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As the iOS15 update and the removal of third-party cookies approach, what are the new rules of privacy?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pio3 / Shutterstock)

After Apple announced its latest software update – iOS15 – will be available from late September, e-commerce leaders and digital marketers will be curious to see how the changes will affect their strategies.   

There are two features in the iOS15 update that necessitate a strategic change in direction for marketers – “Mail Privacy Protection” (MPP) and “Hide My Email”. Apple is the world’s largest email sender, delivering 40 percent of the world’s commercial and transactional emails, meaning these updates will have a substantial impact on email marketing as we know it with Apple users gaining greater control over their data and how it is shared, in another move that will prove to accelerate the consumer privacy mandate.

What are the features that will affect marketing? 

Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) will give iOS15 email users the option of whether to load remote content privately without disclosing their IP addresses, simply by opting in.  

Most email service providers embed an invisible single-pixel image into emails, which is used to track if and how often a subscriber opens an email. The single-pixel image is 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. 

If the user chooses to enable this feature, it will prevent brands from including the invisible pixels in their emails to collect user-specific information. For email marketers, this means that they will no longer be able to accurately track email engagement open rates. This significant move will result in huge portions of email opens going unreported, ultimately weakening the validity of open rates as a meaningful engagement metric for marketers.

The “Hide My Email” feature will forward promotional marketing offers to a temporary encrypted email address, linked to the user’s primary email account. Marketers will be unable to distinguish between genuine and temporary email addresses. This will mean it is much harder for marketers to make educated conclusions regarding bounce rates.  

The new age of invited personalization 

Let’s not forget, iOS15 is not the only impetus accelerating in the world of consumer privacy. The death of third-party cookies, and continuing changes in privacy legislation is accelerating the need for marketers to create engagement strategies focussed on the collection of first-party data.

Google recently announced its decision to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser in 2023, which means marketers can no longer rely on this data for personalization, leaving the industry scrambling to find new ways and means to provide personalized customer experiences while ceding to consumers’ data privacy concerns.  

Although there are big changes coming, it’s not all bad for marketers. These changes present the perfect 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. 

In return for sharing their personal data, customers can expect a superior customer experience that is hyper-relevant and personalized based on their interests, behaviors and needs. 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 notify users 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, via email or web push notification. 

The average level of shopping cart abandonment for eCommerce is between 57 percent and 76 percent, meaning there is a real opportunity for merchants 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. 

How to get ahead of the curve 

It’s unlikely that these changes will have an instant impact on the marketing industry. Users will need time to install the iOS15 update, so it could be months before the true impact is realized. However, it is still important that marketers re-evaluate their strategy in order to adapt to these imminent changes.  

Identify and measure the metrics that matter most 

Open rates are not always accurate. Shift focus towards Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu) metrics that are closely aligned with conversions or revenue, including revenue per user. Emphasis on conversion metrics will also help brands (and senders) understand individual user activity - behavioral 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 and compare “before” open rate benchmarks against “after”

These should be compared to “after” open rate benchmarks once the iOS15 rollout happens. Testing should consider 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. 

What will success look like in the new world of privacy-first marketing?  

With the rise in expectation for increased personalization, 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 leverage and grow their access to first-party data may find themselves spending up to 10 to 20 percent more on marketing and sales to generate the same returns. 

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 e-commerce, 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. 

Change can be scary, but it doesn’t need to be. With change comes opportunity, and having the right technology, people and processes in place to support the shift in mindset and embed the changes can help simplify the process. The result will be strong, loyal relationships with customers not only now, but in the future too.

Christopher Baldwin, VP Marketing, Insider

Christopher has 9+ years of experience in the technology industry, having spent his career in leading technology companies. He has been the recipient of several B2B marketing awards, including B2B Marketing’s Top 30 Under 30.