Shopify Ecosystem

Email Open Armageddon? What IOS 15 Means For Brands And Email Marketers

email-open-armageddon?-what-ios-15-means-for-brands-and-email-marketers

Apple, whose Mail app has a 10.4% market share of email clients, will soon be releasing a new OS update that places control of automatic tracking of email open rates (B2C and B2B) in the hands of individual users. 

Once Apple releases the update this Fall, your email open rates will probably change, your lead scoring may need to be reviewed and reworked, and your 15-20% open rate for promotional email campaigns will be significantly different over the next six months as more people upgrade to the latest OS from Apple.

Many journalists will write stories about this update and will probably focus on the whole industry to “expose” it to consumers who may be unaware that Email Marketing Platforms provide marketers with consumer information via a transparent tracking pixel.

This is not new. It’s just different and we need to adapt, just as we are doing with the disappearance of cookies, and with the new way Facebook collects data for advertising and measurement.

Here’s What’s Going on 

Apple’s done it again. After disrupting the Mobile App Advertising ecosystem with their App Tracking Transparency update, and with Google and Apple collectively making Facebook’s data collection more difficult (as Facebook collect through the tracking pixel rather than what consumers do inside the platform) they’ve now caused a massive buzz in both email marketing and B2B lead scoring by introducing Mail Privacy Protection. This feature will make changes to the Mail app by limiting the use of tracking pixels, and masking users’ IP addresses. Because of these measures, the open tracking and location tracking of email subscribers will be severely impacted.

For my 15+ year career in CRM and digital marketing, I’ve specialized in email, and I’ve done more than my fair share of deep dives into the incredibly complex world of Email Deliverability and Email Marketing best practices. I’ve written, spoken, and presented a lot on these topics.

Typically, open rates are tracked within a Marketing Automation or Email Service Provider, or even within a Customer Engagement Platform like Emarsys, via a transparent (invisible to the consumer) tracking pixel placed inside an email. 

When an email is downloaded the pixel loads with the images in the email and sends information back to the sender about who opened, where, and on what device (email ID, customer ID, device ID, IP address, etc.). Basically, if you send an email with a tracking pixel to Alex.Timlin@myemailaddress.com and I received and opened it on an iOS device at 11:13 am on Tuesday in London, UK, this aggregated data is loaded into your email campaign reports, trend reports, and other marketing reports across your multichannel marketing automation and real-time interactions campaigns.

Apple’s latest update allows consumers more control over this tracking, and allows them to block it, if they so desire, making it more difficult to understand whether an email was opened or if it’s sitting unopened in an inbox.

Becoming More Customer-Centric

This is just another step in the trend of customer-centric and consumer-led tech companies. As identities become more important and the person who owns that identity is the consumer, not the brand, the consumer is able to decide what information you can have and what you can do with it.

For many years at Emarsys, we’ve had multiple ways of looking at consumer data and providing our clients the ability to append these data points to a single unified engagement profile that allows customers to minimize the impact of losing resolution on an individual metric.

screenshot of the Emarsys Customer Engagement Profile
Emarsys Customer Engagement Profile example

For example, our AI Engagement Scores look at email opens, email clicks, web visits, web behavior, app visits, and app behavior. So if Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection blocks an open rate, our customers still have the ability to measure the engagement and the effectiveness of their email campaigns through other points of engagement.

The way we measure emails might soon change and move closer to how we measure Facebook Ads, Google Adwords, or Mobile App Push, where there is no similar “open” feature like in email, but marketers do gain the metrics on impressions, delivery, click rates, and conversions.

Reporting Metrics Have Changed

When the iPhone went mainstream and overtook Blackberry there was a problem.  Apple started automatically downloading email images so they loaded faster for the user and improved their experience. The downside? iOS was downloading the images, not the customer, and open rates became unreliable. This was more than a decade ago, but has become more mainstream. 

Google introduced privacy features inside Gmail such as proxy servers for masking IP tracking to let customers know that, by enabling messages, they’re enabling tracking of their behavior, location, and device. Google and Microsoft also introduced unsubscription and mail organization tools (“promotional” emails in Gmail and “clutter” in Outlook).

The reality is that many brands and email marketers have obsessed over email send volumes, open rates, click rates, and conversion rates. They look at the 100,000 messages they send every day to their 100,000 person database, and they look for consistency in how they maintain or improve their send rates, open rates, click rates, and unsubscribe rates.

