In an era driven by data and technology, privacy concerns are wielding a significant influence over the marketing landscape. Apple’s iOS 15 update, featuring the Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature, set off a chain reaction across the digital marketing world a few years ago, and the more recent Apple iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection has had a similar affect. Here’s some insights we’ve gleaned that may help others navigate the changes to ensure continued marketing success.

iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection: Ripples through Email Marketing

Two years ago, the introduction of Apple’s iOS 15 Mail Privacy Protection feature allowed users to conceal their IP addresses, which prevented email senders from knowing when an email has been opened. Prior to this update, every email service provider was able to use a tracking pixel. Now, Apple has a default mechanism that makes it look like every user has opened your email. While this might enhance user privacy, it disrupts traditional email marketing analytics and tracking mechanisms. Metrics like open rates and engagement tracking, which have long been staples of measuring campaign effectiveness, face potential inaccuracies.

How ActiveCampaign Adapted and you could, too

ActiveCampaign approached this change from a different angle. We have always emphasized the need to build and nurture engaged, permission-based email lists, and after the update, this change was essential for all businesses to make. Marketers started to recognize that a smaller, more engaged audience is far more valuable than a larger, uninterested one. This shift highlighted the need for authentic interactions and relevant content that resonates.

Because of this shift over the past few years, personalization and segmentation are gaining momentum. Marketers are finding creative ways to tailor content based on user preferences, without relying heavily on open rates. This move toward personalized communication fosters stronger connections between brands and consumers, while mitigating the impact of privacy updates. By understanding your audience’s needs and crafting messages that align with those needs, you can enhance engagement even in the face of reduced tracking accuracy.

However, it’s important to be mindful of data privacy when it comes to personalization. Customers want to feel like they’re your only customer. That’s why marketing professionals often utilize custom fields and tags. At the same time, customers don’t want you to leverage their personal information in a way that seems transactional or invasive. So, here’s a rule-of-thumb marketers can use to avoid crossing that line: if customers have granted consent to their information (often by filling out a form), it is okay to use. Don’t take this consent lightly. Because they have provided valuable information on their preferences such as how and when they would like to be communicated with, that data should be taken into consideration with each message.

SMBs Shifting Gears

As businesses evolved from these changes, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) were particularly challenged. Limited resources often restricted adaptability, making it essential to strategize wisely. For SMBs heavily invested in email marketing, the focus became on building a loyal subscriber base through personalized content and engagement-driven campaigns. It’s important to understand that the size of your email list doesn’t matter nearly as much as nurturing already loyal customers.

Another strategy gaining prominence is the diversification of communication channels. This is not to say spend less time in your email marketing efforts, but to encourage you to stay agile and explore other channels as well.

Data Tracking Obstacles Beyond iOS 15

I mentioned Apple’s iOS 17 update. Here’s the main hurdle to it: a link tracking protection feature that removes URL tracking parameters. These parameters have historically been leveraged to track a customer’s website journey after clicking a single link. Now, marketers can’t see that activity if the link clicked is on Apple’s Mail, Messages, or Safari Private Browser.

At ActiveCampaign, we handle our links differently and anticipate no impact at this time from Apple’s iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection update. We respect customer privacy and are committed to protecting our link tracking system and safeguarding against potential misuse. Our focus is to build trust and provide valuable insights that help customers effectively manage their businesses and serve their own customers.

The impact of these privacy updates extends beyond email. Social media platforms, most notably Facebook, have also felt the tremors. Changes in data sharing policies and limitations on tracking user behavior have led to a reevaluation of advertising strategies. Marketers who heavily rely on platforms like Facebook for audience targeting need to pivot. This presents an opportunity to rethink the way customer data is collected, analyzed and utilized.

Embracing the Future: Proactive Adaptation and Ethical Practices

In the long term, marketers must be prepared to adapt continually. Staying up-to-date with everchanging privacy updates and trends is vital. With the impending rise of stricter privacy regulations, such as those inspired by the General Data Protection Regulation, marketers should be proactive in adopting strategies that respect user privacy while delivering value. This could involve obtaining explicit consent for data collection and being transparent about how customer information is used.

Reshaping Strategies for a Privacy-Centric Era

The days of relying solely on open rates and engagement metrics have long been waning, and marketers are being called upon to adapt and innovate now more than ever. Marketers should continue to reshape their strategies, ensuring that they not only respect user privacy but also continue to deliver meaningful experiences.

Mathew Britt is the director of software engineering at ActiveCampaign. He has more than two decades of experience in guiding teams and managers to success.

About the Author: Mathew Britt is the director of software engineering at ActiveCampaign. He has more than two decades of experience in guiding teams and managers to success.