Don't Panic! Practical iOS 15 Mitigations for your Email Strategy
Apple's pro-privacy approach to their eco-system will soon take another step with the release of iOS 15 and, with it, a bunch of new features aimed at email. These features have been widely covered by the industry, with some great write-ups available from Litmus, Bloomreach and Oracle - check them out.
Now we know what the latest Apple software update will include and what will change for marketers globally, let’s take a look at some real-world mitigation strategies that you and your organisations should start considering.
We’re not going to use the word ‘solutions’ as there’s no denying that the email channel is going to take a hit from these updates, but this damage can certainly be minimised and used as a kick-start towards a more sophisticated marketing strategy.
1. Estimate your open rates
Stick this one in the 'stop-gap' category; a great option for supplementing your performance analytics and reporting while you work on longer-term and higher effort changes.
At the most basic level, you may take an average of your Apple device open rate and apply that to reporting future sends. However, a smarter approach would be to look at a relative metric, that isn't affected by Apple's changes, like an average click-to-open rate. This then allows you to take the click performance of a future campaign and infer an open rate. You can combine this approach with another for a really strong estimation: relative open performance for non-Apple devices. Do this by working out, for a particular audience size and distribution, how many non-Apple opens equate to an Apple open. Together, these calculations should give you a trustworthy estimated open rate range.
Most email marketing platforms provide the facility for calculating this sort of information, either directly or by exporting and manipulating in Excel. The further back in time you can go with this analysis, the better idea you will have of your performance trend line, making future estimations more accurate. Over time, estimates will become less accurate as prior assumptions fail to take into account actual behavioural changes amongst your Apple device population, but this is still a good temporary measure to take.
2. Expand your engagement segmentation (a lot!)
If you’re like most brands, you probably use your open events as a hygiene metric, sending the majority of your email campaigns only to those who have recently opened. Until now, this technique provided a win-win for marketers and customers, with consumers receiving fewer, more relevant emails and marketers easily maintaining their sending reputation and deliverability. Sadly, the loss in the reliability of this mechanic is perhaps the biggest impact of Apple's changes.
So, how else can we measure engagement? Clicks will remain viable, however, given the relatively lower rate of click events you receive versus open events, on its own, it would eventually lead to an uncomfortable drop in overall audience size. After all, emails can have an impact and be relevant to the customer without seeing a click. Fortunately, a new breed of marketing platforms has been gaining popularity in recent years, offering an alternative: customer data platforms (CDPs) and customer engagement platforms (CEPs). These platforms vastly expand upon the amount and types of events that can be associated with a customer profile, including website sessions, mobile app activity and engagement events on other channels. These platforms provide a means for developing a composite engagement model that tracks activity on a wide range of customer touchpoints.
How you go about defining a composite engagement model will be unique to your business. You should define the importance and weighting of different types of events based on their relative importance and statistical importance to your business. And, if you don't already, consider offering customers the ability to set their channel preferences individually, like choosing to receive notifications via email or SMS. This strengthens the case for tracking engagement more generally, in combination with communicating over a customer's preferred channels.
3. Take another look at send times
Send time optimisation (STO) provides marketers with the ability to predict when a customer may open, or otherwise engage, with an email based on that customer’s previous email engagement. STO tools have grown to be a common feature within most marketing automation platforms, with even entry-level tools like Mailchimp providing the feature. After the iOS 15 release, STO algorithms will lose the main source of information used to calculate send times. If you're a user of STO, you should be asking your provider how they intend to update their algorithms to compensate for the lack of open event data, and what they predict the impact will be on accuracy and performance. Just like customer engagement data, your CDP or data warehouse platform may be able to step in with alternative data sources to generate predictions based on different events, like website or app sessions.
On-open personalisation, where email image content is generated and loaded at the time of open, represents a loss of capability without a suitable alternative. It's fair to point out that this will still work for non-mail app devices, but given these services tend to be relatively expensive, you should be conducting a cost/benefit analysis of using such features with a significantly reduced potential audience.
