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By Michael Bush, Commercial Director, Climb Online


Apple announced big updates for iCloud and iOS 15 at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference this June, with a particular focus on privacy and data tracking. Newly unveiled features from the tech giant include the ability for users to load remote content privately without disclosing their IP, as well as using “burner” email accounts to sign up for email offers.

This comes hot on the heels of the iOS 14.5 update, which has major implications for targeted advertising on Facebook, as well as limiting the reporting of specific goals and actions on websites, by allowing users to opt out of personalised ads by default. This hampers the ability of marketers to effectively reach and engage with segments of the audience, as well as collect user behaviour data to measure the efficacy of ad campaigns and provide a more personalised experience.

These new updates, which come as part of a wider response to the debate concerning consumer privacy rights, demonstrate the need for marketers to adapt their digital marketing strategies to keep in-line with the changes, whilst continuing to engage and resonate with target audiences.

What are the changes?

A central feature in Apple’s iOS 15 update is Mail Privacy Protection, which comes in response to concerns about how brands gather and distribute consumer data. MMP gives users the ability to view emails without disclosing their IP, while also introducing a pixel-blocker. This means that ESPs like Mailchimp, who use an invisible one-pixel image to track unique and gross open rates, can no longer do so, and in turn can no longer track the effectiveness of subscriber engagement.

Another feature unveiled in the new iOS update, Hide My Email, allows users to sign up for email offers with a randomly generated address from Apple in place of their own. This address operates as a burner account, with Apple forwarding the email to the user, leaving them to delete the temporary address to prevent it from being spread online. The flip side of this is digital marketers will be at a loss to tell whether an email sign up is legitimate, or merely a burner account.

The introduction of App Privacy Reports also allows users to gain more information on how apps collect and use their personal data, and display how much of that data is being shared with third parties. This is a particular problem for marketers who rely on second- and third-party data for tracking and ad targeting.

The impact on digital marketing

The downside of the new iOS updates is primarily the risk of collecting unreliable data. MMP means that many optimisation services used by ESPs, as well as subject line tests will be more likely to yield unreliable results, as these are often based on open rates. Similarly, optimisation for send time can no longer track opens, and therefore cannot determine subscriber engagement, while “live” experiences that are delivered based on collecting subscriber data for open times will be far less effective.

Given the changes, KPIs will need to focus on benchmarks for delivered emails instead of email opens, and marketers will need to test open rates and establish before and after benchmarks for subject line and send time before the iOS 15 update this autumn. Due to the new features introduced with Hide My Email, it is important that marketers monitor email deliverability, and ensure they have an ESP that can remove bounces.

New strategies for digital marketers

With email mostly being opened on smartphones, if Android adopts similar privacy options it would mean nearly 98% of smartphone users would be able to opt out of disclosing email opens. This places strategies that do not require the data of email opens at the forefront for the future of digital marketing.

Utilising first-party data from platforms that deliver real customer value, such as loyalty programmes or interactive digital experiences, will create a more integrated and seamless experience across multiple marketing channels, not merely email.

By using customer data platforms, marketers will be able to bring consented customer data together into a unified customer profile, making it far more useful as it gives a fuller customer profile, and allows marketers and brands to create a personal experience for the customer.

Though these strategies must be done at the planning and delivery stages of marketing campaigns, successfully navigating them will allow digital marketers to move away from an over-reliance on email marketing, and place more emphasis on business outcomes and the overall value of marketing separate from merely open rates and digital engagements.

The updates to iOS 15, though posing a host of new challenges – particularly as marketers are likely to feel the pinch of targeted ads being impacted in the earlier iOS 14.5 update – also gives both companies and marketers a chance to shape their own data and customer privacy policies, allowing them to better understand and engage with their customer base, driving increased loyalty and resulting ROI.

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