Cookies are crumbling: How Apple's new email privacy features will impact B2B Marketing (and what to do now)

August 6, 2021 Chuck Leddy

On June 7, 2021, Apple dropped a bombshell on the road to a cookie-less future (see full Apple press release here). It announced a series of new privacy-preserving features that will impact email marketing, including this change: “This fall, senders will lose open, IP, and location tracking for all Apple Mail users - regardless of the email service provider the app is connected to, including enterprise email.”

Apple Mail accounts for almost half (46%) of all email opens globally, according to Litmus. If that weren’t impactful enough, you can expect to see more of the same tracking restrictions “coming soon” from other email providers like Outlook, Yahoo Mail, and Google, as well as from enterprise email systems. So your email-related tracking and targeting efforts will be massively impacted, even stopped in their tracks. This post will explain (1) the precise nature of Apple’s changes to email, (2) what it means for your marketing efforts, and (3) what you should do as a result. Let’s dig in.

What exactly is Apple changing?

Email senders will lose the majority of tracking information for any emails opened in Apple Mail. An in-depth community-sourced public doc outlines exactly what's changing for Apple users who opt-in (the document is 50 pages long), but some of the most significant changes are:

  • IP addresses will be blocked

  • Location will be blocked

  • Email forwards will be blocked

  • Actual email addresses may be obfuscated behind an Apple proxy email address

  • Header information will be limited, 

  • Client and device type will be obfuscated

How will Apple’s changes impact you?

Here are 4 big ways these changes will impact your email marketing efforts, as described by a Motiva AI blog post:

1. Open rates will no longer be a viable email performance metric. Email engagement metrics that rely solely on those open signals or timestamps will become increasingly meaningless.

2. Your tools, sequences, and workflows may break significantly: Carefully orchestrated open activity triggers will get fooled and will route any proxied "opened-engaged" contacts immediately. So if you have multi-step campaigns, lists, or logic that depend on these open signals as triggering events for additional marketing actions, you'll need to rethink your entire approach because such orchestrations will be disrupted. 

3. Open rate A/B testing can no longer be your dominant testing strategy: Open rate-based A/B testing will become less effective overall and useless for any known contact sitting behind a proxy server. Open rate-based list hygiene will also become problematic and may result in contacts staying in email marketing flows for too long.

4. You’ll need to up your email deliverability game. It’s safe to assume that deliverability rates across the industry will decline over time due to these changes.You still have to get all the email deliverability basics right, including DKIM, DMARC, SPF, sender reputation, and active blocklist management. If you don't have an accountable person on your team for deliverability, get someone now or outsource it.

What to do next: 5 steps for email success 

Cookies are getting eliminated everywhere, making tracking contacts across domains increasingly difficult. The best response remains an enhanced focus on first-party cookies. In the absence of open-rate (and other tracking) data, you can look to performance marketing best practices to guide you in how to efficiently engage your email contacts at scale.

Here’s are 5 steps you should be taking now in light of Apple’s changes to email tracking:

1. Build trust and relevancy with every contact interaction, so you earn opt-in and the right to engage contacts through sharing high-quality content, using frequency control for email sends. 

As Motiva AI explains it, “if email recipients are in the driver's seat and response data is nil, email marketing is no longer about pushing as much out as possible” but about building trust with relevant data, which may mean sending fewer emails. The days of “batching and blasting” email are over. 

2. If you're relying on open rates as your primary engagement metric, stop right now. Instead, begin tracking other engagement metrics such as unique click-through rate or click rate or aggregated multi-channel activity against time.

3. Design your nurture strategy around click-throughs, web visits, form activity, purchases, and other first-party interest data. “Think in terms of building behavioral "signal resilience" in a world where you'll need more kinds of data with no third-party cookies and limited email tracking,” says Motiva AI.

4. Highly tailored and targeted campaigns matter now more than ever. Look for more opportunities to create highly-personalized emails based on a combination of data gleaned from activity, demographics, and other first-party data.

5. List hygiene will need to become more proactive based on a deeper analysis of contact and proxy server behavior. You can no longer just rely on opens for list hygiene, but will need to access and analyze other metrics to keep your contact list updated.

Conclusion: Like it or not, cookies are crumbling

You don’t have to like the privacy-enhancing features that companies like Apple and Google are driving today, especially since they’re forcing marketers to change how they market. If tracking across domains becomes impossible in a world of crumbling cookies, first-party data remains the key focus for marketing success. And in order to get that first-party data and customer authentication, your marketing needs to focus on building customer trust and opt-in with consistently relevant, high-quality content.

Guess what? You should have been doing this type of marketing anyway, long before cookies started to crumble. Now, it’s the only way forward.

Want to learn more about adapting your B2B email and marketing efforts to a cookie-less future? Reach out to us for help.

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