How will iOS 15 affect your email marketing activities?

It happened just recently. Apple announced its plans to make device privacy and security changes in the upcoming release of the iOS 15 operating system, expected sometime between September and November. While the announced changes were well received by the Apple user community, they raised concerns amongst those that know and love all of the tremendous benefits email marketing has to offer.


What’s all the fuss about?

The aforementioned concerns came about because a great many of the planned changes are likely to heavily impact all those who market by email. Indeed, the iOS 15 update is expected to affect various data that marketers employ to work their magic and to improve their subscribers’ customer journeys.

Before, however, you begin stressing out, allow us to ease your worries and assure you that the world is not coming to an end. Moreover, the update might even represent a major opportunity for the email marketing community.

IOS 15 is hardening the way it protects its users’ privacy

Apple has set itself a goal to protect the privacy of its customers by disrupting the operations of various marketing tools, such as indications whether emails have been opened and passing on IP address information, which provides geographical data regarding iOS devices and Apple Mail users.

It’s true that these changes don’t affect all subscribers, but they (the changes) will impact marketers that will need to modify their measurement methods and to slightly adjust their existing objectives and methods.

OK, what are the changes?

  1. Hiding tracking pixels – The well-known pixel that is automatically embedded in each marketing email and counts the number of openings will be neutralized by Apple for all users that use Apple’s specialized email app. For these users, Apple will respond to the email marketing system to indicate that an “opening” occurred, regardless of whether the email was actually opened or not. This state-of-affairs can disrupt the general opening rate data in campaign reports.
  2. Hiding iOS 15 users’ IP addresses – This feature will prevent email marketers from collecting subscriber IP address information. The significance of this is that it won’t be possible to know the geographic location and, in certain cases, it will not be possible to record a user’s IP address upon sign-up, barring it from being used as evidence in court that the user indeed signed up to the list. The repercussions of this feature are less significant, and we also don’t expect that all Apple users will enable the feature.
  3. Hiding iCloud + users’ email addresses – The new feature will allow Apple iCloud+ email users to hide their real email addresses, and in their place, especially on sign-up forms, to provide fictitious addresses randomly generated by Apple. All fictitious email addresses provided during sign-up will redirect emails to the real addresses, but advertisers will not see it.


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Cutting to the chase, how will the iOS 15 update impact my email marketing strategy?

The changes announced by Apple will affect the data provided regarding users of Apple’s email app on ipadsOS, iOS 15, and macOS Monterey. What effects will this have? Here are all of the answers:

  • Up till now, marketers used email opening rate data to evaluate the effectiveness of their campaigns, to create customer journeys based on campaign opening rates, and to resend emails to subscribers that didn’t open said campaigns. With the new changes, using this data to optimize campaigns can flood your subscribers’ inboxes as opening rate information can be significantly skewed.
  • Opening rate data often serves as the base for strategies to get to know your subscribers and allows marketers to see which subscribers in their mailing lists are active and which aren’t. Disrupting this piece of information will impede segmentation based on this data.
  • It will be impossible to know when iOS 15 users opened their newsletters, such that algorithms predicting the optimal opening time for each subscriber will become roughly 30% less effective.
  • Concealment of iOS 15 users’ IP addresses will preclude the option to send out newsletters based on subscriber time zones, effectively invalidating IP-based geographic segmentation amongst these users.
  • IP address concealment will also impact newsletter content updated in real-time based on user IP information. For example, it will not longer be possible to display real-time weather data according to the subscriber’s geographic location. In addition, IP addresses will become less reliable as evidence for the courts of user registration.


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From hysteria to history

As we already alluded to at the start, the services and features announced by Apple have created waves around the world and caused many marketers to squirm in their chairs. And, indeed, upon first glance of the new changes, Apple is offering iOS 15 operating system users, the concern is understandable. However, if we take a closer look at the information and understand the big picture, we can sit comfortably again in our chairs and send our worries and the hysteria packing to the pages of history.

