Seismic shifts in CRM marketing - what’s changing and why you need to prepare now

Clint Bratton
By Clint Bratton | 22 September 2021
Clint Bratton.

Clint Bratton is MD of CRM agency Track

Email marketing is a critical part of the digital and performance marketing ecosystem which overwhelmingly delivers better performance than any other channel.

That’s why it’s a huge deal when something markedly shifts the email marketing foundations – like the forthcoming data tracking changes driven by Apple’s iOS 15 update. This brings substantial consequences for every email marketer - and a whole lot of chaos for marketers who are ignorant or choose not to prepare.

Marketers and CRM professionals who are aware and ready will thrive relative to the brands who wait it out and react following the change.

What exactly is changing?

Apple’s upcoming iOS 15 update is expected to arrive between September and November 2021. The new OS continues Apple’s recent push for greater consumer control of their data and includes Mail Privacy Protection, a function that allows users to turn off industry normalised email tracking. This in turn will make it harder for marketers to get data related to Apple users’ email behaviours.

The change doesn’t automatically impact anyone who has an Apple device. Firstly, the user will be offered a choice as per the experience below. Based on 94% of users adopting an earlier update relating to app tracking, we expect customer adoption rates to be close to 100%.

Source: Ryan Jones

Based on the user experience shown, it would be logical for customers to believe that third-party mail apps, like Gmail for iPhone, will adopt the changed customer preferences. Yet this is not the case - in fact, only where Apple Mail is used as the default email app will the change be effective (including Apple Mail users who link third party mail accounts such as Gmail).

While the penetration of Apple opens will vary by database, accessing email through mobile devices has grown in popularity, increasing Apple’s influence in email. In Australia, Apple customers represent anything between 35-40% of most datasets, while in the US, Apple is more dominant with 50-60% of customers (Litmus). While remaining recipients on Android, or other email clients, will not initially be subject to this change, we expect the other mail providers will quickly follow Apple’s lead. 

Regardless, the volume of Apple Mail users is significant enough immediately to make conventional email reporting data overall very unreliable.

What are the immediate impacts for your marketing programs?

There are two significant impacts as below.

1.     Open data will be unreliable

The biggest complications flow from inaccurate open data. Marketers will no longer be able to see whether an Apple Mail recipient has opened their emails. Apple will essentially cache the open for recipient email, regardless of whether the users subsequently open and read that message. To the sender, it will appear that 100% of those recipients have opened those emails, therefore open rates will appear to have gone up but will be completely falsified.

This is a big deal for CRM Marketers, with several knock-on impacts and potentially dramatic consequences:

  • Open rates and Click to Open Rates (CTOR) can no longer be used as a core metric for email marketing reporting and optimisation.
  • A/B testing of subject lines and preheader content will be pointless.
  • Existing workflows will derail, specifically those that utilise an email open as a signal, as these will trigger unnecessarily, while similarly, reminders commonly resent to unengaged audiences will completely fail to activate.
  • Frequency of email is likely to unintentionally increase, where models based on opens fail and presumes all customers are highly engaged (automatically falling into highest frequency sends).
  • Send time optimisation will fail, where it’s based on the historic open activity of users.
  • Email deliverability will become ever-more challenging since postmasters within service providers (e.g. Gmail) cannot evaluate your authenticity based on the open rate determining engagement levels within your list.
  • IP Warming will become considerably more difficult (at least initially). 

2.    IP addresses and OS of recipient will misreport

Marketers will no longer be able to target or personalise activity based on IP-address or OS. While use of this personalisation is quite niche, where used, it throws up some significant reworking and functionality compromises:

  •  Location of recipients will be unknown.
  • Device type personalisation will fail (e.g. device trackers that detect the OS to enable App Store or Google Play download messaging).
  • Countdown timers might show outdated times and show the time Apple receives the email vs. the time the recipient actually opens.
  • Any content powered by localisation of IP’s will be wildly inaccurate (such as localised weather or nearest store location).

We need a new solution to measure campaign success..

Open rates are dead!

The days of using open rates to provide any indication to campaign success are numbered. Marketers will need to look beyond the vanity metric of an email open to know if a real human is still there and interested in the content. Deeper metrics such as clicks and view-through data, attributing digital conversion goals, will become the new industry standard to evaluate engagement and success from email campaigns and automations.

Substituting the pursuit of email opens in favour of email clicks will go a long way to resolving the CRM marketer’s challenges.

Surely click metrics are more indicative of true campaign success in any case? Click behaviour can be used as a direct replacement to judge a marketing experiment (subject line or content A/B tests), power engagement workflows and will become a key metric of interest for postmasters when determining the reputation of a sender.

What else CRM marketers need to do now?

To prepare for the change, email and CRM marketers need to act immediately.

They need to focus on achieving more click activity and build benchmarks for evaluating campaign success.

There is also a lot more marketers can do to make the most of existing email tracking functions, while they last. Specifically:

  • Clean (read remove) your lists of inactive, unengaged contacts now.
  • Conduct experiments to learn which subject line and content variables work best for your existing automations.

Further activity that needs to be completed ahead of Apple implementing the change includes:

  • A comprehensive audit and rework of any workflows which depend on open rate or IP/OS detection to run and personalise any email campaigns or digital workflows.
  • Utilise more traditional and meaningful RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) or a combination of clicks, purchase activity and purchase value to determine engagement and power any adjusted activities.
  • Prioritise alternative email reputation systems. Implementing a DMARC/BIMI policy  will become more important to ensuring deliverability.
  • Consider use of additional CRM tactics, such as Push Notifications or SMS to help you expand your reach.
  • Look at existing creative for all your automations and campaigns to establish what can be done to make the emails more click-able.
  • Examine and revise the targeting and relevancy of all your messages – can the content be more relevant, compelling and therefore more click-able.

The example email below from BP Rewards shows an “Activate offer” button to encourage users to click on an offer, regardless of whether they continue to transact. Expect creative approaches using this style of click attraction to grow significantly as Apple’s Mail Privacy Policy changes come into effect.

A change for the good?

Apple’s updates and the rate of consumer uptake are an indictment on the digital marketing fraternity. The setup is, all abusers of consumer data are some form of marketer, and therefore, all marketers are abusers. That is, the logical conclusion from this update, since Apple doesn’t differentiate between senders – each is effectively tarred with the same brush of the invasive marketer trapping consumer data and invading consumer privacy. There’s no option for a customer to hand-pick individual and trusted brands that they might agree to traditional tracking to continue.

For digital and CRM marketers, beneath a thin veneer of “doing the right thing” lies an uncomfortable truth.

Tracking consumers through websites and email campaign is commonplace and normalised. But for the unsuspecting mum and dad consumer, these tracking policies are confronting.

The industry has buried consents and not done enough to truly inform, educate and solicit acceptance for this type of tracking. The industry has been found out and fuelled a consumer revolt.

The immediate changes are an opportunity to scrutinise and define new norms to mend the industry’s reputation with consumers. In the mind of consumers, the line was crossed when CRM marketers tracked every email open, all while this was standard practice for the marketer. A move to accept consumers right to privacy around which email they do and don’t open is just the beginning. The immediate solution to pivot toward tracking clicks also carries a concern. Is there a way marketers can be transparent and inform consumers that their movements online are tracked – and get individual consent as a trusted brand?

The line of what’s acceptable and normal needs to shift toward the customer. It’s time we made CRM less invasive.

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