new twist as it overinflates the results of email campaigns,” he says. “By loading content remotely in the background, the new update makes it appear that an email has been opened regardless if it was or not, seemingly resulting in more engaged customers.”
Ryan LaMirand, CEO of Prizelogic, says marketing requires balance, and without guardrails, consumers are not protected and lose their voice in how and where brands contact them.

“However, if the protections become too stringent, clients also lose out on marketing and discovery of great brands, products, and services that would enrich their lives,” he says. “As new channels and technologies arise, we must constantly tweak our expectations to maintain this balance to deliver the very best for consumers.”

Changing Customer Loyalty Metrics Around Email
Preston says MPP doesn’t change any of the fundamentals of email reputation or deliverability, so they remain focused on how to continue measuring the true impact of their email campaigns.

“First, if you’re a brand which is measuring success by looking at email clicks, conversion, and spend metrics in addition to email engagement metrics – stay the course,” she says. While open rates potentially become artificially inflated because of this latest round of Apple MPP changes, you can still trust your click, conversion, and spend data – especially if you’re monitoring behavior after your customer leaves the email and heads to your website. 

“If you’re concerned your open rates may be artificially inflated, consider auditing your current remarketing efforts, email triggers, and any customer journey-focused sends, like reminders,” Preston says. “Depending on what your data tells you, triggering based on the click or spend behavior —or lack thereof — may be a more focused approach to garnering additional engagement.”

Glomb advises brands to start using engagement within the actual email as your measuring stick and trigger for the next best actions. He says look at the actions they can take in the email.

“Brands that have been able to make email a real, sustainable, and reliable revenue channel have ditched ‘opens’ as a metric and dug deeper to understand the transactions within the email,” Glomb says. “Or even seeing a customer visit a website, open your app, or send another measurable signal, after your email was sent, so you can understand that they are engaging with your brand.”

Much like a billboard on the highway, Glomb says measuring that impact is important but can be difficult; unless you have a single source of truth and a platform that can collect these customer signals across all channels. 

“In short, think beyond the email open, change journeys to be triggered on an action — not just an open — and secure a platform that can engage, listen and understand all marketing channels in one single view,” he says.

Pay Attention to Results-Driven Metrics
Brands should be paying attention to results-driven metrics, Andreadakis says, admitting email open rates and click-throughs have always been directional indicators but not great predictors of engagement.

“Metrics that indicate that a customer did something — but not typically anything too meaningful — are becoming more like vanity metrics,” he says. “While there is some correlation to future activities after an email is opened, there are many other ways to understand customer intentions, identify needs and wants, and collect data.”

Brands need to start thinking about the type of data they want to collect, how to aggregate this information, and, above all, figure out how to have a more open dialogue with customers.

“Optimizing communication efforts using a broader set of data will allow brands to better understand their customers, build relationships, and best figure out what customers want,” Andreadakis says.

What Metrics to Measure Campaign Effectiveness?
Andreadakis says it is imperative to move away from the traditional ways of measuring impact with customers. Many companies have moved on from simply analyzing transactional data to understanding behavioral data. He says this type of data encompasses demographics and behaviors such as the number of website logins or social engagement.

“The combination of behavioral and transactional data provides a rich set of information that can be used to understand interactions or engagement performance,” Andreadakis says. “However, adding in the third set of data, emotional data creates a more holistic view of your customer. The combination of these three metrics allows brands to open a new dimension of thinking about customer performance.”

Preston suggests brands remain steadfast toward the pursuit of relevant content; if customers find you relevant, they’ll opt to remain engaged within your email program, and then click, conversion, and spend data will prove it. Brands should also consider finding new ways to measure A/B tests.

“While open rates may have been the hallmark metric to consider when doing a subject line test, looking at open rate, clicks, and conversions, may give you a better indication of whether you’re driving the behavior you’re ultimately trying to drive with your email send,” Preston says. “It’s all about knowing your customer and aligning to their ever-changing needs.”

Glomb says the key is engagement and actions taken in the email, like clicks. But he suggests that brands also listen to other signals from the same customer in different channels to see if the email influenced their actions.

“Did they open your app a day after your email send? Did they visit your website? Come in store?” he asks. “Establish a single source of truth using a platform that can collect these customer signals across all channels. and understand how they are working together.”

Will Other Email Providers Follow Apple in the Name of Privacy?
Glomb says that one thing is for sure: the landscape is changing, and successful and experienced marketers are planning for more disruption and weaning themselves off of third-party systems and partners when it comes to owning the communication channels with their customers.

“This means collecting more data from your consumers and owning that data while getting declared opt-ins along the way,” Glomb says. “Ensuring your privacy policy and terms of use define what you plan to do with that data is crucial to get right before you start.”

More and more customers are craving privacy, Andreadakis says, and technology providers will have to find additional ways to get out of customer privacy conversations and into value exchange conversations.
“Customers are willing to exchange valuable information when it benefits them,” he says. “It’s time for marketers to come out of the shadows and have open conversations with customers. We predict that companies are going to have to negotiate with customers to see what they are willing to share in order to receive a better experience.”

While Apple’s MPP is the latest privacy initiative in the Apple ecosystem, LaMirand says Apple has done a great job explaining why consumers would want to leverage this capability, but little to educate and inform on the drawbacks in personalization and frequency capping with loss of transparency in communications.”

“Apple’s MPP is a one size fits all solution, and it ignores legitimate cases where consumers do want to be known in their communications with brands,” LaMirand says. “Ideally, Apple will evolve this new capability to let consumers whitelist brands and senders they trust vs. for best communications while reserving this capability for untrusted email senders only. That would be the better of both worlds for consumers and the brands they love.”

Could Apple Collect Data Points/Email Metrics and Sell Back to Brands?
Andreadakis thinks the idea that Apple will sell data points and the removed email metrics back to the brands is unlikely to happen. The implied agreement with the customers is that this data will not be tracked and will remain out of the hands of marketers.

“Regardless, brands should focus on creating a customer experience that is constantly updated with their customer’s preferences,” Andreadakis says. “Customers do not always have the opportunity or incentive to update these preferences throughout their loyalty journey, so it is incredibly important for brands to maintain a steady dialogue.”

Kobie recommends that brands ask initial questions during program sign-up but then integrate dialogue throughout the customer journey. It can start with a simple question about interest in a category and eventually transition into preference from a collection of similar product types.

“Continuing this dialogue allows brands to build a relationship and foster engagement while still capturing a lot of important customer data,” Andreadakis says.
 

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