How Will Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection in iOS 15 Affect Email Marketing?

Apple’s announcement of its plans to introduce Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) has sent reverberations around the world of email marketing. Changes to the Mail app will limit the use of tracking pixels while also masking the users’ IP address, meaning the open tracking and location tracking of these users will be severely impacted.

Apple’s changes to protect mail privacy are evolutionary, not revolutionary

While this announcement may come as a shock to email practitioners, it’s actually just another step in the ongoing journey towards greater respect for consumer privacy. As long ago as 2012, Google had already introduced privacy tools allowing users to opt out of tracking. More recently in Europe, GDPR now considers tracking pixels to be a form of cookie – a Q4 2019 judgement by the European Court of Justice confirmed this meant proactive consent should be obtained for their use.

Since then, email senders have become more proactive when it comes to notifying their subscribers about the use of tracking technology. The DMA’s Marketer Email Tracker report shows 41% of senders now have language for this in their signup processes, while 43% include text about tracking in their emails. Marketers have benefitted from this greater transparency – GDPR wrote many established best practices into law, and this “halo effect” has seen a large majority of programs reporting clear improvements in deliverability, engagement, and revenue. US senders should expect similar benefits as new regulations like CCPA provide consumers with greater visibility of personal data collection, and the rights to access their data, or have it deleted.

The signal accuracy provided by pixel-based open tracking has also degraded over time. Verizon Media’s Marcel Becker spoke at Validity’s Summit event last year and talked about how open rates, when compared with what he knows to be the truth as a mailbox provider (MBP), tend to over-report by up to 3X. Reasons include the use of techniques like image caching, image pre-fetching, and automatic image enablement/disablement, which all create bias.

Email marketers have been responding for some time already. As the DMA report shows, only ¼ of senders use open rates to measure program relevance, with clicks used twice as widely. Sending platforms like Campaign Monitor and Sensorpro have already introduced functionality that lets senders suppress pixel tracking on demand at campaign level, and many individual programs are currently developing the ability to enable/disable pixel tracking at individual subscriber level.

The loss of pixel tracking worsens the subscriber experience

However, we shouldn’t readily dismiss the value of pixel tracking data. It provides useful insights around levels of subscriber engagement that inform tactics like personalization, dynamic content, and triggered messaging. Used responsibly, this data creates increased relevance and value, and its absence will create the very real risk of a degraded subscriber experience for these users.

There are also potential implications for engagement-based email deliverability. In their best practice guidelines, major MBPs like Microsoft, Gmail, and Yahoo all encourage only sending email to engaged users. The latter specifically advises to “send mail only to users who choose to get and read your messages . . . consider unsubscribing users who don’t read your messages.” Even Apple advises the periodic suppression of inactive or disengaged subscribers!

Senders should adjust their approach to optimizing email results

Of course, Apple is a significant player in the email market and Everest’s Mailbox Provider Health reporting shows their mail clients form is ± 30% of a typical email list. Less-informed email marketers could be tempted to move to a more “spray and pray” approach, but this would be a mistake. So, now what? How should senders respond to ensure they continue achieving optimized performance for their Apple users?

  • Keep practicing good deliverability habits. For Apple, important factors include maintaining a good sender reputation, full email authentication, use of active opt-in permissioning, consistent use of IP addresses and sending domains, and the prompt removal of opt-outs and unknown users. Validity customers can obtain further detailed guidance from their help center.
  • Find new data points. Senders will need new data points they can use to connect the dots directly between deliverability and clicks. As shown above, full visibility of sender reputation and inbox placement provides a strong starting point. Accurate measurement of data quality, use of a universal feedback loop, and comprehensive DMARC reporting will further move the performance needle. For senders who want to be on the front foot as they respond to this new challenge, having all this functionality within a single email intelligence platform like Everest will be a big differentiator.
  • Stay educated. There is still plenty to learn about precisely how Apple will implement this new functionality. If selection of the “Don’t protect” option means pixel tracking remains in operation for these subscribers, senders have a major window of opportunity. It will mean a far more transparent approach, educating their customers about their responsible use of tracking, and clearly articulating the more relevant communications and genuine two-way exchange of value that it enables. In this way, when Apple subscribers are presented with their MPP options, they may opt for continued tracking, confident they will benefit from doing so.

At Validity, we are strong advocates for ethical marketing and support initiatives that promote consumer privacy. Balanced with this is a core philosophy of having our customers’ backs, and our engineering team is already testing these new features from Apple so we can provide the most up-to-date and actionable guidance. We’re the global leader when it comes to providing email intelligence, and our customers will also be global leaders as they use that intelligence to continue delivering the best-in-class performances that are their benchmark.

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On Track for Email Success

In regard to email relevance, how wide is the gap between marketers and consumers when it comes to defining what this important concept actually means? And what are the reasons for their fundamentally different perceptions?

