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IOS 15 Is Not The Death Of Email Marketing

Erik Huberman is the Founder and CEO of Hawke Media, a full-service outsourced CMO and marketing consultancy based in Los Angeles, CA.

When Apple announced the new iOS 15 update, the collective gasp from digital marketers and brands alike reverberated from coast to coast. Email open rates blocked? Admittedly, there’s been a fair amount of concern around data privacy issues. But no one saw this coming. Is this the end of email marketing?

Mail Privacy Protection is an opt-in feature in the Apple Mail app that is included as part of the release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system.

Okay. So, everybody, take a deep breath. Let’s look at this in perspective:

• iOS 15 is only for iPhones, iPads and iPod touches. 

• Android and desktop devices, including Macs, do not use Apple’s iOS. 

• As of August, iOS had over 56% of the U.S. mobile market and nearly 27% worldwide. 

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• Not everyone opens their emails on their mobiles. However, the number is high; 60% of all email opens take place on mobile devices.

These are the facts. But here’s the good news: Based purely on the numbers shown here, roughly 33% of all emails opened in the U.S. are on an iPhone. Of those, a certain percentage will not opt into Mail Privacy Protection. Although the numbers aren’t great, we can work with this. The sky isn’t falling.

Email Marketing Works

Email is an awesome marketing strategy. For every dollar spent, you can expect to earn up to $44. In my experience, it converts better than organic traffic and social media. This isn’t surprising, since subscriber lists typically consist of interested prospects and current users who are already customers and are easier to convert. 

In a Shopify study of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales of over $1 billion in 2017, email outperformed other marketing channels with an impressive 4.29% conversion rate. Are conversion rates likely to change because of iOS 15? Yes. They are likely to increase. Why wouldn’t they? Email marketing is not over. Apple’s new release just changes how we devise strategies. 

Moreover, this is a positive development for the customer experience. Customers want privacy. But guess what? They also want personalization. And all companies can be better at building client relationships. That means making the best use of data to understand what is relevant to customers.

Sometimes your best emails don’t even attempt to sell or push products. You can get a steady stream of revenue just by providing your customers with informative and entertaining content. In order to do this, you need to know who they are. Your customers will tell you what you want to know when they believe in your brand. This means establishing trust. 

Customers want to know what your brand stands for in order to give you a vote of confidence. You can tell them through a consistent and authoritative voice and an outstanding customer experience across all your marketing channels. It’s how you build strong emotional connections that keep customers loyal. 

Clicks Are The New Open Rate

It’s not like we didn’t see the whole privacy thing building. Apple’s iOS 14.5 update limited the ability to track mobile app users by requiring them to opt in to sharing their data after they download an app. Google is also building out its own initiative, Privacy Sandbox. It has already advised advertisers that third-party cookies will be phased out by 2023. But the company isn’t there yet. So there is still good tracking information available. There are other things we can do, as well. But there is no time to waste.

At my agency, we recognize that email open rates will gradually lose salience. Clicks are the new open rate. And that’s exactly what we’ll be focusing on. 

In addition, we are implementing a four-prong strategy — which other marketers may find useful as well — to ensure that our email marketing programs continue to enjoy tremendous success:

• Baseline the data. This will help track iOS 15’s effect on open and click rates and enable future marketing decisions. Ask questions such as: How much of the current database will be affected? Who is on iOS devices — iPhones, iPads and iPods? Which domains are they using — Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.?

• Remove unengaged subscribers. The iOS 15 update will make it difficult to identify engaged subscribers using yesterday’s metrics. Lapses in list hygiene can erode your domain’s reputation. Remove unengaged subscribers or segment them for a reactivation strategy.

• Identify alternative segments based on user metrics. For example, clicks, conversions or order placements may replace email open rates as a KPI and help define active customers.

• Leverage text messaging. Preferred by young audiences, text messaging is a rising star. Open rates — teetering upwards of 98% — are about as high as they get. You can also combine text messaging and email strategies to get your emails read.

Further, although we expect to receive less data on open rates, that doesn’t prevent us from using many of the same strategies we’ve used successfully in the past. We will still want to test segments, subject lines, times of day and more. But we’ll adjust our expectations to reflect the changes in the ever-evolving world of marketing. 

A Change For Email Marketing

One of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes is, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The point is that progress happens. This may or may not be the fork in the road. But for sure, every good marketer needs to look ahead for what comes next. 


Erik Huberman is the Founder and CEO of Hawke Media, a full-service outsourced CMO and marketing consultancy based in Los Angeles, CA.


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