Apple’s Newest Privacy Update and What It Means for Your Dealership’s Email Marketing Strategy

Industry News

Big changes are happening in the world of email privacy, and Apple is the first in line to release new privacy features that will change the way you measure the success of your email marketing campaigns and gather data about consumers.

Approach this change as an opportunity to strengthen your email content and gather more relevant data about your customers. This small shift in strategy now will put you at the competitive advantage as more privacy features become the norm in the near future.

What’s Changed

The Apple iOS 15 and OS Monterey updates released September 20, 2021, offer an opt-in privacy feature for Apple Mail that will mean two immediate differences in how you see and collect consumers’ engagement through email campaigns:

  1. Email content will load regardless of whether someone has opened the email or not.
    Apple will now automatically load content for any emails with images or tracking pixels, triggering an “open” regardless of whether a human being ever even sees the email. This will make it harder or even impossible for your dealership to know if emails showing as “opened” in your email platform’s analytics were truly opened by a person, or how many times they might have opened a particular email on that specific model you’ve been trying to sell for months.
  2. Recipients’ location will only be able to be traced to region, not a specific state or city.
    You will no longer be able to automatically collect the particular locale of consumers using Apple Mail. Apple will assign a random IP address to each recipient through a series of redirects so that their location can only be traced to a general region.

What It Means for Dealerships

Your open rates and collected data are likely already being impacted by this change. The number of your dealership’s subscribers using Apple Mail might be as high as 35 to 40% of your email subscriber list – not an insignificant number.

Say you capture your subscribers’ city based on their IP address to understand your engagement density in particular areas surrounding your dealership or dealer group. You won’t be able to collect that data from Apple Mail users anymore – instead, you’ll get a general region which probably won’t give you much valuable geographic information, given the local nature of the dealership business.

Or, if you have been sending follow-up emails for discounted services or other promotions after a consumer shows interest by opening a specific email, you’ll now have to be aware that you could be giving those promotions away to subscribers who never actually showed interest in the initial email at all since their email will show as opened regardless to if they ever laid eyes on it. This is particularly true for those dealerships who use their CRM for email marketing since these typically run on a basic if/then framework (if John Doe opens this service campaign email, then send a 10% off coupon) instead of a program capable of using artificial intelligence to direct the sequence of emails sent.

Reconsidering your strategy for email metrics and data collection now will put you far ahead of the pack down the line and in the not-so-distant future. So, check your email campaigns to ensure they aren’t using if/then logic for sending follow-up emails based on opens.

Workarounds Will Only Make Data Harder to Use

You might be tempted to try workarounds for the privacy update like trying to gauge who has or hasn’t opted in to the new privacy feature by tracking which email addresses start to “open” every email. A lot of businesses, including some of your competitors, will go this route. There’s no science behind this method either, it’s purely subjective.

But these workarounds, however clever they might be, will be a lot of work for an extraordinarily short-lived payoff. Google has already announced plans to release a similar privacy update for Gmail users, and Outlook may not be far behind. These three email clients cover approximately 90% of all consumers.

In the meantime, workarounds will create more disparate data for your dealership team to manage and organize. For example, if you collect information about who opened emails about a new oil change service over the course of six months in one group of subscribers and track only clicks for another group of subscribers, the data you collect for the success of your oil change messaging will be incredibly difficult to gauge and act on to produce new quality email content. And, at the end of the day, quality content is the whole point.

A Shift in Measurement

The truth is, the time has come to think beyond open rates and reliance on the passively collected information. Open rates do not necessarily equal engagement or that the email was relevant to your subscribers. People may open an email just to get rid of a notification reminder or open it and immediately decide they don’t care about its contents.

It’s time to be a bit more strategic and intentionally build in higher quality metrics you can more reliably track. You might try focusing more on the following engagement indicators and ways of collecting data:

Clicks

If a subscriber clicks on a link in your email, that shows definite interest. Clicks are a great indicator of relevance and quality of content. Although not all clicks are created equal; click-through rates on digital ads will be much lower than click-through rates on emails, which use first-party data.

Ask yourself: Are the links in your emails something consumers will find useful, engaging, or valuable? For example, are you sending them to your dealership’s About page that is internally focused and outlines every historical milestone since your business began or maybe useful advice about things, they probably didn’t know they could do with their vehicle’s media settings? Or are you linking directly to a VDP of a vehicle they have shown interest in?

Landing Page Actions

When your subscribers do click through via your email, you have an opportunity to give them an action. Let’s say you send an email about a tire promotion your dealership is running. When the subscriber clicks through for more information, you have an opportunity to learn something about them. You could ask them to tell you what vehicle they drive today, how long they’ve had that vehicle, what vehicle features are important to them, or whatever data it is you’re wanting to collect as part of sending future individualized content to them or those like them.

If you try this, make sure to ask for only a small amount of information at a time and that it’s information you can use to make their digital experience with you better. People like to feel that their online experience is personalized and will answer questions if they trust that the end result will be more content that is relevant and useful to them. Artificial intelligence-driven email communications would already have this information on the consumer, increasing the individualization of the email they receive. Without a solution like this, you’ll be sending blanket emails on Honda Civics to everyone you think is in the market for one, without actually knowing what they currently drive or what stage in the lifecycle they are in unless they explicitly tell you this information.

Responses

Do you ever ask for input in your campaigns via a survey, direct email reply, or other easy response methods? This can be a useful way to learn information that email analytics will never tell you. You could ask for customer stories, get qualitative and/or quantitative feedback, understand where consumers think they are in their buying lifecycle, or get a better sense of their understanding of your brand.

What’s more, you’ll make your audience feel like they’re part of your loop, which increases brand loyalty and trust for your business. Make sure you reply back to them again in a timely manner, even if it’s just to say thank you.

Focusing on More Valuable Measures of Customer Engagement

A privacy update that may seem inconvenient for your dealership’s marketing efforts at first is actually an opportunity to make sure that every time you reach out to subscribers via email, you’re delivering information and actions that they care about.

As you put a focus on the resulting email metrics outside of open rates and try tactics for data collection beyond what your email marketing platform can offer, you will find a whole new set of strategic ways to gain valuable insights about consumers and make a deeper connection with your customers.

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