These are questions the DMA’s Marketer Email Tracker – sponsored by Validity – is designed to answer. The report provides a definitive view of the email landscape, informed by over 200 expert senders. This year’s edition is especially relevant as it provides one of the first full snapshots of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on email senders and how they’ve responded.

There are a number of good news stories:

  • Most popular marketing channel. Email remains the preferred marketing channel (72% of respondents), and this aligns strongly with consumer feedback (92%). Highly effective across all phases of the customer journey, email is particularly strong when used for post-purchase activity like receipts, order confirmations, and delivery updates.
  • Not just offers and promotions. While driving sales remains an important email objective, this has declined year-on-year (YoY). There has been a strong increase in focus on “softer” outcomes like relationship building, loyalty, and engagement. These changes strongly reflect the pandemic-induced shift towards more information-based content.
  • Positive trending of email KPIs. The majority of respondents noticed improved performance across a broad set of email KPIs: deliverability, open, and click rates; list size; conversions; and revenue. Meanwhile, negative metrics like opt-outs and spam complaints reduced. These trends reinforce the popularity of the channel described above.
  • More revenue and greater value. Email return on investment (ROI) is now 38:1 – an 8% YoY increase – while customer lifetime value (CLV) has risen to £36.64 – up 6%. Marketers’ ability to calculate these important metrics has also improved, strongly positioning them to prove program value and secure new investments.
    • Increased email budgets. All these points clearly highlight email’s effectiveness, so it’s no surprise to see marketers committing more of their budget to the channel. For the first time ever, over 20% of marketing spend is going towards email. It’s not a flash in the pan either – more than half of respondents (56%) expect continued growth over the next 12 months.

However, there are always two sides to every coin. The report also identifies critical blind spots that email marketers will need to address in order to maintain their positive trends:

  • A deliverability black hole. Two-fifths of marketers (41%) believe subscribers receive their emails on a “daily or more” basis . . . but only one-fifth of consumers (18%) agree they receive emails at this frequency. The 23% gap is remarkably similar to Validity’s published inbox placement stats1 in every 5 emails sent is going to spam/junk!
    • Activity monitoring. Despite being an established best practice, only two-thirds of email marketers (66%) track if customer email addresses are active or inactive, and only three-quarters (73%) treat these segments differently. This failure to differentiate based on activity levels will have a big impact on both deliverability and subscriber engagement.
  • Mind the relevance gap. This “engagement blindness” is clearly reflected in the difference in perception surrounding email relevance. Three-fifths of marketers (59%) believe their emails are relevant/useful, but less than one-sixth of consumers (15%) feel the same. Accurate targeting is about far more than “right person, right message, right time.” Email marketers need much more data – and the right tools – to create genuine relevance.
  • KPI blind spots. This also stems from how email marketers measure relevance. Click-to-open rates are the most popular KPI (49%), spam complaints (9%) far less so – even though they are equally important sides of the same engagement coin. Measuring a much broader set of engagement touch points will mean improved visibility of relevance drivers.
  • Data is the biggest challenge. While more data creates more visibility, it also creates more challenges. Budget/resourcing is traditionally the biggest challenge faced by email marketers, but has reduced by almost 10% over the past year. It’s been superseded by data and technology, which have increased sharply (10% and 14% respectively).

Addressing these challenges is everything we had in mind when we built our Everest email intelligence platform. As the pioneers of email optimisation and deliverability, Validity’s vision was to provide email marketers with full measurement of all stages of their email programs. Everest provides true 360-degree performance visibility, eliminating all the blind spots we’ve described above.

If you’d like to continue the Marketer Email Tracker discussion, we’d love to have you join our webinarTrain Your Email Brain! – on 17th June with the DMA’s Tim Bond and Trainline’s Alex Fadahunsi. In the meantime, contact us here to talk with Validity about how to move the needle on your email program’s performance.

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Tips to Accelerate Your Email Programs

Our February 3 State of Email Live featured two special guests! We start with our own Sridhar Chandran, solutions architect, sat down to discuss the latest email data we have, while later, Sarah Jones, senior CRM manager at Auto Trader UK, shared her email expertise with the class.

First, some interesting data to share.

Email volume is stabilizing. Though, to be clear, it is still wildly higher than email volume this time last year…which was just one month before the pandemic reared its ugly head. We keep hearing about “the new normal,” and perhaps, this is it for us email geeks.

Finally, here are my favorite learnings from Sarah. I don’t want to steal her thunder, though, so please watch the recording below. There’s so much you can get from her conversation with Guy!

Their messaging changed from suggesting active buying and selling to researching and saving for later.

This seemingly small pivot makes a world of a difference. By acknowledging the changes in consumer behavior during the pandemic, they’ve created a relatable persona, becoming a brand who is in touch with their audience and not focused entirely on sales and revenue at all times. Genius.

