Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on B2BMarketing.net.

Since the rise of data-driven marketing in the ‘80s, data became a tool that marketers relied on. We’ve since moved past the days of seemingly unlimited data, and data breaches, to more restrictions. However, all is not lost. Here’s why tighter customer privacy restrictions and increasingly limited customer data collection can actually benefit marketers.

The customer privacy movement

There have been numerous privacy updates and regulations introduced over the past few years designed to make the lines between data use and customer privacy clearer. The most recent example is Apple’s iOS15 update launched in September.

One of the main features of the update – Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) – is having a major impact on email tracking. The MPP feature hides users’ IP addresses meaning senders, in many cases, can no longer accurately track email engagement, giving users the opportunity to stop brands from tracking their activity over email. According to our data, 97% of Apple users who have downloaded iOS15 have opted in to MPP, and this number is certain to rise as more users download the update.

The impact of increased customer privacy

Open data to keep lists clean and deliverability metrics in a good place has long been known as best practice for marketers. With the new Apple update, email recipients who don’t open emails won’t necessarily be removed from marketing lists as marketers won’t have access to open data. This not only means a less personalized experience for customers but also has the potential to affect inbox performance.

Inbox performance

As a brand, if a contact never opens any of your emails, the best practice is to eventually stop emailing them because you can assume they are no longer interested in your content. With these customer privacy changes, it is now much harder to determine true open rates and makes it more likely that marketers will continue emailing customers who have no interest, leading to deliverability implications.

Personalization

Email personalization has become an integral part of how brands use their channel to connect with their customers by sending them relevant content.

The average consumer may not understand that by selecting to ‘protect mail activity’, the experience for them may get muddled down into something less personal, giving them a below-average experience.

A lot of information is passed through the open pixel*. Information like device, location at the time of open (IP) and time of open is going to be lost and thus some of the innovation that hinges on this data will also be lost. Marketers will need to enhance their first-party data, using data from other channels, to improve customer experience while respecting customer privacy.

*An open pixel is a small, invisible pixel that, when loaded, tracks the user as an open in addition to details like IP address for regional location tracking, device type and time of engagement.

Impact on email senders

What’s happening with this change for email has a lesser impact than the crushing changes to the advertising ecosystem. Opens are not a perfect metric and come with flaws. It does, however, tell us engagement trends over time. The technology behind opens powers more than an engagement metric (even if that metric is flawed). It makes a lot of the innovation in the email space possible, which is now up to question.

People have come to depend on email opens to gauge upper email funnel engagement such as the value of the subject line, preheader and brand. Without this, it will be challenging to optimize those parts of the email experience.

What can email senders and marketers do to minimize the impact on performance?

Opens aren’t the only way to gauge the viability of list engagement but they are the highest in the email conversion funnel. This means more people will be culled from email lists due to a lack of engagement by way of clicks. But there are things senders can be planning for to reduce the impact on customer privacy concerns.

1. Subject line testing

Subject line testing that relies upon open tracking will no longer be an easy thing to test. Metrics like clicks and conversions that are further down the funnel from the subject line will have to be used. Companies that use Natural Language Processing to optimize subject lines will need to rethink their strategy to update the algorithms that support the effectiveness of their products. However, subject line testing that relies upon data from panel engagement will continue to provide relevant insights and predictions.

2. List hygiene management

Without access to opens, senders will need to rely on clicks and deeper behaviors to know if a real human is still there and interested in the content. Opens have long been an important leading indicator of user disengagement which promoted early removal/retargeting of disengaged users. Some senders might even fall into bad sending practices by not having this metric to use for segmentation. Those who aren’t ready for this may find these news ways challenging.

It may be that looking at each recipient’s engagement across channels will be a way of telling if they are interested in engaging with you. If you don’t see clicks or other channel engagement over a period, it might be time to consider removing them from your lists.

3. Algorithms to support engagements

Send-time optimization often takes opens into account as part of its algorithm to determine the right time to send the email based on open and click engagement. Technologies that power this capability will need to ensure they are updating their algorithms to pull out open engagements for iOS15 users. Check with any vendors you’re working with on how they plan to handle this.

Other innovations such as weather widgets, store locators and trackers that detect which iOS you use will also be impacted.

4. Updates to data strategies

If you use email opens to establish recipient residency, you will need to confirm the location of your subscribers if you want this information for personalization. Going back to basics – asking your customers to update their profile – will be important.

5. Monitor inbox placement

Getting emails to the inbox will be more important than ever – assuming your emails have landed in the inbox based on opens will no longer be reliable. Having a sufficient deliverability tool so you have these metrics at your fingertips will be crucial in mitigating the impact of the iOS15 privacy changes. You’ll need deliverability analytics to understand the health of your list to ward off deliverability risks.

Putting the customer at the center

The privacy features within iOS15 are not the first to shake up the marketing space, and they certainly won’t be the last. What is important, is that marketers are willing to adapt how they use data in order to continue to provide a highly personalized experience that respects customer privacy expectations. These changes require brands to remain customer-focused at all times and to always be thinking about how to make processes and experience better and more personalized.

If brands are more transparent about sign-up options, explaining the use of data, and sticking to their promises, customers are more likely to share data and information with brands in exchange for a more personal experience – it’s a two-way deal.

~Kieran Cooper, SparkPost Technical Account Manager

 

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