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Apple's news won't be the end of email, but it will bring change

210111-RKD-Email-marketing-has-grown-up-in-the-last-decade-Doodle-v2We've heard it all before—predictions about the end of email marketing. After all, why would any nonprofit organization use this antiquated channel when they can reach people through their website, text or social media?

The answer is because it simply works. People still open and read emails.

Yet email marketing has been declared dead so many times now that it feels like Kenny from “South Park.” The latest death knell comes with the recent news of Apple’s iOS 15—“Oh my God, they killed email!”

Let’s look at what this announcement really means for nonprofits and how it will affect fundraising:

Email and iOS 15

On June 7, Apple previewed the features coming in iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey, the operating systems for its products. The big news, of course, is a change in privacy protection that will prevent companies from collecting data through email.

Apple already shocked the advertising world earlier this year by allowing iPhone users to opt out of all tracking in apps. Companies use this data to personalize ads, but it’s well known that users don’t like this invasion of their privacy. In fact, early data shows that 96% of users have opted out of app tracking.

Currently, email providers add a tiny 1x1 pixel to emails that tracks info like open rates, IP address, location and more. They use this information to understand what messages are resonating with their audience and to monitor behavior and engagement.

Apple’s new Mail Privacy Protection feature will give iPhone, iPad and Mac users the ability to block that tracking by loading the content of the email remotely and assigning it a random IP address. This feature will be available starting this fall.

apple mail privacy protectionImage: Apple

Open rates aren’t that important

Let’s be honest: If open rates are the most important metric you track in email, then you’re not doing it right.

Even with the use of pixels, open rates are flawed.

Think about it: When does that pixel load? Sometimes it’s in your email preview window—did you truly “open” that email? How often do you actually open your emails in a separate window (outside of mobile)? What about when you're paging through your emails using the up or down key. How many opens are you generating then?

Opens are a measure of engagement for that audience, but it’s a bit subjective. It all depends on what is determined to be the expected human behavior. Developers can differ on the reporting logic for opens.

Take it from the Salesforce Pardot Product Team: “We do not encourage using opens for gauging engagement, as they have long been unreliable.”

Deliverability and other concerns

Open rates were already a bit of vanity metric. Apple’s changes make them even less useful.

The good news is that email marketers will still be able to monitor clicks and track behavior with UTM codes. The bad news is that important metrics like deliverability still rely on pixels.

It’s critical for marketers to know that people are actually receiving the emails they send, and it’s unclear how this will work in a pixel-free environment. Also, depending on when the images are preloaded by Apple, this move could break live or real-time images, like countdown timers and dynamic content.

This news is still pretty fresh, and the entire marketing industry is still figuring out what these changes will mean in the short and long term. Eventually, we will pivot in such a way to continue effectively monitoring campaign health and programmatic performance.

Remember: VHS tapes went away, but we still watch movies. Pagers went away, but we still reach people urgently. Video killed the radio star, but we still listen to music.

So don’t mourn the demise of email just yet.

Life finds a way. The email industry will find a solution.

Charles Lehosit

Charles Lehosit has been described as an entrepreneur, solutions architect, strategist, technologist and futurist. As Vice President, Technology, at RKD Group, Charles excels at developing solutions that answer clients’ business needs. Charles understands what it takes to deliver successful projects, and he has done so for clients like Coca-Cola, U.S. Army and General Motors.

Charles brings deep digital experience to RKD’s clients, having performed virtually every job an IT professional can hold. Charles is a leading expert in application development, API integration, CMS, CRM/eCRM, email marketing, lead generation, mobile development, SDLC and website development.

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