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Here’s What We’ve Learned From Apple’s Email Privacy Changes

I believe our focus today needs to shift to the customer experience within our communications. [Maskot/Getty Images]

Marketers need to rewrite their email best practices as historic KPIs lose relevance. We’re here to help.

In June 2021, when Apple announced privacy changes in its iOS 15 release that would significantly affect email marketing, digital marketers everywhere felt more than a hint of anxiety. 

The changes went into effect in September of 2021. To sum up, almost all emails managed by Apple Mail are now automatically marked as opened even if the recipient doesn’t click on them. And users can now generate a random email address when signing up for a product or service so they don’t have to share their personal ones. 

We’re seeing open rates averaging 40-50%, including all opens (Apple Mail and others). Previously, they were about half that. The bottom line is that open rates are now an unreliable metric.

The bottom line is that email open rates are now an unreliable metric.

So what does that mean? Along with many of you, I’ve spent months pondering life within our “newest normal,” where KPIs such as emails delivered and opened aren’t as meaningful as they once were. But it’s been almost a year, we’re still here and honestly, we’re doing OK.

As a follow-up to this great post by my colleague, Rachel Boyles, I’d like to offer some thoughts on how our industry has responded to these changes.

Email strategy has come a long way

When I first started working in email marketing in 2006, we focused on questions like “What day of the week is the best day to send an email?” (Side note: It was once thought that Fridays were a horrible day to send emails. Can anyone now imagine dedicating a day of their week to not engaging in any given digital channel? The very idea makes me laugh.) 

Marketers would pride themselves not only on their “list size” but also the size of any given promotional send’s audience. And, of course, we were an industry that was passionate about KPIs such as sent, delivered, opened, clicked, unsubscribed and click-to-open ratio.

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We’ve come a long way since then with our email strategy, and we’ve done it collaboratively as an industry. We now appreciate that a small engaged audience is more meaningful than an enormous passive one. Email KPIs have been shifting to more focused conversion data. And now we have AI-powered send-time optimization to send the email at the right time for each subscriber. AI can also discern a machine-generated open from a real person opening an email.

Along the way, email marketers have also navigated other significant changes. The advent of social media had some once saying, “Email is dead.” And, in more recent memory, our industry has shifted to accommodate changes like GDPR, CASL and Gmail’s tabbed inbox. At the time each of these announcements were made, we all had our moments of panic. Ultimately, we navigated through these industry adjustments and came through the other side stronger than before.

5 principles to include in your email strategy

In light of Apple’s changes, which focus on privacy and trust, our industry is poised to adapt again. I believe our focus today needs to shift to the customer experience within our communications. We must ensure that every message sent includes each of these five key principles and effectively answers these corresponding questions:

  1. Trust. Does trust sit at the center of your every action and interaction? Have you met the needs and expectations of your reader? Do you give subscribers control over the types of messages they receive?
  1. Usability. Is your message structured in a way that is easy to read and navigate?
  2. Clarity. Does the reader know exactly what to focus on and what to do? Can they do so at a quick glance?
  3. Relevance. Is this email send what the reader needs right now? Is it helpful, useful, and targeted?
  4. Emotion. How does this touchpoint make the reader feel? Are you appealing to their heart?

5 new ways to measure results

In challenging ourselves to provide the best customer experience, we need to focus on five new measurement focus areas that will drive return on investment (ROI) and will matter in equal measure to both the business and the customer:

  1. Conversion. Go beyond basic email engagement metrics and dive a level deeper into what really matters: Did they do what you asked them to do within the call to action?
  2. Customer choice. Allow customers to choose not only the channel where they’d like to receive messaging but also the types of content that they find useful and valuable.
  3. Automation. Use all of the tools available (including AI and machine learning) to deliver messages to your customers in ways that are faster, better, and smarter.
  4. Personalization. Do you know me? If so, show me! One size fits all is being eschewed in favor of a bespoke approach.
  5. Customer lifetime value (CLV). Taking the long view elevates success metrics beyond channel engagement. Isn’t our common goal to maintain a customer for life?

The future of email strategy will depend on shifting our view from the needs of the business to the needs of the customer. When we deliver an exceptional customer experience rooted in trust with every touchpoint across every channel, our customers will want to receive our messages. Why? Because the right message within the right channel delivered at the right time is thoughtful, helpful, useful, engaging and entertaining.

Build a privacy-friendly email strategy

These practical tips will help you adapt your email marketing approach to a new era of privacy rules.

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