Apple’s New Mail Privacy Protection: How to Prepare Your B2B Email Marketing Strategy

In early June, Apple sent shockwaves through when they announced their new Mail Privacy Protection feature. Per their announcement, the feature stops the use of tracking pixels in Apple’s native mail client; prevents senders from seeing when an email is opened; and masks IP addresses so they can’t be linked to location and other online activity. This will have huge implications for future email campaigns, but is there a reason to panic?

Email marketing has long been heralded for its effectiveness. Not only does it warrant an impressively high ROI (4,200% per a 2019 Litmus report), but it’s also one of the most direct ways to reach customers. With open rates hovering around 21% across all industries, Facebook and its measly 5.2% organic reach can’t hold a candle. While that’s unlikely to change, Apple’s announcement threatens the metrics marketers have relied on for long to make better, more useful campaigns. In some sense, it’s hurting users (who largely want relevant emails from brands they love) while protecting them.

At its core, Mail Privacy Protection aims to put users in control of their own data. It’s one step in a greater cultural shift happening today in which people are increasingly concerned about privacy. Apple may be one of the first to implement such changes, but they’re certainly not going to be the last. Luckily, there are some steps B2B marketers can take to set themselves up for the future.

Determine the overall impact of Mail Privacy Protection

According to a 2021 Litmus report, Apple iPhone, Apple Mail, and Apple iPad hold a collective 61.7% of the email client market share, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your email list will be overwhelmingly affected. You may be surprised to find the majority of your subscribers use the Gmail app or Outlook. So, before you panic, audit your email list to determine the full impact of Apple’s new Mail Privacy Protection. See which subscribers are using Apple’s email clients, and if it’s a large portion of your list, prepare to make some changes. If most subscribers are using a different email client, then proceed as you normally would.

Run your tests while you can

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is expected to launch sometime in the fall along with their new operating systems (think: iOS 15 and MacOS Monterey). Luckily, it also takes a long time for the average user to update their phone or computer, which means you have time to collect data before that data is no longer reliable. Use this time to run tests that do rely on opens and IP addresses.

For example, figure out which types of headlines reach which types of users. Nail down the optimal send time. Collect all the location data you can collect. Get your affairs in order so you have the best, most current data going forward.

Get rid of your reliance on open data

Most B2B email marketers heavily rely on open data and online activity linked to user IP addresses. It’s how we determine which messages most resonate with our subscribers, who’s interested in our content, when and where they’re reading it, and which leads are the most engaged. This is a very delicate balance. Send an uninterested subscriber too many messages, and they’ll bounce. Send an interested subscriber too few messages, and they’ll potentially lose interest.

In the world of B2B, lead nurturing based on subscriber behavior is particularly important because the sales cycle is typically much longer than B2C. You’re building long term relationships, not urging impulse buys, but Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection makes it trickier. It doesn’t just affect your ability to see who’s opening your emails. It impacts:

  • Re-engagement campaigns
  • A/B testing (especially subject line testing)
  • Automated lead-nurturing campaigns
  • Dynamic content and real-time personalization
  • Send time optimization

In order to optimize a campaign, you need accurate metrics. You need to see what’s working and what isn’t. Since open data will no longer be accurate for Apple users, get rid of the aspects of your campaign that rely on it.

Shift your focus to other metrics like CTR or conversions

Luckily, open data isn’t the only data that’s valuable in an email marketing campaign. Maybe you won’t be able to A/B test a subject line or utilize dynamic location data, but you can still serve your subscribers by using different metrics. Instead of open data, shift your strategy to focus on:

  • Purchase behavior: Some of the most qualified leads are your existing customers, but you can also tell what products a customer might want based on products they’ve already bought.
  • Conversions: On the most basic level, a campaign with a low number of conversions may need some tweaking if conversions were the focus.
  • Recency of sign up: New sign ups could be highly-interested, qualified leads closer to the start of their customer journey. Old signs ups may be closer to making a decision or bouncing altogether.
  • Click-through rate: CTR is a great stand-in for open data when measuring engagement, but it can also be used to help you optimize your CTAs.
  • On-site behavior: What a consumer clicks on can give you insight into their interests and needs.

This data can be used in a number of different ways. For example, on-site behavior can be used to create a cart abandonment campaign (since some data cites cart abandonment rates at 94% among mobile device users, this could be quite effective). On the other hand, purchase behavior can be used to determine which users may be interested in upgrades, add-ons or new product lines.

Create new segmented lists

Some research has shown that companies who use segmented grouping of customers see a 760% increase in email revenue. You may not be able to segment lists by open rate going forward, but you can create new segmented lists that focus on:

  • Clicks
  • Conversions
  • Self-reported demographic data
  • Point of signup and other on-site data

You may even want to get started now and segment lists based on data that won’t be available later. For example, if location is important to your campaign, you may want to segment your list for location-based open data. Going forward, you can source that data from billing details (for existing customers) or add a location field to your signup form.

It may also be beneficial to segment your list into two categories: customers who use Apple Mail and those who do not. This way, you’ll be able to accurately use open data from the non-Apple segment.

Ramp up your list hygiene and sender reputation

Sender reputation is crucial to the health of an email marketing campaign. The last thing any marketer wants is to end up in a spam inbox. Unfortunately, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection routes emails through a proxy server that pre-loads content. Emails are “opened” before they’re actually opened, so it’s likely that you’ll see 100% open rates from Apple users, regardless of whether or not your email has actually been delivered. How can you know you’re spamming someone if it looks like they’re opening every email?

This is where good list hygiene comes in. You want to cull inactive and undeliverable subscribers now. Yes, even if they’re past customers. Run a re-engagement campaign. See who’s biting and who isn’t. You can segment less interested users, but it may be best to just get rid of anyone who isn’t a high quality lead before it’s harder to determine. Your sender reputation will thank you.