How Can Email Marketers Best Prepare for Apple's Mail Privacy Protection?

Apple's Mail Privacy Protection is set to be the biggest disruption to email marketing since GDPR. Here are four steps you can take to minimise MPP's impact on your customer experience.

26 August 2021

How Can Email Marketers Best Prepare for Apple's Mail Privacy Protection?

Apple's Mail Privacy Protection is set to be the biggest disruption to email marketing since GDPR. Here are four steps you can take to minimise MPP's impact on your customer experience.

26 August 2021

Apple’s ‘Mail Privacy Protection’ (MPP) is coming, and its launch is a big deal for email marketers everywhere.

For customers, MPP will be a simple pop-up in the iOS 15 update with a single question: ‘would you like to protect your mail?’.

For email marketers, it’s a watershed moment.

What will MPP actually do?

MPP will change the way emails are cached.

Currently, when a user opens an email, their device sends a request to the sender to download a hidden single-pixel image. This tells the sender when the email was opened, the user’s IP address, and subsequently their location data.

Primarily, this data has been extremely useful for email marketers to measure engagement and to drive consumer personalisation.

Under MPP, Apple’s new caching system will automatically download email content, regardless of whether the email is opened. In effect, emails will look like they’ve been opened, even if they’ve not. Senders will also receive a generic Apple IP address, not that of the user, making location data inaccurate.

While this is a relatively small technical change, the impact on email marketers could be severe.

  • Open rates for emails will be inflated(up to 75% higher)
  • A/B testing results will become meaningless
  • Personalisation based on location and sent time optimisation won’t work
  • Customer journeys relying on opens as triggers will misfire
  • Existing reporting will likely be heavily skewed

So, clearly while MPP is designed to protect users, the change will disrupt a number of email marketers’ most-used tools for improving the customer experience and measuring engagement.

When is MPP happening?

MPP will be included with the iOS 15 update, which will start to be rolled out from September - November 2021. Given that Apple only announced MPP at their WWDC conference in June this year, we've not had long to understand and prepare for the changes.

How many customers will be affected?

With Apple Mail’s current email client share of 9%, it’s realistic to believe this will affect a good percentage of your email audience. And that figure could be a lot bigger.

Apple controls a whopping 37% of the mobile device market, and consumers that use Apple Mail for Gmail accounts, for example, will have the option to activate MPP.

To be clear, MPP does seem limited to Apple Mail native app users – so if a subscriber is using the Gmail app on an Apple device, they won’t be affected by MPP.

What should email marketers do to prepare for MPP?

Taking all this into account, here are the four suggestions we’re making to clients.

Suggestion 1 – Segment Apple customers

First, we want to create a segment of only Apple Mail customers.

This is the starting point for understanding how many of your customers are likely to use MPP and gives you options to target and test email content against Apple Mail/non-Apple Mail customers.

This segmentation isn’t only useful to gauge the scale of the issue but will help decipher the best email strategies to adopt in a post-MPP world.

As for how many of this group will activate MPP, it’s a safe bet to assume a 90%+ acceptance rate of MPP (based on the usage of Apple’s similar ‘app tracking transparency’ feature).

If you don’t have the required data manipulation skills in-house (and assuming you don’t have access to an Optima data engineer 😊), paid tools such as Litmus’s 'Apple Audience Tracking code’ can help you figure out what percentage of your audience is using Apple Mail.

Suggestion 2 - Audit your automations and customer journeys

Next, we want to understand how much MPP will impact the customer experience.

This means looking at our automated campaigns and customer journeys and documenting the places where IP tracking or opens data influence the content that customers receive.

For example, we know that email features such as countdown timers and store personalisation will likely appear incorrect after MPP.  More importantly, customer journeys can rely on opens as part of their trigger logic.

If proactive action is not taken, highly engaged customers could end up receiving messages like this:

Suggestion 3 - Maximise learnings while you still can

Third, while meaningful results and data can still be collected right now, it’s sensible to gather as much information as possible. Why not A/B test subject line or preview line test every email you send until MPP goes fully live? At the very least, you should be doing this with Apple Mail contacts.

Upon MPP's launch it appears any A/B testing practices using open rates as their winning metric will become redundant due to the inability to track open rates accurately.

So, harvesting this accurate open rate data now will boost your understanding as an email marketer of what currently works best with your audience.

These learnings can then be applied in your email campaigns going forward.

You may also want to consider using a ‘holdout’ group from your Apple Mail segment of customers. This will produce a more accurate measure of your email engagement, post-MPP launch also, as your ‘non-Apple Mail’ segment should not be affected.

However, this practice would be dependent on the data hygiene of your email audience list, the strength of your data quality practices and may require a change in your email marketing campaign set-up process going forward.

Suggestion 4 - Reconsider Your Reporting Design

Last, but not least, Apple’s decision to launch MPP is perhaps the final straw for open rates as a success metric.

As a single part of an email campaign, open rates tell us very little accurate information about why a customer opened an email or their motivations for doing so.  Was this a ‘quantity’ or a ‘quality’ open? Was it because of the trickery of “Claim your free…” in the subject line or did they engage because they were interested in your brand?

MPP’s introduction is a massive disruptor, but for many brands it is also an opportunity to reset, take a more holistic view of email campaign reporting effectiveness and shift to metrics that provide more insight and valuable customer preference data.  

As Forbes concluded earlier this year, "By giving users the option to block the open data, Apple is forcing marketers to shift to more valuable metrics like clicks and engagement to prove campaign effectiveness."

Redesigning your campaign reporting to include wider cross-platform metrics that better reflect campaign success and give you objective comparisons would be a great place to start.

Even better, now might be the time to start connecting your results to the bottom line through adoption of control groups, measuring incremental impact, and statistically significant changes which can then be directly attributed to your email marketing activity.

At Optima we are big advocates of control groups, with the trick to getting a reliable result being to work out the right size to test against - our data science team are experts in this area and are always happy to share best practice 😊.


Closing thoughts

MPP is a bold move from Apple and, arguably, further underlines their commitment to consumer privacy.

Negative impacts on customer experience are virtually certain, but by following the preparatory steps outlined above, you should be able to avoid stumbling into the worst-case scenarios and limit the immediate impact.

Moving forwards, it will also mean your email marketing strategy and campaigns will also be in the best possible position to pivot again as the full impact of MPP becomes apparent. While the disruption is real and the short notice somewhat unnerving, like when GDPR was introduced, the requirement to change could lead to better email practices in the long-run.

No matter what companies’ think of MPP, what functionality ESPs will introduce to combat it, or what further updates and legislations changes arrive in future, at the heart of effective email marketing and campaign reporting will always be intelligent, customer-first data practices.

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