Natalie Cramp|September 27, 2021

iOS 15 was released last week and it contains a lot of new features. Email marketers don’t often have to pay much attention to an iOS update. However, this time it’s different. Within iOS 15 is a series of changes related to data privacy. CNBC summed this up neatly: The company will give its users the option to do away with tracking pixels, or small images that email marketers use to tell if you actually opened an email. There’s also a feature called “Private Relay” for subscribers to Apple’s iCloud storage service iCloud+ that would hide IP addresses. Finally, a feature called “Hide My Email” will let users share “unique, random” email addresses that can forward to their personal inbox, which they’re able to delete to control who contacts them.

Since details of the update were announced in June, I’ve spoken to plenty of CMOs and marketers about its implications. Surprisingly, very few people are aware of it and even less fully appreciated the impact it could have on their marketing efforts. As I’m sure many of you are aware, tracking pixels play an invaluable role in gathering data on email engagement. Without this information, tailoring an email campaign based on the recipients preferences is incredibly difficult. Our own research starkly shows that, unsurprisingly, people really dislike receiving unpersonalised emails. There are also plenty of stats showing how much personalisation improves engagement and subsequently sales. Put simply, if we remove one of the simplest tools marketers have to personalise emails, consumers will get a worse experience and sales and satisfaction will be hit. 

This isn’t a storm in a teacup – tens of millions of UK consumers regularly use Apple devices to manage their emails. Email is also still far and away the most effective marketing channel with 63% of people reporting that it is their preferred channel. In short, iOS 15 is a problem for email marketers. 

So what can you do? 

Deciding the best way to plug this information gap will depend on your current marketing set up – specifically how much customer data you have available from other sources, your data science capabilities and the nature of your marketing campaigns. 

Information rich businesses that have good data management infrastructure will be able to get their data science team to turn their attention to finding alternative ways to infer open rates and engagement. They will of course also have to adjust many of their algorithms to take account for the inaccuracies in iOS data. Some predictive models such as send time optimisers, which entirely rely on open rate data, and propensity models which use engagement data to contribute to the customer’s propensity score to buy a product, will become less useful. iOS data will have to be removed and the information plugged via clustering and deeper analysis of clicks. In any case, we strongly recommend a policy of pivoting to clicks and first party data (more on that below). 

The bigger problem is for the majority of companies that have limited marketing or data analysis resources. 

One response could be making greater use of tailored links in email campaigns to certain segments. As click rates are roughly proportional to opens you can use this data to guess the relative effectiveness of a particular email campaign. Similarly, monitoring unsubscribes can give you an idea of when email campaigns are missing the mark. Of course, neither route will really help in information emails that have few links or will help you identify the preferences of specific individuals. The simplest solution may be to directly ask your customer base. More refined questions can be added to the consent page to receive marketing communications – including when and what about. Existing customers can also be regularly surveyed to determine their preferences. 

Key takeaways:

Audit

• Review all existing practices, models, journeys and workflows to understand where this will

impact you e.g. welcome journeys, VIP journeys, follow-up journeys etc.

 Adapt

• Alter or enhance workflows, predictive models and reporting to optimise for metrics further

down the engagement funnel e.g. clicks, sales, web visits.

Embrace zero party data

• There is a huge opportunity to engage in a two-way dialogue with your customer and learn

more about them, their preferences and behaviours – you shouldn’t be afraid to ask.

The tracking pixel ban is indicative of a wider trend in marketing and should also serve as a warning shot to businesses. It’s becoming increasingly important to focus on driving the consumer to action rather than relying on passive measures such as opens and dwell. First and zero party data are crucial components of this trend, as is making use of data science capabilities. With online privacy increasingly an issue on which Governments and big tech feel they need to exert greater influence, what is and isn’t allowed in marketing will continue to shift. Businesses that embrace this change and invest in technology and skills, will be best placed to adapt.

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