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iOS15 & third party cookies: New rules of privacy

14th Sep 2021
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With the launch of Apple’s new operating system, iOS15 on 20 September, ecommerce leaders and digital marketers will be curious to see how the changes will affect their strategies.  The update will largely impact email marketing, with Apple users gaining greater control over their data and how it is shared, in another stride towards reinforcing Apple’s legacy reputation around user privacy and security. 

There are two features in particular that will require an operational shift for marketers – “Mail Privacy Protection” (MPP) and “Hide My Email”. As Apple accounts for 16% of the global smartphone market, these updates will have a definite impact on email marketing as we know it. Additionally, the rising adoption of its native Apple Mail app – across iPhone, iPad, and Mac users – merits recalibrating email marketing strategies at scale.

Feature 1: Mail Privacy Protection (MPP)

MPP will enable iOS15 email users to choose whether or not to load remote content privately without disclosing their IP addresses, simply by opting in. 

Currently, most email service providers embed an invisible single-pixel image into emails, to track whether a subscriber opens an email and how frequently. The single-pixel image lays the foundation for tracking unique and gross email open rates. However, with MPP, users will have the choice as to whether they allow brands to do this or not.

Once enabled at the user (or subscriber) end, the feature will prevent brands (or senders) from deploying invisible pixels in their emails to collect user-specific information. Unfortunately, this therefore means that senders won’t be able to accurately track email engagement open rates. 

Feature 2: Hide My Email

The “Hide My Email” feature will forward promotional marketing offers to a temporary encrypted email address, linked to their primary email account. These temporary email addresses can be deleted at any time, at the discretion of users, meaning marketers will be unable to distinguish between genuine and temporary email addresses, and ultimately affecting their ability to make educated conclusions regarding bounce rates. 

The rise of Invited Personalisation

But, iOS15 is not the only thing that is changing in the world of consumer privacy. The death of third-party cookies in 2023, and the case for marketers to move towards first-party data and ‘invited personalisation’ has never been stronger. Google’s recent decision to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser means marketers can no longer rely on this data for personalisation, leaving the industry scrambling to find new ways and means to provide personalised customer experiences while ceding to consumers’ data privacy concerns. 

Contrary to many of the industry conversations happening in relation to iOS15 and privacy, it’s not all doom and gloom. These changes represent an opportunity for brands and retailers to build an authentic and genuine relationship with customers, and a value proposition that entices customers to willingly share their data, knowing they will receive something in return. Sai Koppala, Chief Marketing Officer at SheerID calls it “invited personalization” - data gathered directly from customers that allows retailers to understand them at a deeper level.

By agreeing to share personal data, customers can expect a higher level of service that is aligned more closely to the service they would expect to receive in a physical store. For example, retailers can track what items a customer has viewed and searched for, as well as previous purchase history. If a customer adds an item to their basket but does not complete the sale, or if an item is out of stock, retailers can send a reminder email or notification when the item is back in stock, entice them back with a special offer or discount, or suggest alternative items that match the same criteria.

The average shopping cart abandonment rate for eCommerce hovers between 57% and 76%, meaning there is huge potential to reclaim lost revenue through cart abandonment retrieval. These emails not only help to prompt the customer into completing a sale, but reinforces how valuable their custom is to the retailer, on a more personal level.

The road ahead: what marketers should start doing now ahead of the changes

Now is the time for marketers to re-evaluate their strategy in order to adapt to these imminent changes. 

  • Generate relevant insights and leverage segmentation

The iOS15 updates will be available across Apple devices after 14th September. This puts the onus on marketers to analyze their existing subscriber databases and gather relevant insights. It’s important to create and save relevant subscriber segments such as “Apple vs. Non-Apple Users” and “Email Openers or Clickers for Apple vs. Non-Apple Users”. 

Segmenting your users in this way will help you to understand just how many of your subscribers are affected by the iOS15 update, and therefore enabling you to target these users in different ways, such as alternative subject lines to grab attention, discount offerings etc. in order to maintain a strong level of engagement.

  • Re-engage dormant Apple users

Craft contextual email campaigns to win back dormant Apple users. With users having an average of 200 emails in their inbox, creating an email that is highly personalised and individually tailored to each user will help re-engage those who may have fallen by the wayside. 

  • Start measuring the metrics that matter the most

Open rates are not always accurate. In most cases, it’s a vanity metric that marketers disproportionately value. Start shifting focus towards Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu) metrics that are closely aligned with conversions or revenues. These include click rates, unsubscribe rates, or revenue per subscriber. Emphasis on conversion metrics will also help brands (and senders) understand individual user activity - behavioural and channel interaction will help to enrich customer profiles and ultimately how effective your email marketing is.

  • Run conversion-driven A/B tests

It’s critical to test subject lines when optimizing for clicks and conversions, and not just for opens. Conversion trumps engagement! A/B testing proves to be an effective data-gathering tool for retailers and brands, allowing them to interpret how people behave when they land on a webpage, open an email or respond to a social ad, for instance. 

This type of controlled testing and analysis can determine what strategies create high user engagement and what will work best for the brand or retailer. 

  • Create “before” open rate benchmarks for Apple users

These should be compared to “after” open rate benchmarks once the iOS15 rollout happens. Testing should take into account parameters such as pre-headers, send time, day of the week, CTAs, etc. Doing this will offer insights into the impact of and difference in engagement on conversion, and enable marketers to make informed decisions on how to adapt.

How to succeed in this brave new world of privacy-first marketing

In this new world of increased personalisation, it is vital that marketers are creating a strategy built on trust and a true exchange of value for their customers.

Those marketers and companies that do not figure out a strategy to maintain - and even grow - their access to first-party data may have to spend 10 to 20 percent more on marketing and sales to generate the same returns.

This may seem like a daunting task, but having the right technology, people and processes in place to support the shift in mindset and embed the changes can help simplify the process. A successful end result will be strong, loyal relationships with customers not only now, but in the future too. 

Remaining agile and adapting to evolving customer behavior, industry trends, and algorithmic platform changes is an essential part of a marketers job. As we start to see the impacts across the industry of these new privacy rules and what it means for ecommerce, it’s worth revisiting strategies regularly over the next 6 months or so, as Apple users gradually update their software and the true impact of the privacy changes become more visible.

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