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Is iOS 15 tricking your email performance?

Have you recently experienced a sharp rise in your email performance?

Apple released iOS 15 in September 2021 and with it some email privacy changes, which 'prevent senders from knowing when a person opens an email, and masks their IP address so it can't be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location'.

What does this mean and how does this impact me as a marketer in Pharma?

In general, we know that almost 40% of the population use Apple Mail as their preferred email client, with HCPs being no different to the average person.

All of these users across iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey devices will have been met with an option to "Protect Mail Activity' upon the first time opening the app post-update. You'd expect that nearly everyone would have selected this option because there is no good reason not to.

As a result, email senders will be seeing open rates significantly higher than before because the pixel that records an open will be doing so regardless of whether a user opens the email or not. The open of an email is usually tracked when the images load, but with this update, Apple Mail is preloading images by default.

That sounds great you say? Well, not really.

Whilst the open rate will look great, it will cause some knock-on effects that will need to be carefully managed, here are just some:

  • Not being able to use opens as part of your email segmentation strategy, including keeping lists up to date with engaged customers only

  • Disruption to automatic flows that rely upon the open of the previous email, leading to over communication with customers

  • Not being able to test subject lines to better understand what interests customers

  • Optimisation of send-times to better meet your customer when they are likely to engage with your content

Does this affect users of other email clients?

Many people prefer to use Gmail, Outlook, or other email clients instead of the native Apple Mail app. If this is the case then these privacy controls will not be in effect, even if the device is running iOS 15.

There isn't any specific news to say these other providers will or will not follow suit, but based on history of other similar updates by Apple, it is likely that Google and Microsoft will eventually make some sort of similar change too.

What can I do to work with it?

  1. Check the current levels of Apple Mail users amongst your target customers to build a picture as to how big of an issue it is for your company. We asked eight Pharma companies if they knew what percentage of their email database used Apple devices and the Apple Mail app and only two companies had the data available. The majority either said they could not track, or they just simply didn't know if they could or not.

  2. If the answer to the above is a low percentage, then in the short-term you can just adjust open-rate expectations to neutralise the impact by analysing how many people open your email on the Apple Mail app and marking them down as an automatic open, thus increasing your target open-rate on dashboards.

  3. Focus on clicks and conversions by designing content that encourages action. Finding the right balance between providing immediate value within the email, as well as additional value through clicks onto your website.

  4. Modify automations that trigger from opens into ones that trigger upon clicks. This is not as simple as making the switch, it will require some changes within the content flow as per point 3.

As we said earlier, there is a chance that this will become the norm across all email providers eventually, and if it does, don't worry, it will not be the end of email! It will still remain one of the best ways to grow and connect with audiences, as long as we continually evolve in an ever-changing landscape..

The ambition is always to deliver a great customer experience, and this starts with an in-depth understanding of the different channel experiences driven by different devices, email clients and operating systems, as well as the evolution of the customer behaviour.

Therefore, a more proactive and more in-depth approach is required, where systems and processes need to be created to monitor all of these moving parts, but ultimately aggregate them to understand the overall experience delivered.


This article was written in collaboration with the TruExperts Digital, a European network of experts, academics & agencies all with a strong data-driven approach.


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