To say the past year has been an eventful one for marketers would be an understatement. From increasing privacy restrictions, to ongoing supply chain issues, advertisers across every channel have had to regularly adjust their strategies to reach consumers with the right message, at the right time.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most impactful changes and events email marketers have faced in 2021, and heading into 2022.
Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP)
In June 2021, Apple previewed an array of new data privacy-focused features for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8. Among these features, several had a direct impact on email marketing in particular, including Mail Privacy Protection.
MPP was fully released for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8 in September 2021, and macOS Monterey in October 2021.
1. Loss of Open Rate & Open Time Tracking for Opted-in Apple Mail Users
Open rate and open time are valuable metrics for email marketers, providing insights into if—and when—a subscriber actually opened an email that was sent. Monitoring open rates is made possible through a small, invisible tracking pixel included in the email itself.
With the introduction of Mail Privacy Protection, Apple now prevents advertisers from using pixels to gather user information, including if and when the subscriber opened an email. This limits advertisers in a few ways, including the loss of ability to reliably A/B test to determine ideal send times and subject lines.
“We’re very likely to see a rise in open rates making this KPI less reliable, and impacting other areas of your program using open rate, such as engagement segmentation, automation logic and live content. It will be important to incorporate other funnel metrics like Click Thru Rate, Conversion Rate and purchase and site behavior.”
— Emily Clarkson, Director, CRM & Email at Tinuiti
Who is affected by this change?
This update applies to any Apple Mail app user who has opted-in to the related privacy setting. It’s important to consider that the Apple Mail app can be used to open emails from other email services, including Gmail.
As explained by Litmus:
“MPP affects any email opened from the Apple Mail app on any device—no matter which email service is used such as Gmail or a work account. However, this doesn’t affect other email apps used on Apple devices like the Gmail app on an iPhone.”
2. Loss of IP Address for Opted-in Apple Mail Users
In addition to limiting insights into open rate and open time tracking, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection also masks opted-in users’ IP addresses.
From a pure privacy perspective, it prevents the ability to track a particular users’ full online journey. However, it also limits email advertisers’ ability to provide users with location-based, dynamically-generated content when those users open an email through Apple Mail, including maps to their nearest stores.
iCloud+ (iCloud Plus)
“iCloud+ is a new service upgrade (part of the existing iCloud subscriptions). The latest version is Apple’s attempt to amplify their existing cloud with new features including a Private Relay, Hide My Email and unlimited storage for HomeKit-enabled home security cameras. Users must activate/opt-in to use the latest solutions.”
3. Hide My Email for Opted-in Apple Mail Users
Apple’s innovative Hide My Email feature gives privacy-conscious users the best of both worlds: the ability to subscribe to email lists and newsletters that interest them, and an invisibility cloak of sorts for their email address to ‘wear’ when doing so.
When a subscriber chooses to use Hide My Email, their actual email address is never provided to the brand or email service provider (ESP). Instead, Apple creates a unique, consistent identifier for that user, which can’t be tied back to their personal email account, automatically forwarding emails to the subscribers’ personal inbox where they can be viewed.
Advertisers can still send emails to these subscribers, they just won’t know who they’re sending them to.
You might be thinking: “So what’s the big deal as long as the subscriber gets the email?” To be certain, that is the most important part! However, when advertisers don’t know who they’re sending an email to, they also don’t know where the recipient lives, or what time it is there.
As such, one of the likely unintended consequences of Hide My Email is that it can cause countdown timers in emails to display the wrong information for these users, and inhibit geo-targeting capabilities.
“The latest feature allows users to essentially create ‘burner’ emails to sign up/register for new accounts. Emails to the burner address will forward to the user’s real email address to limit personal information shared with advertisers and to limit spam.”
— Leah Lloyd, Group Director, CRM & Email at Tinuiti
The good news is that sending personalized emails to Hide My Email subscribers is still possible thanks to Apple’s consistent, unique identifier for each user.
When a Hide My Email user chooses to subscribe, you can use their information for future communications from that point forward. That said, all Hide My Email users are effectively brand new subscribers once they opt-in to that setting—even if they have years of purchase and browsing history tied to their personal email account—making it important to rebuild site and purchase activity from these “new users.”
Another important part of every program that needs to be monitored more closely with this change is deliverability. If these new email addresses are deleted, they will be categorized as hard bounces, which can cause deliverability issues.
4. Email and Mobile Messaging Became the Dream Team
While email and mobile messaging (SMS/MMS) advertising have been a dynamic duo for a few years now, 2021 saw them taking their relationship to the next level.
As brands and advertisers increasingly work to break down silos in their marketing efforts, new insights to improve how, why, and when consumers are reached with ads (and which ads) are unearthed and refined. But for some channels—like email and SMS—advertisers are realizing they can do more than simply work well in tandem; they can be the Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen of marketing.
“It’s no secret that SMS will continue to grow, especially as shoppers look for new ways to engage with brands. As you expand your retention efforts, make sure to keep in mind the whole customer journey and push for personalization. Text is a much more personal channel and defaulting to batch and blast (just like in email) won’t keep customers engaged long term. Yotpo reports that 60% of respondents would complete a purchase if sent a personalized offer via text message. Of shoppers polled, 39% are signed up to receive text messages from only 1-4 brands. That to me screams a huge opportunity to stand out from your competitors.”
