Cheat Sheet: Why email marketers are calling Apple’s iOS 15 update ‘a proverbial nail in the coffin’

Woman sitting a desk looking at computer screen with magnifying glasses surrounding her head.

At the Apple Event yesterday, the tech giant revealed its latest slew of offerings, including the iPhone 13 and new Apple Watch, slated to hit the market in coming days. Mention of iOS 15 was only a footnote, but updates like Hide My Email and other privacy related features have advertisers in a tizzy as Apple continues its crackdown on data privacy. 

“When it comes to email marketing, this move puts a proverbial nail in the coffin for email open rates,” said Greg Zakowicz, director of content at Omnisend, an email marketing and SMS platform.

Currently, marketers use email open rates as a metric of success in email marketing campaigns. Marketers say iOS 15’s new features curb those open rates, hindering some from even appearing in personal inboxes, meaning in-email link clicks will become increasingly important.

iOS 15 is Apple’s latest push to make a world without individual tracking a reality. It builds on top of already restrictive measures including those aimed at fingerprinting and iOS 14 updates that made mobile targeting capabilities more difficult. This most recent iteration complicates the process marketers use to track people through emails. 

Ahead of its official launch slated for this fall, email marketers have already started talking about the impact iOS 15 may have on their work. 

The key details:

  • iOS 15, which was announced earlier this year, is expected to launch this fall, introducing new features including Hide My Email and iCloud + Private Relay.
  • iOS 15 builds upon iOS 14, which pushed many marketers that rely on social media to build an audience to diversify their ad spend sooner rather than later. 
  • Marketers speculate Apple is moving away from allowing third-party tracking to build its own walled garden and ad business. 

What does iOS 15 mean for email marketing?

Since its announcement earlier this summer, iOS 15 has been a talking point for marketers, many of which are still reeling from the changes iOS 14 delivered on mobile tracking capabilities.

iOS 15 introduces more user protection from third-party trackers, including mail privacy protection that stops email senders from collecting data via invisible pixels, according to an Apple newsroom blog post. The update also hides user IP addresses, limiting third-party entities’ ability to track users across the internet. Finally, the Hide My Email feature allows Apple product users to utilize random email addresses that forward to their inbox to their personal inbox, thus keeping personal email addresses private. 

When all is said and done, marketers say the update hinders advertisers’ ability to measure success across email marketing campaigns. 

Blow by blow, Apple has made it clear that it’s looking to end “surveillance marketing,” “where marketers can snoop on indirect interactions that consumers have with brands,” and phasing out third and second-party data, said to Wayne Coburn, director of product at cross-platform marketing platform Iterable. 

“Since they will become an unreliable marketing metric, marketers will need to focus on more meaningful email engagement, like generating clicks,” said Omnisend’s Zakowicz. 

How are marketers responding to the changes?

“With the iOS 14.5 update, brands lost some targeting capabilities with Facebook ads, lowering their returns,” Zakowicz said. “The problem for brands was they relied on someone else for customer data.” 

That being said, platforms like Omnisend, have started talking to clients about pivoting email marketing to accommodate Apple’s latest changes. Recommendations include cleaning up current email lists to remove unresponsive contacts and start performance testing to better “navigate in a world void of opens.”

Others are recommending clients focus on stepping up their own first-party data and prioritize opt-in messaging where users can choose if they’d like to receive email communication from advertisers, and personalize messages so users are more likely to interact. 

iOS 15 isn’t necessarily the end of the world, marketers say. The update is just the latest in a series of the end of third-party data tracking, pushing advertisers to rely more heavily on first-party data.

“Marketers are going to lose some functionality with this update,” said Dan LeBlanc, CEO of Daasity, an analytics and data platform. “But at the end of the day it’ll be just another update in the long line of events that were supposed to be the ‘death of email’.” 

With Apple’s crackdown and Google’s ‘Cookie-pocalypse,’ what should email marketers and advertisers as a whole expect?

With this latest update, email deliverability will remain at the forefront of email marketing, according to Coburn, as it’s most likely not the end of the privacy battle. It will, however, mean email marketers will need to find new ways to measure email marketing campaign effectiveness. 

“The fact of the matter is that email opens are not a measure of success,” said Iterable’s Coburn, calling it a vanity metric and pushing for higher quality metrics like link clicks, website clicks and sale conversions. “While there are valid reasons to monitor opens, marketers should be focusing on meaningful metrics that drive value (and indicate revenue) for their brands.”

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