Sadly, the world of timely and relevant email looks likely to take a hit from Apple's changes. The businesses that will be least affected will be those who can act upon customer interactions in real-time, ensuring timeliness via alternative feedback mechanisms.
4. Think about how you manage offers
You've heard this one before. You're running a welcome campaign for new signups which contains an offer code: HELLO10!, providing 10% off their first purchase. Apple's new Hide My Email feature, which allows customers to easily generate proxy email addresses associated with their iCloud email address, provides a convenient way for customers to repeatedly claim such an offer without having to create alternative email accounts. You might consider alternative means of account identification, like a mobile number or an address, or you could try gating offers behind a first purchase, ensuring the customer must use a consistent account to claim an offer.
It’s also worth thinking about how you present your offer codes in emails. You could take a leaf out of deal-aggregation sites and put the offer code behind an email click, presenting the offer onsite using a web personalisation tool like Monetate or Maxymiser, rather than directly in an email. This provides a strong indicator of who in your audience has accessed the offer for the purpose of redemption reporting and allows you to isolate non-clickers for reminder campaigns.
5. Update your reminder targeting
Speaking of reminders, carefully consider whether this remains an effective strategy for your business. Typically, a reminder campaign targets those who were sent, but didn’t open, the first email. Apple's changes will mean that reminders built on the same logic will never be sent to Mail app devices, as they'll report an open up to 100% of the time.
In the case of offer-based reminders, you might want to think about basing your reminder logic on a click, or perhaps exclude customers who have redeemed the offer, if you’re able to make the data available to your email sending platform. For non-offer reminders, you could base the logic on a conversion metric like a site visit or a transaction. Finally, don’t forget that reminders can be incorporated as secondary content in other emails, like including an abandoned basket content block in the next outgoing newsletter campaign.
6. Change the channel
Call us cynical, but we're not sure it's a coincidence that Apple's iOS 15 changes strengthen the case for businesses to maintain a mobile app in Apple's app store! Mobile apps provide for an even greater degree of tracking than web browsers and are favoured by 85% of consumers for reasons like consistency of experience and reliability. The fact that an iOS app is a channel dedicated entirely to the exact audience affected by these changes makes it an obvious choice for pivoting your activity, particularly if a significant proportion of your database uses an Apple device.
Really though, any channel that provides a means for reaching your customers and which provides feedback to optimise your marketing efforts holistically should be considered. If you use a CDP, you'll have a much easier time integrating multiple channels together and combining the resultant feedback into actionable data. We've mentioned CDPs a few times to this point and it's worth reiterating their importance in Apple's new world. If you don't already use one, we’d highly recommend that you start looking.
7. Expand on your deliverability assessment toolkit
The traditional method of comparing open rate variances across major ISPs to determine inbox placement challenges will no longer be reliable for Apple iOS users. It's therefore really important to explore a range of resources and tools which, in combination, can help assess and proactively trigger alerts to potential problem areas. Registering with ISP services, for example Outlook.com SNDS and junk mail reporting program, gives you access to detailed data about the health of your IP. Over and above this, using an inbox placement tool like GlockApps, gives you an estimated indication of inbox placement across each ISP.
It's interesting to consider that with the introduction of email-related privacy features in iOS 15, Apple is cementing itself as one of the largest providers of email services in the world. Anyone who has worked within the email industry will tell you a lot can and does go wrong with sending an email, and Apple inserting steps into this complex workflow is likely to cause teething problems. Will customers feel the same way about enabling these features if it prevents them from accessing emails? Or if it causes a drop in email quality and an increase in 'spam'? Only time will tell. The point being, how all this works is likely to evolve over time. We only need to look to Apple's now-delayed introduction of child protection features to see how sensitive the issue of privacy is amongst consumers, and how quickly Apple can be convinced to change course when confronted with negative press coverage. And on the other side of the coin, will we see other players in the industry adopting similar features to those that Apple are introducing? Given Apple's history in setting industry standards, and the obvious positive reception from consumers that privacy-related features bring, we think so. Perhaps through this competition and by variation of approach, we will settle upon solutions that are able to find a happier medium between end-user privacy and inbox quality.
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