They changed their frequency from less, to more!

This felt counter-intuitive to me, knowing the data we’ve seen from the last year. However, Sarah reported their engagement went up! Auto Trader UK sent one email per week or two, then increased their frequency to two or three emails per week, which is a significant increase in attempts to connect with their subscribers. This is a really important takeaway for email marketers: You cannot make assumptions about your consumers, you need to test to confirm (or disprove) your hunches.

Here’s the full video. I only shared two things out of more than a dozen, so get your notetaking tools in gear and speed off to watch:

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Big GDPR Penalties are Rolling In

Since time feels like a vacuum right now, this reminder may surprise you: The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted over two years ago. Even though many marketers are familiar with the best practices and protections required for compliance, we’re starting to see fines roll in for companies who either are unaware of the regulation’s nuances, or who simply messed up one way or another.

While the biggest fine we know about yet was in 2019 (a 50 million euro fine), 2020 saw some huge penalties brought against large global companies. But I’d be remiss not to mention these fines are still tantamount to a slap on the wrist, as offending parties can be fined up to 4% of their global revenue! None of the fines seen yet come close to that limit, and when assessing your own risk threshold, be aware how deeply a fine may reach into your pocket.

Here are the forbidden activities drawing the ire of GDPR enforcers:

Gathering personal information without consent

It is incredibly important to only collect information your business deems essential. For example, one company recorded religious beliefs, medical conditions, and other private details of their employees in an online database which up to 50 individuals could access. These meet the GDPR definition of “sensitive” personal data, meaning the level of responsibility and care required in keeping the information guarded is even higher than normal. Plus, the information was not captured in good faith: Personal conversations were mined for data, without the party’s knowledge the information was being collected and used, rendering them unable to provide consent. This breach of privacy violates GDPR’s requirement for a sound legal basis to collect personal data, and the fine was a whopping 35 million euros.

Purchased lists cost an Italian company 14.5 million euros last year. They acquired telephone numbers for prospecting, but the list providers could not provide reasonable or compelling evidence the numbers’ owners had consented to their use. This is a major data collection no-no under GDPR, which is explicitly designed to give individuals more actionable rights over their personal information. If you do purchase lists (which we generally discourage), ensure the seller can demonstrate consent was obtained, particular for European Union data subjects. Additionally, if the data is intended for third-party use, each individual user (company) should be explicitly named as part of the consent process. Ask if the seller can show how the data was acquired, and go through the process yourself.

Keeping sensitive data unencrypted

A highly publicised cyber-attack revealing sensitive personal data resulted in an 18 million pound fine. This is unsurprising, considering the attack lasted for a total of four years, starting in 2014 and went undetected until well into 2018. This fine only applies to the portion of the attack from 2018 onwards, per GDPR’s enforcement date, but during this four-year span, varying degrees of personal data were revealed, including customers’ passport numbers.

These two particular fines serve as a good reminder for all businesses using data to ensure the data collected is necessary. If the information is irrelevant to your business operations, securely delete it and ensure there is no way any data breach could expose both your customers’ and your employees’ personal (and intimate) data.

Disregard for cybersecurity best practices

This year, a 20 million pound fine was levied for a 2018 data breach that exposed 400,000 customers’ data. Here is the key: The investigation found the organisation should have known of the weaknesses in their IT infrastructure and strengthened to prevent an attack. It’s no use claiming lack of awareness. If you haven’t already done a full audit of your data collection and storage protocols, it’s way past time.

Don’t forget GDPR legislation applies to businesses of all sizes and even small, seemingly inconsequential choices can represent a breach. If a PDF document containing personal data is emailed errantly to the wrong recipient, this is considered a violation. If an employee has personal data on their laptop and it’s stolen, this is also a GDPR issue. Even if your annual revenue is only 100 euros, you could still be fined a portion of it. Everyone has a role to play in staying on top of these data privacy best practices, and training your employees to be diligent with data will pay dividends in return.

Our advice on data collection is simple: collect it on your own properties and in good faith. Do not imply user consent – actively confirm it, and remove problematic or risky data from existing lists. While this may all seem less pertinent to American companies, let’s be very clear. If your business is contacting anyone in the EU, you are subject to GDPR’s requirements regardless of your own physical location.

Speaking of locations, it won’t be surprising to see the United States adopting more aggressive data privacy legislation after the massive and shocking SolarWinds hack. Similar legislation is being introduced in many states, and some has even already passed, such as in California. Rather than scramble to ensure your house is in order, it would be wise to proactively adopt standards adhering to GDPR, and get ahead of the curve.

It may seem like a lot of work, but…how much is 10 million in fines worth to your business? Is the choice you‘re making worth 4% of your global revenue? Stay on the right side of GDPR and enjoy not only the peace of mind you won’t be fined any amount, but also the benefit of clean data from engaged prospects.

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