Exploring the Mail Privacy Protection Impact on Email Personalisation

By Kath Pay

The Mail Privacy Protection impact extends beyond just open rates, affecting dynamic content personalisation.

Few events generated as much concern in email marketer circles as the advent of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature in 2021. MPP, as it is commonly called, was one of several privacy-focused changes Apple has introduced in recent years to restrict outside organisations from accessing or tracking data from people using Apple devices.

MPP followed an earlier change in Apple’s iOS version 14.5 that required app developers and owners to get explicit permission from device owners in order to track their user data (the App Tracking Transparency, or ATT, framework). The introduction of iOS 15 included two privacy features that more directly affected email marketers:

  • Hide My Email, which allows email users to create alternative email addresses that concealed their primary email addresses from tracking.
  • MPP, which anonymises email-open activity. This artificially inflated an email campaign’s open rate and rendered details such as the time, device and location of the open nearly useless.

MPP can affect segmentation and, in particular, the accuracy of some kinds of email personalisation.

Mail Privacy Protection impact on measurement

While many email marketers worried that they would no longer be able to measure their email activity effectively, many best-practice proponents have argued that making the open rate even more unreliable might finally persuade email marketers to stop using it as the success metric for revenue-based campaigns and to seek out more tangible and relevant metrics.

Early results in the months after MPP went into effect in September 2021 showed how the open rate appeared to increase because of the way Apple reported it. According to SparkPost data provided by company Co-Founder George Schlossnagle, unique opens rose about 12% for most senders. About 75% of senders saw an 8% increase, and the remainder had an increase of 15% or more.

The inaccuracy stems from the way opens are measured in HTML email messages. (Text-only email does not generate open rates.) An HTML email includes a one-pixel image. When the email is opened, the tracking pixel sends a message back to the server, a signal interpreted as indicating the email has been opened. However, this signal does not activate when a customer views an email without images enabled or in a preview pane, or when the reader does not scroll down far enough in the email to activate the pixel.

Even though the open rate has been widely discredited as a best practice for measuring the success of revenue-based email campaigns, it is still the metric that 95% of email marketers track, according to a 2021 Litmus report, The State of Email Analytics, while 88% track the clickthrough rate. In contrast, 55% of email marketers track conversions, and 17% measure ROI.

However, the MPP workaround many email experts suggested – to use the clickthrough rate instead – is only slightly better advice. Clicks are more tangible proof of customer interest than opens. But these also can be gamed, too, especially by click bots. Additionally, clicks also do not necessarily predict purchases, registrations, form completions or other actions relating to what the campaign’s goal might be.

After several years of implementation, MPP’s effects are still being analysed. However, a 2022 poll conducted by the email community Only Influencers, the ESP Campaign Genius and the email agency RPE Origin found that 70% of marketers said MPP had no effect on their business.

MPPs effect on personalisation

Although Mail Privacy Protection impact on email has been discussed in terms of requiring changes in measurement, it also has had an impact on personalisation. One area that has been directly affected is real-time content personalisation.

As noted, MPP blocks the tracking pixel in HTML email that activates a signal on the sender’s server when that email is opened. Marketers have relied on these pixel activations as a proxy for reader activity. On devices where the user has enabled MPP, Apple now loads the tracking pixel and all other remote content on Apple’s servers instead of directly from the sender’s server.

This action masks other open-related data, such as the date and time a message was opened, along with the location and device where it was opened. This data had been helpful in creating dynamic email content that could be triggered according to location, such as weather information and store locations.

The introduction of MPP means that subscribers in one location might end up seeing content based on data from an Apple data centre’s location instead, which renders that content’s usability moot. Content affected by this includes maps of nearby store locations, geographically targeted event invitations, and localised weather reports.

Another personalisation tactic – real-time inventory updates – has also been affected. This feature meant a brand could include only items listed in its inventory as being in stock when an email was opened. By masking the email open time, the items pictured in the email might be out of date.

As a workaround, brands can revert to previous practices of linking to store locators to help customers find their nearest stores and using default merchandising collections of items based on past purchases.

This article is reproduced from Econsultancy’s report, Email Marketing Best Practice: Segmentation and Personalisation, authored by Kath Pay, and one of a suite of nine email guides available to members.

Originally posted on Econsultancy

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