The affected market segment

There is no arguing that Apple has an impeccable reputation, exceedingly loyal followers, and not a few users across the planet, but, while enviable, at roughly 15% of the global smartphone market share, Apple is not the only, nor the dominant player. Samsung has overpassed Apple with approximately 20% of the market, and Xiaomi is about on par with Apple, such that the expected changes will be relevant only to the relevant proportion of subscribers in your mailing list.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” Stephen Hawking

The iOS 15 update essentially shifts some of the control marketers have over subscriber information to the subscribers themselves. This will force marketers to be better and build more substantive relationships with each and every one of their subscribers. Now, marketers will need to earn the right to access subscriber information, and this will require them to invest greater, more substantial efforts in personalization, in targeted content, and in messages that provide true added value to subscribers.

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OK, so how do we respond to the new changes?

Here are a few tips, ideas, and guidelines that will help you overcome the limitations iOS 15 is expected to impose:

Learn how to rely on other data elements in your email marketing system

After the iOS 15 update is rolled out, opening rate data will continue to be relevant and will display updated data regarding subscribers that don’t work with iOS 15. As such, we recommend working with click-throughs as well, not only with opening rates (OR).

Update existing automations:

If you have active automations, check if you have steps that depend on “open email” actions, and change them to use the “click on email” trigger, so you don’t end up sending additional emails to subscribers who have indeed opened your campaign.

Testing will remain relevant (although there will be those who will prefer to rely on click-throughs instead of open rates):

ActiveTrail’s A/B testing tool, which allows marketers to determine which newsletter elements (pictures, titles, buttons, coloring, text, and more) are effective and which are not, will remain very relevant. Here’s why: It will still make sense to conduct A/B tests based on opening rates as the statistical variation will be neutralized by the fact that the number of Apple users in each group (group A and group B) will be, on average, the same. This leaves the android users (roughly 73% of worldwide smartphone users) to determine which option (A or B) works better. A small caveat here is that the reduced population size may create a statistical irregularity as to the statistical significance of the winning option but seeing as the A/B tests provide an indication and estimated prediction, the results are statistically “good enough” in most cases. Of course, if you wish to check which is the winning group based on click-throughs, that’s a definite possibility and, in certain cases, even more efficient.

Draw conclusions based on trends in requests to unsubscribe:

After the iOS 15 update comes into effect, it will still be possible to clearly view the number of subscribers wishing to have themselves removed from your mailing list. This data point offers fantastic insights regarding the strategic effectiveness of your email marketing. A high removal request rate evidently indicates that your email marketing strategy is not optimal, and the opposite, i.e., if there are only a small number of requests to unsubscribe, you’re on the right track.


Begin leveraging the system’s capabilities and working with additional tools

Create personal surveys:

While some of the information regarding Apple users may not be accessible anymore to marketers, there are other tools that we can use to obtain the same data, such as geographic regions, areas of interest, etc… For example, we can easily and rapidly integrate surveys into newsletters. Through surveys, we can learn about subscriber profiles and their areas of interest, and with the aid of the information collected, we can improve, get the most out of our content, and make it personal.

Incorporate SMS campaigns into your customer journeys:

Incorporating SMS messages allows you to create multi-channel customer journeys and increases your chances of bettering your conversions. If you aren’t yet including text messages in your marketing tool chest, now’s the time to try them out, see what information you can learn from your subscribers, and examine the impact this information has on your conversion rate.

And finally, redefine your average opening rates:

At the moment, opening rates are still available and relevant. Use this time to analyze your activities and redefine your goals based on this existing data. Additionally, it’s worth checking how many of your subscribers are iOS 15 users. By doing so, you’ll be able to check, estimate, and determine your new average opening rates once Apple’s security and privacy changes come into effect.

It seems that the upcoming iOS 15 update presents quite a few challenges for marketers. With that said, we have seen in this article that there are effective ways to get around the new limitations, to overcome the downside of the changes and that there is even an opportunity to get to know our email marketing better, to fine-tune our marketing funnels, and to create much more personalized customer journeys. Whether you have all of the data or not, it is known that 72% of subscribers claim that they interacted only with personalized content and that roughly 80% of subscribers state that they will only purchase from a brand that provides personalized content. Capitalize on the time period before the new iOS 15 changes become effective and make lemonade from lemons.