Marketers now realize that Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will impact a wide range of email marketing functions. By generating false opens, distorting open times, and obscuring IP addresses and device information, Apple’s changes will affect everything from email analytics and deliverability to email strategy and design in a significant way. However, some marketers are unclear exactly how big the impact will be on those aspects of their email programs.
Here are five aspects that are critical to understanding the reach of Apple’s new privacy protections.
Even though the new privacy protections are being rolled out as part of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8, those protections only apply to Apple Mail apps. The Outlook app on iPhones, for instance, will still report opens, open times, device information, and location information accurately.
That’s good news for sure, but the impact on your email program is still likely to be huge because...
According to Litmus, 46.3% of all emails were opened in the Apple Mail app on the iPhone (34.2% of all opens), Macs (10.4%), and iPads (1.7%) in 2020. That said, where your subscribers open your emails doesn’t tell you the full impact of Apple’s privacy changes. That’s because...
Whether those emails are actually opened in an Apple Mail app or in another email client doesn’t matter.
For example, if one of your subscribers is accessing their Gmail account via the Apple Mail app on their iPhone, then anytime that Mail app receives your campaigns, Apple will signal to you that your campaign was opened, regardless of whether your subscriber opened it or not. If that subscriber does open the email in the Mail app, you won’t see any additional opens, just that initial false open. However, if that subscriber then goes and opens that same email in the iOS Gmail app or via gmail.com, for example, then you’ll see a second open.
Because the Mail app can access all major email accounts…
So, looking at what percentage of your subscribers have icloud.com email addresses doesn’t begin to tell you about the likely impact that Apple’s privacy changes will have on your email program. You should expect that a portion of your gmail.com, yahoo.com, aol.com, and outlook.com subscribers, for example, are going to be affected, because all of those accounts can be routed into Apple Mail apps.
And that impact will be felt fairly soon because…
In order to adopt Mail Privacy Protection, Apple users have to first upgrade to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8 when they’re released this fall. We expect that to happen relatively quickly. That’s because iOS 14 reached 90% adoption in less than 10 months, according to Mixpanel and as reported by Digital Information World.
We also expect to see rapid adoption of Mail Privacy Protection. After users upgrade their operating systems, Apple will prompt users to either “Protect Mail activity” or “Don’t protect Mail activity” the first time they open their Mail app. When US Apple users were given a similar choice to opt in or out of app tracking, about 96% opted out, according to Flurry Analytics.
Here’s a 3-minute explainer video that breaks this down visually.
While the effect on the email marketing industry will be quite significant, companies won’t be affected equally. Some companies will experience outsized effects, particularly B2C companies whose customers tend to be more affluent or more highly educated, as those groups generally favor Apple products, according to CivicScience as reported by Forbes. Other businesses will see a more muted effect, particularly B2B companies whose customers aren’t in creative and design roles.
To determine how many of your subscribers will be affected by Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, your options will vary.
Companies like Litmus and Email on Acid offer special email analytic tools that you could consider using prior to the rollout to see which subscribers and what percentage of your subscribers are viewing your emails in Apple email clients.
By using these analytics across a few campaigns, you’ll get a decent snapshot of Apple Mail app usage among your subscribers. Even if you only look at a small subset of your subscribers, you’ll be able to extrapolate those results across your entire subscriber base to get an estimate of the overall effect.
After the launch, companies will be able to assess the impact on their subscribers by looking at open and click rates. With Mail Privacy Protection enabled, Apple will be prefetching and caching any emails received by a user’s Mail app. For marketers, that will mean that the open rates of affected subscribers will approach 100%.
Knowing that, marketers could set up an audience filter to identify Apple users by flagging anyone with open rates above 90%. But even that wouldn’t be enough, says Tommy Hummel, Senior Strategic Analyst for Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency.
“For some of our retail clients, open rates in their highest ventile gets as high as 90 percent,” he says. “So, you’d also want to use click rates as a secondary filter. For subscribers who are really opening 90 percent-plus of your emails, you’d expect them to have well above-average click rates, too.”
However you size up the impact of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection on your email program, chances are it will be too big to ignore. For advice on how to minimize the disruption to your email program, check out 14 ways email marketers should adapt to Apple's Mail Privacy Protection.
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Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.