How marketers can adapt to Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature will be rolled out soon and all marketers need to prepare for it.

Written by Sam Watson on

Email is one of the most effective channels for reaching target audiences. For every dollar a business invests in email marketing, they receive a $36 return. So, when Apple announced Mail Privacy Protection for their Mail app on iOS 15, iPad OS 15, and macOS Monterey devices at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference, marketers were left wondering how the feature would affect them?

Set to launch between September and November, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using tracking pixels to collect information about the user. Senders won’t know when an email is opened and masks the recipient’s IP address, so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

With the launch of the feature just around the corner, marketers need to think about how they will adjust their email strategy when engaging Apple customers.

How does Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection work? 

The Mail Privacy Protection splash screen will be displayed the first time someone opens the Apple Mail app after updating their device. They are prompted with two options - 'Protect Mail activity' or 'Don’t protect Mail activity.'

Apple users will have a choice to make, and many are likely to select 'Protect' as their default option. With the wording of the two options, who is really going to select don’t protect?

For people who choose Protect Mail activity, Apple will first route their emails through its own proxy server to pre-load all content in its own cache before serving to recipients. An IP address will be assigned to the general region of the subscriber instead of their specific geolocation.

Because the caching process requires Apple to request images - including the open tracking pixel - from the email service provider's server, this will create a false positive that the email was opened. Marketers will have no idea if their target audience is actually opening their emails.

How will Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection affect email marketing?

Privacy is such a big issue and talking point across every industry and form of consumer communication. So, it’s no surprise that Apple has responded in such a way to better protect their customers' data. But for marketers, Mail Privacy Protect will affect email marketing in a number of ways:

Email open rates:  For any user that’s opted in for Mail Privacy Protection, it will appear that they have opened their emails. This means the open rates will be artificially inflated – bringing into question whether it can be used as a reliable success metric.

Nurture flows: Automated follow-up communications designed to nurture or re-engage recipients, based on whether the previous email was opened or not, will become a less reliable trigger. The same can be said for when using email opens to decide when to send subsequent communications.

A/B subject line testing:  A/B testing of subject lines is a standard practice to help optimize open rates. But, open rates are artificially inflated, which means knowing which version of a subjective performed best is much more difficult to determine.

However, it is possible that the open rates for both variants could be similarly inflated. Therefore, if a target group is not overwhelmingly made up of Apple Mail users, then the A/B subject line testing may still work in many situations.

Dynamic content: Since Apple will pre-load and cache all the email content by default soon after the email is sent, the email sender will be only able to record the ‘open time’ of when Apple pre-loaded the email. This means engagement strategies countdown timers based on email opens will become more difficult to orchestrate.

Similarly, Apple will route the email content through proxy servers that randomly assign an IP address only to the geographical region where the intended Apple Mail user is located. So dynamic content that infers to the location of the recipient will be much harder to get right.

Customer categorization: Many marketers categorize their customers as ‘engaged’ or ‘disengaged’ based on whether the customers opened their emails or not. This will have to change and other metrics will need to be used for this purpose.

How to adapt email marketing to overcome Mail Privacy Protection

Although marketers may feel overwhelmed by how Mail Privacy Protection will impact email marketing programs, don’t fret. Customers will still want personalized emails and many email campaign best practices will stay the same.

With that in mind, we suggest some of the following ideas on how marketers can adapt their email marketing strategy:

Emphasize click-through rates: The Mail Privacy Protection feature will not impact click-through rate (CTR). Marketers can continue to reliably use that metric in how to measure the success of their email campaigns. It should be communicated to senior managers that more focus should be given to CTR in the future.

Include actionable CTA links: With CTR now being a more reliable metric, marketers should consider redesigning email templates to naturally incorporate more engaging CTA links or buttons, etc. Email Heatmaps will help marketers to understand which types of links are preferred by their customer base.

Establish a baseline for existing open rates: Marketers may want to invest some time looking back at open rates for campaigns while those metrics are currently unaffected by Mail Privacy Protection. This data may help make a qualitative assessment of how much reported open rates in future campaigns are artificially inflated.

Review past subject lines: Many marketers already have a ‘bank’ of great tried-&-tested subject lines that have performed well. Marketers should ensure they know the best performing subject lines across different types of campaigns as they should continue to work well.

Create target groups and customer segments based on existing open data: Using previous campaign data, marketers can create target groups and customer segments based on open rate performance. That way, they can differentiate subject lines and content based on how likely customers are to open an email.

Marketers will adapt and continue

Even with the challenges caused by Mail Privacy Protection, email will continue to be a key marketing channel for iOS audiences. Marketers will have to make some changes to how they build emails and measure performance - and they can start making some preparations now. Hopefully, the shift in focus towards actions instead of opens will lead to more interactive and tailored email experiences.

If you would like to get more from your email marketing and explore other campaign channels, take a look at our imicampaign application. If you would like to learn about other ways to engage and design richer experiences for iOS customers, visit our Apple Business Chat showcase page.