After months of building up anticipation, Apple has recently launched iOS 15. The new OS comes with various advanced privacy features. The companies’ declared goal is giving users more control over how their data is being used – which will affect targeting for marketers. We had a closer look at the update to best prepare you for the changes.
Apple’s iOS 15 update is a game-changer for users regarding data protection. It controls and prevents data usage, data storage and data sharing capabilities for apps on iPhone and iPad. After making data protection a priority in past releases such as iOS14, Apple is expanding its efforts on adding more privacy features. Those iOS 15 features are presenting an entire industry with a completely new set of challenges. Email tracking as we know it is particularly affected by the update.
iOS 15 makes it less straightforward to track the email open rate. Apple’s own email client and email app will start to download emails in the background, unnoticed by the user. Until this update, the opening rate tracking was based on a tracking pixel (also called 1×1 pixel/pixel tag). When the message download in the background takes place without the user actively starting the process, it means that openings are counted which are effectively not openings at all. In addition, the IP address of the user is now hidden, so no conclusions can be drawn about location or any other information linked to the IP address. Keep in mind that Apple Mail has a market share of around 10%. These changes simply cannot be ignored if you want to sustain high data quality.
Another innovation that will have a major impact on marketers is Apple’s already well-documented Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), which has already caused difficulties for data collection with the traditional tracking pixel. With iOS 15, ITP prevents another hack marketers frequently used for tracking: The IP address is no longer identifiable to the sender and hence omitted for merging data or to determine the recipients’ location.
Other major new features in iOS 15 include Hide My Email and iCloud Private Relay. The latter efficiently prevents the collection of previously easy-to-gather user data. Hide My Email makes use of random email addresses. Those are forwarded to the actual email address by Apple. Since the email address is often used by marketers as the main contact identifier across different end devices and marketing channels, difficulties will arise when attempting to merge different data sources. The iCloud Private Relay is disabled by default in iOS 15 and currently still labelled “beta” by Apple. It allows the redirection of traffic subsets through a kind of “middleman” – Apple-handled servers between the end user and the service provider. They obscure personal information such as IP address and location _ quite similar to the way a VPN client works.
Prior to iOS 15, open rate and other KPIs such as the number of active users, click-to-open rate, reactivation activities or dynamically triggered content used to be based on email opens. Due to the new privacy features in iOS 15, this approach is no longer accurate enough to analyze important campaign KPIs and measure success. As you’ve seen above, the open rate is now distorted for Apple Mail users. We want to show you how to overcome those obstacles!
Many email marketers refer to recent user activity for campaign personalization and to keep their email distribution lists up-to-date. That way, users who have stopped interacting with campaign emails for a longer period of time (three to six months) are often no longer contacted after targeted reactivation measures. Due to the iOS 15 update, marketers with unchanged tracking settings will no longer be able to tell whether an email sent to Apple Mail was ever actively opened. That’s why we need a new approach. The sender can try a very simple trick: regularly place a call to action, encouraging users to interact with your content. Confirmation emails are another valid strategy to trigger engagement. Combine both measures, and marketers will be able to recognize whether the user is still interested in the content. You may see a reduced size of your email distribution lists on the one hand – but ensure good deliverability on the other.
Meanwhile, the Apple iOS 15 update also offers the chance to replace email open rates with a wider KPI framework. We recommend emphasizing the importance of clicks, conversions and website behavior. Emails are the first touchpoint tool, but it is usually the website or app that makes real conversions count.
It is crucial to capture the user percentage that regularly uses Apple Mail – be it on an iPhone, iPad, or any other Mac product – to read their emails. As we have learned, marketers can no longer rely only on email open tracking for this particular user group. The higher this user percentage is for your organization, the more distorted the KPI evaluations will be. You will be prone to misinterpret metrics such as number of active users or number of emails actually opened.
Don’t rely on benchmarks for iOS, iPhone users and especially Apple Mail users. Dive into historical user data analysis to gain a better understanding of individual device usage for your subscribers. Again, look for iPhone, iPad or any other device operation on iOS. These insights will most likely look different for every cohort and email recipient list. We advise you to analyze the email opens per operating system and for each email client. Next, you need to put the data into relation to your general subscriber lists. This allows you to see the percentage of all email opens that may be affected by the iOS update. Based on this research, advertisers can personalize campaigns specifically for iOS user groups and segment future data analyses accordingly.
While Apple’s iOS may be the first major provider to restrict email data collection so strongly, other email clients are likely to follow. We see for example that IP addresses have already been hidden by the Gmail app for a while. Marketers are therefore well advised to review their current email analysis strategy and to evolve towards more interaction-based tracking for all email clients. Mapp recommends a holistic approach to capture and use data across all relevant channels and marketing tools to collect, bundle and analyze your data.