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Adapting to iOS 15: How Should Email Marketers Handle Apple’s New Privacy Changes?


If you’re here, you likely already know Apple included some significant privacy updates with the  iOS 15 release on September 20th which have had a direct impact on email marketers’ ability to track and manage how subscribers are interacting with emails. Hopefully, you’ve quickly moved through the stages of grief, have settled nicely into acceptance, and are now ready to tackle these changes head-on and come up with an actionable plan.

While iOS 15 included various updates, email marketers should be aware of key changes Apple is labeling “Mail Privacy Protection.” Before the dread sets back in, keep in mind that opting into Mail Privacy Protection is optional. Also, although Apple currently holds 47% of the mobile device market, Apple Mail itself is only used by 13% of device owners. This means someone with an iPhone who uses the Gmail app will not be affected and someone who uses Apple Mail but chooses not to opt into Mail Privacy Protection will not be affected either. Further, these changes do not apply to anyone checking their Apple mail via desktop.

Where to Start?

Now that the initial collective panic has worn off it’s time to take account of our current email marketing strategy, look for ways to innovate and improve, and, most importantly, adjust our mindset. This is not the end of email, and the sun will still come up tomorrow even if we don’t know whether our Apple subscribers opened that message with the perfect subject line that we took a week to craft. The adjustments we’re forced to make now might give everyone the push needed to stop relying so heavily on open rates and focus our efforts on more meaningful engagement metrics anyway (which might be quite overdue). Besides, email marketers don’t get a say in Apple’s privacy changes so all we can do now is adapt and adjust. That said, a support group might not be a bad idea either.

Read on for details about Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection changes, what you need to be aware of, and what you can do now to prepare.

Hide My Email

This feature gives Apple users the option to create what is essentially a “burner” email address that is randomly generated and meant for short-term use. Emails sent to this temporary address are then forwarded to the end user’s actual email address. This functionality gives Apple users more control over their personal email addresses being shared or sold across the web without their consent, enabling added privacy and potentially reducing the number of spam emails in their inboxes.

Although this might be a handy option for Apple users, it presents a problem for marketers. Apple users will be able to legitimately opt-in to a marketing list but then delete that temporary email address later, resulting in a hard bounce and potential impact on sender reputation if not addressed. This could make subscriber acquisition tracking tricky and skew numbers for bounce rate and list churn as well.

How to Prepare

  • Make sure you have processes in place to remove hard bounces from your list to protect your sender’s reputation. Your ESP might handle this automatically.

  • Think about ways to encourage subscribers to opt-in with their real, permanent email addresses by providing value and long-term incentives beyond a welcome email coupon for new signups.

  • Give increased focus to your current SMS opt-in strategy to collect an additional way to stay in touch with customers if they do decide to subscribe to your email list with a temporary address.

Remote Load Content

Mail Privacy Protection also provides users with the ability to cache images in emails as an additional layer of privacy and security. When enabled, all remote content in emails will be downloaded in the background regardless of how someone interacts with the email, and the invisible tracking pixel used to determine email opens be downloaded by default. Yes, that means we’ll no longer know if or when a subscriber opened an email.

You’ll also want to keep this incoming change in mind if you currently serve any kind of real-time content to your subscribers (think countdown timers and inventory counters). In this case, the dynamic image is loaded by Apple in the background ahead of time, never refreshed, and may not be served to the subscriber until much later, potentially rendering the content irrelevant or outdated.

Preparing for this change’s pending effect on open rates has likely been the most anxiety-inducing for email marketers. After all, open rates have been the cornerstone of reporting metrics since the beginning of time. Keep in mind that while this change is not going to affect your entire list, it is still expected to result in a noticeable increase in open rates.

So, what can we do about our beloved open rates? While open rates have historically been used as an indicator of overall interest, this might be the push we all need to take a step back and look at engagement more holistically. Although we might not want to admit it, we all know that email openers may not be email clickers or website converters and that’s ultimately where we need to shift our focus to see results.

Still need someone to talk you off the ledge? Remember that we’ve never been able to monitor SMS opens yet this channel continues to be widely used with great success. If you’re lucky enough to have a colleague in the SMS space, now is a great time to reconnect with them and ask for their advice and insight into managing reporting and strategy on a channel without open tracking.

How to Prepare

  • Notify anyone involved in compiling or reviewing email metrics about this upcoming change to avoid surprises and manage the team’s expectations.

  • Audit your current workflows, rethinking anything that currently uses email opens as a metric, and look to other data points for a more accurate measure of subscriber engagement. Likely culprits here are list cleanup processes, engagement recency segments, and decision splits in customer journeys.

  • Avoid leveraging any time-sensitive dynamic content in your emails.

  • Revise your regular reporting and start shifting focus away from open rate, moving toward other measures of customer engagement and intent instead. If you haven’t done so already, review and compile historical reporting to establish your baseline metrics now.

Mask IP Address

Last on the feature list, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection will route remote content downloads through proxies to hide the end user’s IP address. If you leverage IP address data as part of your email marketing strategy, be aware that Apple’s proxy network will assign a random IP that only corresponds to the region that the device is in rather than the actual IP address. Marketers who rely on IP addresses for geo-segmentation need to be aware of this change and how it could affect the accuracy of a customer’s personal profile. Rethinking any location-based workflows now will ensure a seamless transition as Apple users opt into new iOS 15 privacy features.

How to Prepare

  • Review your current strategy to determine if this piece of the puzzle is something you need to account for, then revise processes as needed.

  • Be careful with any personalized content that relies on IP addresses to determine location.

  • Consider collecting location information from subscribers via a more reliable method such as a subscriber profile center.

What’s Next

We won’t sugarcoat it—adjustng to Apple’s privacy changes and finding time to complete the work required to adapt might not be an easy task, especially if you’re a team of one (we’ve all been there). It’s best to start thinking through your action plan now and allow plenty of time to work through each piece of your ESP and any related marketing integrations methodically to verify all aspects are accounted for. If you are struggling to get buy-in from decision-makers who are wondering if you really need to address Apple’s iOS 15 changes, frame the process as a comprehensive account audit that can be used to identify other areas for improvement too. Everyone loves a quick win, right? Also, it wouldn’t hurt to mention that Google may introduce a similar set of privacy enhancements for the Android crowd soon which would make the need for process changes even more urgent. So, get your checklist ready, stock up on your favorite snacks, and dive in. iOS 15 is live and it’s here to stay.

If you’re not sure where to start, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help. At LiveArea, a Merkle Company we’ve worked with countless clients to refine cross-channel digital marketing tactics, optimize marketing automation efforts, and develop data strategies that drive results. We’d love to partner with you too.


Krissy Argier is the lead Email Marketing Specialist for LiveArea, a Merkle Company


Riding the B2B Wave

Riding the B2B Wave

It’s no secret that a new generation of business-to-business (B2B) customers is rising in the ranks of your clients’ organizations. Raised as “digital natives,” they expect a consumer-like experience while transacting business online. Now is the time to take B2B eCommerce in your business to the next level. But how?


Riding the B2B Wave

Riding the B2B Wave

It’s no secret that a new generation of business-to-business (B2B) customers is rising in the ranks of your clients’ organizations. Raised as “digital natives,” they expect a consumer-like experience while transacting business online. Now is the time to take B2B eCommerce in your business to the next level. But how?


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