The who, what, why behind Apple’s privacy change– and what you should do about it

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Let’s address the elephant in the room– Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection. This change, which is expected to roll out in September 2021, will affect anyone using the Apple Mail app on their iPhone, iPad, or Mac desktop regardless of their email provider– Gmail, Yahoo, AOL etc.

Should Apple users opt into this new privacy protection program, which we suspect most will, email service providers such as Engaging Networks will not be able to effectively track Apple Mail user’s open rates. This once fundamental email marketing metric will become unreliable leaving Marketing programs shuffling to fill the void. Fortunately, this is an industry-wide change and we can plan ahead to make this transition successful. 

We’re not here to sugarcoat this, it’s a big change and by big we mean– expect nearly half of your list to be affected by it. While this sounds scary, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If navigated strategically, it could improve your email marketing program for the better. We’re here to help you with that.   

Recently, we sat down with accredited partners M+R, Mal Warwick Donordigital, and Engaging Network’s Email Deliverability Specialist Gwynee Dixon to unpack these changes: the who, what, why, when, and most importantly what nonprofits should do about it. Below is a summary of what was discussed and if you’re curious– you can find the recording here

Apple Mail privacy protection – why? 

Big changes such as this typically erupt into existential crises and often start with, “Why are they doing this to me?!”  However, take comfort that this change will impact everyone equally. From nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies alike, anyone sending email to Apple Mail users on iPhone, iPad, or Mac desktop will no longer be able to track open rates of emails. 

Apple’s New Privacy program protects users on an individual basis who don’t want 1:1 tracking enabled. This tracking allows senders to track on an individual level when their email is opened, on what device, the time, and location. So for instance, without Apple’s Privacy Protection program and with the right email tracking service you could know that Paula opened your email at 10:00 a.m. in San Francisco in a Safari browser and also donated $50. While this is helpful information for a nonprofit to know and likely wouldn’t lead to anything harmful, it’s the edge cases outside of the nonprofit world that have Apple taking steps to secure their users’ privacy.  

How will this impact your nonprofit’s email marketing program? 

With the privacy change, Apple will pre-load email content, including open tracking pixels for everyone who opts in to an email list. Sounds great, but this means that even if a person didn’t look at an email it will register that they did. These changes will roll out gradually and September is when you will begin to see changes in your program. It could manifest in a more abrupt spike in open rates or a gradual increase through December, it all depends on how many users opt into the privacy change and how quickly they choose to do so. Regardless, given that this will likely affect 40% of your email marketing program you will see some change in open rates. By early 2022 your open rates have established a “new normal” as most users will have opted in by then.  

Here are some other ways this will impact your email marketing program:

  • Any audience segmentation or targeting based on the last open date will be rendered useless; especially critical for purging unengaged contacts. 
  • Automations that rely on someone opening an email will need to be updated. 
  • A/B testing subject lines (or anything else) using opens to determine the winner or to automatically send out the winner won’t be reliable. 
  • Dynamic countdown timers might show outdated times as the cached version may be pulled at a sent time, not opened time. 
  • Send time optimization based on open data will become inaccurate. 
  • Localized content powered by IP address location won’t be accurate. 

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What to do about it

The best way to manage this change is through a multi-step approach. As more information is gathered regarding your specific program we recommend adapting accordingly. 

Open rate reporting 

Sometime in September, open rates will start going up, and won’t reflect who’s actually looking at emails. The Apple pixel will load for all sent emails registering all Apple emails as opened. In early 2022, that number will stabilize, however, the metric won’t be as meaningful. 

Now: 

  • Reset expectations with internal stakeholders. 
  • Begin focusing on metrics other than open-rate.

December 2021: 

  • Use non-open metrics (clicks, conversions) as email KPIs. 

Early 2022:

  • Deemphasize open-rate and knowledge it as a fuzzy metric. 

List hygiene

Opens will no longer be an accurate way to gauge if someone is engaged, therefore cleaning or targeting your lists based on the last open is not recommended moving forward. 

Now: 

  • Grab a snapshot of your active list as of August 2021. 
  • Start testing new active audience definitions. 
  • Identify how and where you’re using open criteria.

December 2021: 

  • Decide how (or if) to adjust criteria for your EOY audience strategy. 

2022: 

  • Move to a new active criteria model that relies less on opens.  
  • Instead, prioritize email clicks and conversions.

General email strategy 

Now

  • Run tests focused on increasing clicks.
  • Introduce more click-oriented messages throughout email schedules such as surveys, top ten content, and downloadable freebies. 
  • If you have been holding back, introduce additional marketing channels. For example, SMS, social media advertising, telemarketing, and direct mail. 
  • Create or update your email re-engagement series. 

December 2021: 

  • Include SMS and other non-email channels in EOY plans. 
  • Include content that drives clicks in your email strategy, not only for willing donors. 
  • Consider adding “openers” to the target audience on key fundraising dates only. 
  • Update your “resend” strategy to all non-donors or non-clickers. Since you can’t track who’s opened the email, add lift-note content and change the subject line to add value for original openers. 

2022: 

  • Implement a re-engagement strategy in email focused on getting disengaged users to click.
  • Consider targeting disengaged email subscribers using ads or SMS. 
  • Invest in evergreen lead generation strategies to maintain your email list against heightened natural churn. 

What Engaging Networks plans to do about the change 

As we navigate Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, we will be tracking how Engaging Networks can evolve to fit your needs. For now, we will work towards the following:

  • We’ll be looking at our current agent tracking capabilities and how they perform against the changing email engagement landscape (post iOS 15). 
  • If more granularity can be added to what we already offer in these areas, we’ll be assessing ways to incorporate that into our existing tools. 
  • Look out for new SMS/MMS send tools that we will be releasing in 2022, as well as upgrades to our existing tools for email. 

This blog is an overview of what we know. However, given that the change is impending, there’s still a lot to learn about how this will affect users and nonprofit marketing programs. As always, we suggest continuously tracking what’s working and what isn’t, and shift your strategies towards what is working when more information is presented. 

For updates on tips, strategies, and news check back on this blog where we plan to offer an update in early 2022.

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