— Christine Watson, Director, CRM & Email at Tinuiti
5. Bronto Marketing Platform Went Bust
Oracle Netsuite, the company that acquired Bronto Software nearly six years ago, announced in March 2021 that they had assigned “end of life” status to Bronto Marketing Platform, with the final date of service slated for May 31, 2022.
Bronto is far from a small player in the email service provider (ESP) space, and the announcement left many brands scrambling to find a new ESP ASAP, with many planning to begin the actual migration process in January 2022, given the timing concerns in relation to Holiday 2021.
As noted in our announcement regarding Bronto’s closure:
“Brands should have a sense of urgency in vetting out a new ESP for migration. Because of the timing, Q4 2021 presents a huge hole and challenge in the middle of the timeline. Brands need to be aware that safely onboarding subscribers to a new ESP could take 4-6 weeks (dependent on list size) and that most development teams have a code-freeze heading into the holiday. Plan your migration timeline to take place between now and September 2021, or January to April 2022.”
— Leah Lloyd, Group Director, CRM & Email at Tinuiti
If you’re a current Bronto user and haven’t yet selected a new ESP, or are simply shopping around, be sure to review the 7 tips for selecting an email service provider in our announcement.
6. Plan B is the New Plan A
Having to deploy your backup plan has become the new normal in 2021, and it’s very often not due to any lack of preparation or missteps on the part of brands or advertisers. Simply put, we’re living in tumultuous times, and those tumultuous times come with challenges that include:
- Continued strain on the supply chain
- Ongoing COVID-related concerns and new variants
- Changing data privacy requirements and restrictions
The good news is that email advertising allows for some preparation ahead of time that can help minimize the impact on shoppers and subscribers.
“In regard to contingency plans specifically, we typically create an “Oops” email template for our clients early in their campaign. This is a dynamically coded email that is already designed and ready for the appropriate messaging. If a coupon code breaks, the site goes down, inventory goes out of stock—or any of a number of unexpected events occurs—we can just plug in whatever the message needs to be and send that out to whomever was impacted quickly.”
— Kait Cummings, Email Marketing Strategist at Tinuiti
7. Email Marketing Insights Became More Valuable
Email marketers have an incredible wealth of first-party, privacy-compliant data at their fingertips—the exact kind of data that’s becoming increasingly hard-to-come by as we head toward a cookieless future.
In 2021, email marketing has fully flexed its muscles as a team player, and we expect it will continue to be a top contender for Marketing MVP heading into 2022, and beyond.
8. Subscribers Want to Know Where Brands Stand
The votes are in, and the results are clear: customers want to know not only what products your brand sells, or what services you provide—they also want to know who you are.
To be certain, it wasn’t that long ago that many brands did their best to steer clear of anything that felt too much like “politics.” They kept their focus on the products or services they provided, and kept quiet about their company stance on current events and more. But as always, the brands that are most successful give the people what they want, whether that’s a favorite product in a new color, or more information about your company.
It’s crucial to remember that many shoppers vote with their dollar. And there is certain information they might want to learn about a brand before casting that vote.
In 2021, we saw a great deal of that information being shared through on-site messaging and email marketing. Email makes the ideal medium to provide a wealth of information in an easy-to-digest format, delivered directly to subscribers for their ready reference. The format offers the necessary space to dive into complex issues, linking out to additional resources on or off-site as needed.
As for what type of information we saw brands sharing more of in this past year through email?
- How COVID-19 is impacting their operations
- Supply chain challenges being faced, and how they’re navigating them
- Information about how and where they source their ingredients or materials, and how fairly the providers of those materials are compensated
- Safety conditions in processing centers and warehouses
- How they are working to reduce waste and pollution
And what they aren’t sharing?
As mentioned above, most brands have historically steered clear of anything that felt too much like “politics,” but feeling like politics and actually being politics are two very different things.
In most cases, it is still good business practice to keep your actual voting record to yourself; this increased sharing of information doesn’t mean someone from your brand should take to Facebook or Instagram with all their thoughts about the President or Congress, whether positive or negative. But as for the types of information highlighted in the bullets above? Those are things that make sense to share with your customers. And email has proven itself to be one of the best ways to do it.
9. Personalization & Ready Digestibility Increased in Importance
As we discuss in detail in our soon-to-launch 2022 Email Marketing Guide: Email and Mobile Messaging in the Age of Privacy Concerns and Highly Personalized Expectations, personalized emails are no longer simply a nice-to-have, they’re what subscribers expect.
Just like most folks reading this, many of your subscribers are likely receiving hundreds of emails every day. If those emails aren’t crafted just for them, based on first-party data insights you have at your disposal, chances are good they’ll quickly move onto the next one.
10. Brands are Sending Two Types of Emails Now
You may be looking at #9 above and thinking: But what about all those detailed emails we talked about in #8?
As covered above, brands are increasingly using email to convey information about where their company stands on important issues, or how they’re navigating COVID-19, supply chain disruptions, and more. But that doesn’t mean that all your emails should be paragraphs long.
In 2021, many email marketers found themselves creating two distinctly different types of emails:
- Long-form, information-packed newsletter-style emails (same email for all subscribers)
- Punchier, to-the-point, personalized emails with clear calls-to-action
While both types of email are important, it’s those punchier, personalized emails where you have to capture attention fast. Lean into the products subscribers have browsed or purchased in the past, and preferences they’ve shared, to craft emails that are highly likely to interest them specifically.