What Apple's mail-privacy update means for businesses

When iOS 15 was announced in June, it came with the promise of exciting new features for users. But the same launch caused a stir for brands – especially those that rely on consumer data to build marketing campaigns.
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Mail Privacy Protection, one of the functions of Apple's most recent iOS update, doesn't allow email marketers to know whether an email has been opened, and can hide readers' IP addresses. This impacts how businesses can access third-party data that's been gathered by tracking consumer activity online.

Apple's move hasn't come in isolation. From the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to China's new Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), regulation is shifting in favor of protecting consumer data, and businesses need to follow suit. A number of web browsers have already blocked – or are in the process of blocking – third-party cookies, which means that users' internet activity can no longer be tracked once they leave a particular website. Apple's announcement shows that the company is taking these privacy concerns seriously, and setting a new standard for digital marketing as a whole. 

What does this mean for businesses?

Some businesses are already turning to different metrics to measure customers' responsiveness to campaigns. Others are recognizing that they'll need to be more transparent with customers about how they gather and use their data. Beauty brand Kulfi has also diversified the media platforms it uses to reach customers, focusing on content creators and an in-house content platform. Here's how other businesses are responding.

• Michigan-based furniture brand Floyd has shifted away from using lookalike audiences, a marketing method that targets prospective customers based on similar characteristics and interests. ‘Lookalike effectiveness is rapidly declining,’ says Racheal Brown, VP of marketing. ‘We've started using our knowledge of the customer to inform the targeting, rather than letting machine learning do the work.’

Y.O.U, a UK-based underwear brand, has decided not to use A/B testing in light of the new update: ‘We are considering segmenting based on email app. Around 50% of our subscribers use Gmail, so we could A/B test for all other email applications, excluding Apple, which makes up around 15% of our subscribers,’ says Jess Rigg, content and communications manager at Y.O.U. 

• Australia-based luggage brand July is seeing the effectiveness of paid advertising drop. ‘The data we have is not as granular, and it is more expensive generally to acquire customers,’ says marketing lead Zhoe Low. Instead, July is focusing on zero- and first-party data, which consumers consent to giving the brand. ‘We're doubling down on email marketing, brand and influencer partnerships, and testing new channels like Pinterest and TikTok,’ she adds. 

• Powdered-smoothie brand Kencko is going old school with an out-of-home campaign. ‘The truck-side graphics use the visual language of online advertising, with copy lines like: “The only thing blocking this ad is the traffic”,’ says co‑founder Ricardo Vice Santos. ‘For our first IRL campaign, we wanted to poke fun at the direct-to-consumer world (including ourselves), and maybe strike a chord with people who find online advertising frustrating or intrusive.’

Given growing anxiety about consumer privacy, it's in businesses' best interests to design forward-thinking marketing strategies that don't rely on intrusive data collection. ‘The winners in this situation will be the businesses that already have a better strategy in place – ones with stronger ethics and permissions for users,’ says Prathab Narenthiran, head of client services at Zedosh, a transparent advertising platform. ‘Gen Z are already becoming more savvy about their data and what they want to share, or if they want others to profit from it.’

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