Email Marketers Seek New Standards for Authentication

One year since Apple's Mail Privacy Protection, the dust has settled

On Sept. 20, 2021, Apple changed the email marketing landscape forever with the launch of its Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature. MPP prevents senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about their recipients, key customer data like open rates and location tracking in particular.

This meant email marketers had to shift their focus away from open rate data and rely instead on other metrics to ensure the success of their campaigns like inbox placement, subscriber engagement, spam hits, unsubscribe rates and sender reputation. When the news hit, marketing professionals expected that MPP would make measuring email deliverability more difficult. And a year after its release with iOS 15, we’ve seen our suspicions confirmed—but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

The shift in email

While we understand how and why Apple’s privacy-first philosophy led to the introduction of MPP, it has resulted in some unintended consequences for subscriber engagement. Validity’s latest State of Email Analytics data shows that marketers aren’t in love with MPP, with only 9% reporting they feel positively about the update. Of those respondents, 39% said MPP is having a significant impact on their company, with two-thirds believing it has permanently changed email marketing.

Some of those changes aren’t so welcome. Recent data indicates 34% of marketers saw decreased email engagement, 32% saw decreased deliverability and 30% saw inflated open rates. Additional research found that if a sender’s pre-MPP Apple Mail open rates were at 20%, they’ll now have around a 4-to-1 ratio of fake to real opens, which means 80% of their reported opens are essentially garbage data.

Recycled spam trap hits are also up since MPP was introduced, a sign that many marketers are either counting fake opens or expanding their lookback windows too broadly. This challenge is becoming more pronounced—in early October 2022, Apple’s IPRs declined to below 60%.

The new rules of engagement

With global deliverability rates currently volatile, email marketers urgently need solutions to account for what’s sure to be a difficult season. 

In the wake of MPP, many senders have ditched open rates as their preferred measure of engagement, mostly turning instead to clickthrough rates. While clicks are fewer and farther between, they’re a more accurate measure of engagement, and there are a number of optimization tactics email marketers can use to boost them.

If you take a close look at some of the marketing emails in your inbox, you’ll notice an increase in prompts to “click this” or “click here.” That’s no mistake. Behind every button is an email marketer looking for proof of engagement.

We’re also seeing a shift toward greater use of zero-party data, which is provided intentionally by email subscribers rather than culled from their behavior. A tried-and-true method of collecting this data is the preference center: a landing page subscribers can use to make choices about the emails they’ll receive. Senders should be more proactive in promoting these pages and encouraging their use for a highly personalized experience.

The case for BIMI

With MPP hindering efforts to measure engagement, senders need to be more proactive in using tactics that will simultaneously drive engagement and customer trust. Brand Indicators for Message Identification, or BIMI, has proven to be a surefire way to accomplish this.

BIMI is an email specification that enables marketers to use brand-controlled logos within supporting mailbox providers. It rewards marketers who strongly authenticate their messages by including an approved logo next to their official emails within recipients’ inboxes, so customers know that your emails are actually coming from you. 

Gmail began its support for BIMI in July of 2021, and with the iOS 16 release, Apple now supports BIMI as well. That means BIMI will now work in about 90% of all b-to-c inboxes, which will lead to increased trust of BIMI-enabled senders, improved brand recall and improved likelihood to make a purchase.

Right now, BIMI is a competitive advantage, as it’s not yet considered a must-have for email marketers. Early adopters will benefit from BIMI’s positive attributes in a way that competitors will not, especially as we continue to feel the repercussions of MPP.

MPP, for better or worse

While MPP has certainly made the life of the email marketer more nuanced, it also forced us to get more creative with our email campaigns and how we measure their success.

Now is the time for senders to be strategic about how we drive clicks and appear reputable in the inbox. We know recognizable emails from trusted sources are more likely to get opened, so Apple’s adoption of BIMI and subsequent support of branded emails will be a boon to those struggling to reach Apple users.

The reality is, MPP is only one obstacle stopping campaigns from turning into customers. The rise in global email volumes, extending holiday season and current economic climate are also currently placing downward pressure on email engagement. Email marketers should consider investing in deliverability tools that clear their path to the inbox and avoid the spam folder to generate more revenue and increase the lifetime value of their databases. It’s just a matter of emailing smarter, not harder.