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Apple Mail privacy news spooks email marketers, newsletter creators

Honestly, I'm a little spooked, too. And I'm a marketer who also likes data privacy.

Apple Mail privacy news spooks email marketers, newsletter creators Blog Feature

Liz Moorehead

Editor-in-Chief, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast

June 16th, 2021 min read

Hoo boy, OK. If you use email marketing and newsletters as part of your broader inbound marketing strategy, grab a pair of water wings and find yourself an emotional support animal to cling to.

Because as someone who writes our thrice-weekly email newsletter, THE LATEST, this bit of news about Apple Mail is a lot to digest.

"In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location."

What does this Apple Mail privacy update mean?

Basically, if one of your subscribers uses Apple Mail as their email consumption program, you're going to get a lot less intelligence out of their activity and/or interaction with the emails you're sending them, if there's an invisible pixel in the tracking picture. 

You won't know when they open an email.

You won't be able to track any activity tied to figuring out their location.

Ouch.

This will go into effect this fall with the rollout of iOS 15, when Apple Mail users will be prompted with the following:

apple-mail-privacy-ios-15

Source

By a show of hands, how many of you opt to protect your data when prompted like this, like it's a reflex? I know I do. I know a lot of people who do. And this is the problem for us when we put on our email marketer hats, right? We won't know what we won't know about the people who are consuming our email content and how they interact with it (or take action as a result of it).

Why I struggle with data privacy updates like this

Not everyone has a positive opinion about marketers and advertisers who rely on email marketing tracking:

“The advertising industry has addicted itself to tracking, prioritizing bottom-of-the-funnel metrics at the expense of great content and creative. It’s tragic,” said Alex Kantrowitz, author of the free, ad-supported newsletter Big Technology. (Source)

OK, to be fair, I know a lot of advertisers are like this, but not all of us. As both a digital marketer and a human being, I want two things:

  • I want data from my users to better understand what they're doing, what actions they're taking, and what actions they aren't taking. 
  • I want my data protected from nefarious companies who want to spy on me and what I do like Big Brother.

On the surface, you may think these two desires are mutually exclusive. But, as a not-so-nefarious content marketer, they aren't entirely.

The reason being is that, when I have my marketing chapeau on, I'm not using the data I have about our subscribers' click-throughs and action-tracking to be a creepy-creep stalker.

🎓 IMPACT+ course: Inbounder's guide to email marketing

Instead, I'm using that data to adapt our digital products (content, email newsletters, and so on) to better suit the needs and wants of our audience. For example, THE LATEST has changed a lot since it initially launched almost three years ago, and the changes were not arbitrary.

We made those changes based on the data at a scale we were able to collect of how people were interacting with the newsletter – because their actions, and actions not taken, speak directly to their likes and dislikes. 

When we, as marketers, content creators, and storytellers lose that visibility, we also lose out on critical insights on whether or not our audience, as a whole, is getting what they wanted out of it. 

For example, let's say you have an email newsletter. At first, you have a lot of subscribers. Then, after a month or so, you're seeing a lot of attrition. You're losing as many subscribers as you're gaining. If you can’t see who’s opening or clicking, or have any data to understand how or why you’re letting those would-be subscribers down, you will make decisions based on assumptions or guesses … not facts.

"Can't you just send your audience a feedback survey to understand what they do and do not like or want?"

Of course, marketers can do that. However, there are two key issues with that approach:

  • Your response rate to an optional feedback survey will always be much, much smaller than the data you can collect from actions taken by an audience going through the course of their day-to-day activities.
  • That data also may not be reliable or accurate. People will often report they want something to be a certain way, but their actions will show the opposite desires to be true. For example, a lot of people say they love images in their email newsletters because it looks more polished and fun. But our own data showed us that folks interacted with our emails more when we removed images entirely, even though they said they wanted images.

Is this Apple mail privacy news really a big deal?

Instead of shouting from the rooftops that, yes, it's important, let's just let the data speak for itself:

"The most recent marketshare numbers from Litmus, for May 2021, 93.5% of all email opens on phones come in Apple Mail on iPhones or iPads. On desktop, Apple Mail on Mac in responsible for 58.4% of all email opens." (Source)

I'm a Gmail app user (even though I'm a Mac product devotee), so this number surprised me. If it surprises you too, I cannot stress enough that this news matters to you – particularly if you leverage ads in your newsletters. 

Yes, you'll still be able to look at your Google Analytics or HubSpot reporting to see overall website traffic growth, which you can (in theory, with some work) correlate to the email marketing you're doing. You'll also be able to see what your unsubscribe rates are, which will tell you (at a very, very high level) whether or not what you're doing is working. 

At the end of the day, however, email marketing is going to get harder for some of us starting this fall. And I doubt this is the last time we'll have some form of this "new data privacy rules make targeted marketing harder" conversation.

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