For example, they may desire a 99% delivery rate, 20% open rate, 2% click rate, 0.5% conversion rate, and 0.1% unsubscribe rate while continuing to acquire new email subscribers to offset the unsubscribes.

The Main Problems with Email Metrics

There are many who have a limited understanding of vital email information, such as the percentage of “engaged” subscribers (regularly open and click), “inactive” subscribers (haven’t opened a message in the last, say, two years!), subscribers who registered yesterday and opened today, subscribers who registered 90 days prior yet NEVER opened a message, or that 80% of an email database that NEVER purchased and are unlikely to ever do so.

Unfortunately, some marketers are focused on their weekly reports. They’re looking for a 20% open rate, 2% click rate, 0.5% conversion rate, and 0.1% unsubscribe rate, and they’re trying to explain deviations in the total numbers. The downside is: they’re not innovating, nor are they improving engagement rates or customer lifetime values.

I remember a long time ago Andrew Mason, the then CEO of Groupon (which was a unicorn in the tech world), was asked to respond to claims that his business model was unsustainable as customer acquisition costs spiked 485%. He said something to the effect (I’m paraphrasing), “We can turn off our acquisition and we still have our email marketing file and we need zero acquisition dollars.”

I remember this because he believed that Groupon’s email subscribers were nothing other than a commodity, with a value that allowed them to trade at a silly multiplier on the stock exchange. They didn’t have 40 million people who loved the brand, used it regularly, and wanted to engage. All they had were 40 million email addresses that he believed were HIS and that he could make money from them. 

Their business didn’t look at customers who used more than one Groupon, they were looking at increasing their subscribers, increasing their “mail file,” and having more email addresses to “increase” the value of their business.

The Data Is Not Yours

Many businesses think they OWN email addresses, that somehow these addresses are theirs to covet, theirs to protect, and when an open, click, or conversion rate drops they ask for “optimization of performance.” They don’t seek to understand why customers are not engaging with their core value proposition or looking to address it.

Apple is doubling down on privacy. It’s the cornerstone of their consumer marketing strategy and brands like Facebook aren’t pleased. Facebook took out a very ill-advised full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal saying “Apple is killing small businesses with this and doesn’t care about you, but we do” to an audience that was still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and “Russian Interference” into the electoral process.

The mainstream media has made clear how companies make money from data, and governments are looking to create additional regulations, even if they don’t understand exactly what they’re talking about (if you don’t believe me, just watch how the US Senate questioned Mark Zuckerberg).

Is This a Good Thing?

People are not products, they’re autonomous, and they have their own rights, wants, and desires. When brands fail to meet those needs (like Toys R Us in the US or Topshop in the UK) people vote with their wallets, or in the case of MySpace, with their attention.

You cannot MAKE someone pay attention if they don’t want to. You cannot MAKE someone buy something they don’t want. You need to attract the types of people who want to engage with your brand and be willing to listen to customers and adapt to changes so your brand attracts new customers, remains relevant, and grows.

You do not OWN your customer data, the CUSTOMER owns their data. That’s why Emarsys has an API and a UI that allows customers, upon a request for information to one of our clients, to access ALL of the data we hold about that customer. We also have the ability in the UI and via API to delete all the customer data we hold — as we don’t own it and neither do our clients, we’re merely using it for as long as the customer allows us to do so by continuing to provide value.

This is why Emarsys launched our Loyalty products and why we invested in making the information we create in the Emarsys Customer Engagement Platform public to clients AND to consumers, as a consumer has a legal right to ask you to delete their information.

We have a responsibility as marketers, as brands, as businesses to provide a REASON for customers to give us their data, and more importantly, we need to make certain we’re using that data to provide value to the consumer. Not only should we look at who is opening the email and how they compare to other customers, but we must focus on purchases, likelihood to purchase, browsing behaviors, opt-ins, loyalty status… and make certain all of this data is gathered directly from consumers, with their explicit consent, and managed in accordance with GDPR and CCPA

Final Thoughts

The world is changing yet one thing remains clear: consumers are willing to share their data with brands as long as the customer gains value. You can provide additional value by giving out offers and discounts, product exclusives, or just explaining in crystal-clear terms how you’re using your customers’ data to provide unique customer experiences and better product recommendations.

We have always worked on this basis, and we believe the latest steps from Apple are just one of many on a journey to customer-centric advertising and marketing practices where the customer owns the data and brands can only access it with the consumers’ consent, for as long as the customer wishes.

Handpicked Related Content

Special thanks to our friends at Emarsys for their insights on this topic.
I'm also on
Latest posts by Steve Hutt (see all)