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Zero the hero! Apple’s new Mail Protection Privacy and what it means for marketing

woman typing on laptop at desk
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Imagine you lived in a house in a picturesque village and one day you decided to take a walk to the big city because you needed to buy something in a large shop there. On your way you have to cross a road. It’s only small, there are no cars. However, the next road is much bigger and extremely busy. There’s an underpass but the lights aren’t working and you can hear someone shouting incoherently. As you get nearer the center of the city you start to meet street vendors trying to sell you their wares. One person engages you in conversation, you tell them what you are going to buy. They tell you they have what you are looking for but much cheaper. All you must do is follow them down the narrow alleyway to their house and give them your name and address. In the distance you can see the large shop. What do you do?

In life, be it real, virtual or hypothesized we are constantly making decisions and weighing up pros and cons. We want to crossroads but we don’t want to get hit by cars. We’ll take an underpass unless we think it is safer to negotiate the road. We always want a deal but we never want to get conned.

The decisions that we constantly make in life are proven to be getting increasingly complex due to the huge amount of variety and options we now have. If we wanted to buy a washing machine 70 years ago there were only a handful of models and a handful of shops that sold them. Now, there are hundreds of makes, let alone the number of models that each produces and we can even source our washing machine direct from the manufacturer in China if we so wish. 

Change is coming

However, technology is seeking to ease our decision-making process. For instance, each subsequent version of Apple’s iOS operating system is somehow subtly addressing these quandaries in order to better help us get to where we want to be and iOS 15 is no different.

There are going to change, lots of them. They’ll range from improvements in your widgets and better translation abilities to a facility enabling a different left and right eye color for your Memoji and automatically prioritizing 5G when Wi-Fi connectivity is slow, captive or insecure. In fact, lists 97 changes in iOS 15 but one of them is of particular interest to the marketing community. 

iOS 15 is offering Mail Protection Privacy which will potentially put an end to clicks and open rate tracking as it will prevent senders from seeing this data. This will of course impact the emails of anyone using an iPhone, iPad or iMac. Currently a staggering 45 percent of the world’s emails use Apple iPhone, and a further 12 percent use Apple Mail. And let’s not forget that when Apple suggested the blocking of 3rd-party cookies in Safari, Google followed suit. Basically, these changes, like many others in the industry, are being driven by frustrated customers tired of poor online experiences. 

Currently no one is quite sure how this privacy setting will be presented to the customer. If it is a passive opt-in hidden away in settings then it is likely that few people will choose to turn it on, if however, it is a pop-up presented when customers first launch their email following the software upgrade then people will definitely say no to tracking. It is much like the current app setting which actively asks you if you are happy for the app to track your activity. Because people are explicitly asked the question they are more likely to say no, whereas if they had to exert time, effort and energy to turn off the apps ability to do this in settings fewer people would be inclined to do so.

Online privacy not going away

Irrespective of the volumes of consumers that do activate this new function, the fact remains that marketers will be ‘robbed’ of a certain amount of data that has been used to track activity. And because we’ve had the luxury of this data for so long and now it is being taken away panic is beginning to set in. 

But it doesn't need to be. Many of us have forgotten that there is a wealth of other techniques to define and enhance the customer experience. For instance, using customer journey orchestration software which provides a more rounded view of the customer. Email is but one channel in the mix and by taking a more holistic approach the value exchange becomes more robust and meaningful.

It is often said that change is as good as rest. And in this case, change must be embraced rather than ignored. Taking a head buried in the sand approach will result in falling behind the competition that tackles the new operating environment head-on. For forward-thinking organizations it is all about looking to the future and finding new ways to engage with and nurture customers and prospective customers.

Online privacy is not going to go away and therefore it is critical to establish and build relationships. Zero-party data will become the hero – this is the data that customers actively want to share with you because they understand by doing so they will get better service than if they don’t. Digital lines are being drawn. We’re happy for house guests to know the color of our living room wallpaper, but we don’t want them rummaging through our bedside drawers. It’s the same for brands. Marketers need to help the customers open their front doors while keeping their bedroom doors shut.

And that truly is the value exchange in action. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. The bottom line is that no one wants to be creeped out by brands so the value exchange has never before been so critical. When it comes to data and marketing, zero really is the hero!

Caroyn Bondi, co-founder, The Thread Team (opens in new tab)

Carolyn Bondi is the co-founder of new breed of marketing consultancy, The Thread Team.