Illustration of person on laptop inside an Apple logo bubble.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Makes Email Marketing (and Us) Better

One of the most successful tools in the marketer’s arsenal is email marketing. With an ROI of $42 to every $1 spent, advertisers and brands are understandably freaking out about the impact that Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection may have on email marketing.

Later this year, Mail Privacy Protection will be made available with the releases of macOS Monterey, iOS 15 and iPadOS 15. This is an opt-in service for the Mail app that will allow consumers to “hide” their emails from third-party senders. In other words, email marketers will not know when or where a recipient opened an email and what device they used. They will also not be able to track online activity linked to their IP address.

Although Mail Privacy Protection only affects Apple’s Mail app, its rank as the #1 email client is something we cannot ignore. And considering that, based on previous behavior, 96% of consumers are expected to opt-in to these privacy protections, we need to quickly adapt and plan our next move.

The good news

Our team at PPO&S applaud these types of consumer protections. It is high time organizations take our privacy concerns seriously. Who isn’t weary of companies exploiting our personal information to fill their coffers, right?

But we also recognize that not everyone is out to profit at the expense of privacy and there are many organizations, such as socially minded nonprofits, that use the data they get from their email campaigns to gauge the success of their communications in hopes of bettering how they connect with people and inspire them to make a difference.

The good news is that Mail Privacy Protection won’t affect the efficacy of email marketing (keep launching those eBlasts!). It will only affect the data we receive and how we interpret it. And because people’s privacy matters, we accept this shift in user data management and expect other services like Gmail and Outlook to follow suit.

What we lose

So, what exactly do we lose with Mail Privacy Protection? Reliable open rates for starters. This alone will have a negative impact on email marketing tactics such as resending emails to anyone who has not opened an email, sending different email messages to recipients with higher open rates, and performing A/B tests to select the subject line that gets the most opens.

Depending on how many recipients are using Mail, marketers will see in their reports sharp increases in email open rate and decreases in click-to-open rate (the number of unique clicks to unique opens). These datasets will lose their accuracy and essentially become obsolete.

Other data we won’t have access to includes the time the recipient opened their email, the device they used, and where they opened it.

But is any of this data necessary for a successful email marketing campaign? Maybe or maybe not.

The truth is that email tracking data has not always been fully reliable. Spam filters, for instance, can open emails and “click” links behind the scenes to verify the email is safe for the recipient. The result is skewed data that looks no different from a real person engaging with their emails. Of course, there are ways to decipher the validity of the data. But that is difficult to do when one has a mailing list of thousands and hundreds of thousands of contacts. That is why we must look at other factors to measure outcomes, like clicks to web pages where people can take further action, such as making a purchase.

What stays

There is nothing worse than seeing a recipient open an email without clicking a link. If the recipient does not take action, the best subject line and the highest open rate mean absolutely nothing (well, it means the campaign is a failure). Fortunately, Mail Privacy Protection will not disrupt the ability to track click-throughs. This is important because by maintaining this tracking feature, we can measure one of the most vital key performance indicators (KPIs): conversion rate.

Other KPIs that are not impacted by Apple’s privacy protections include the mailing list growth rate, the number of times an email is shared or forwarded, and the overall ROI connected to email marketing.

What we gain

The future of email marketing is not all so bleak. The disruption (albeit a positive one) that Apple has brought on is causing us to have a moment of pause and contemplation about how we use and exchange people’s data. It nudges those of us who care about our privacy to also consider the value of our neighbor’s privacy. What we gain in the end, I contend, is a healthier and, possibly, more ethical relationship with our target audience’s data. And that will only make us better people and smarter marketers.

By Carlos Centeno Associate Creative Director