How Apple’s Latest Privacy Changes Will Affect Email Marketing

Last week, Apple rolled out iOS 15, which brought more privacy changes that could undermine tracking and disadvantage digital marketers. Most notably, the company’s Mail Privacy Protection policy will ask iOS device users whether they want to “protect” their mail or not, preventing marketers from determining whether consumers who “protect” their email opened messages.

Street Fight checked in with Kortney Osborne, VP of marketing at the business communication platform Weave, to assess the changes and their impact on SMBs.

How will iOS 15 affect email marketing?

There are still a lot of unknowns about how iOS 15 will impact email marketing and much of the aftermath will be based on this simple question: How many consumers will implement the new privacy features that create a data “black box” for email marketers? 

Every industry has certain standards and benchmarks on click, open, and click-to-open rates to tell if an email is “working” or not. An industry standard pre-iOS 15 for open rates on emails might be 30% with a click rate of 5%. Let’s crunch the numbers for a second — if you send an email to 10,000 people, and half of them are Apple users and half of those Apple users have leveraged the iOS 15 feature to limit the data sent back to the email sender, then you’re left with a quarter of your email list that you’re unable to understand. 

Did they see your email? Do you need to email them a second time? Are they interested in the content you’re offering or the promotion you’re running? All of those questions are now much more difficult for marketers to answer intelligently. And, for consumers, the double-edged sword is that they may actually get more emails and more communications that aren’t as targeted or seem less personal because of that lack of data. 

How will these changes affect SMBs specifically?

The impact to SMBs will be amplified compared to the impact it has on enterprise or larger companies. For example, a small dental office in the heart of Main Street likely doesn’t have a marketing expert on staff, so changes like these are difficult to keep up with because it quite literally isn’t someone’s full-time job to monitor email marketing trends. 

What they may start seeing is that their email appointment reminders aren’t being opened as often, so they send more follow-ups than usual. And those additional follow-ups could potentially cause confusion for the patients they serve and may result in higher unsubscribes than usual. Imagine if you’re a patient who already confirmed your appointment for Tuesday from the automated email you received Sunday night, then you receive another reminder on Monday because — due to iOS 15 — it appears that you didn’t open or click to confirm your appointment. That’s a confusing customer experience that doesn’t breed confidence in the small business. 

While one customer with a bad experience may not be a big deal to an enterprise-level company, the customer may represent $1,000 in annual revenue (or more!) to that small dental office. These changes could have a major impact on how small, local businesses manage their customer communications. Without that valuable email engagement data, they will increasingly be looking for new tools and methods to reach customers outside of email. 

What alternatives do SMBs have to email?

Email is already losing as the preferred communication tool for most small businesses. A recent survey commissioned by Weave found that more patients of small healthcare businesses prefer appointment reminders to be sent by text rather than by phone or email combined

While text notifications seem to be the preferred communication method for important information like appointment reminders or urgent requests, email still matters when it comes to nurturing customer relationships, promoting your brand, and building loyalty. Customer loyalty is critical for small businesses, so ridding themselves of email marketing completely is not an option. Rather, companies are increasingly diversifying communication methods.

However, with increased adoption of communication tools come new challenges: managing higher volumes of customer communications from multiple sources. Small businesses are already cobbling together all of their customer communications using disparate tools — a phone system in the office, a CRM or email marketing tool, text messages from their own personal cell phones, an invoicing tool to collect payments, etc. What’s more, those tools are being managed by multiple staff members all sharing the work. 

In the survey I mentioned earlier, we also found that one in three healthcare businesses are spending over $1,000 a month on all of these solutions, and unless they leverage a platform that integrates them, those tools often don’t work well or play nice with one another. For instance, when a customer calls in asking about the glasses they ordered because they received a call about them earlier in the day, in addition to an email from the week prior, the front office staff has to spend time digging into those various communication platforms just to get caught up and identify next steps — sometimes even having to bring in another team member who might not be scheduled that day just to get the full picture. 

Small businesses and their customers deserve solutions that bring all of this information together in one place regardless of what communication method was used to collect the information. These tools should serve as an asset to the small business and customer alike to augment the communication experience, rather than act as a detractor.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018 and compiled the daily newsletter since 2016. Joe is a journalist who has written widely about technology, business, and politics. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.