iOS 10: What it means for email marketing

With the recent release of iOS 10 comes a new “feature” to the native mail app – a grey bar at the top of every email that tells consumers if an email message is from a mailing list, with a link to easily unsubscribe.  This isn’t the firsappe1t time Apple has made moves to limit the amount of marketing messages iPhone users see. In 2015 with the introduction of iOS9, Apple sparked controversy over allowing users to download ad blockers for Safari. Apple also introduced a “Limit Ad Tracking” feature that has been enhanced in iOS 10.

At first glance, this might seem like an attempt from Apple to “ad block” in the email channel. Before panic ensues for email marketers everywhere, let’s explore how this may impact an email program.

The biggest question everyone is asking is, “should I expect or be concerned about a spike in opt-out rates?”  For the most part, the answer is no and here’s why:

1.While mobile email is king, consumers’ behavior likely won’t change.

The Apple iPhone mail app ranks highest of all email clients, with a 33.58% market share and mobile devices still outrank desktops in email engagement. According to Litmus, emails on mobile devices saw a 56% open rate in July 2016.  At Epsilon, we often see rates even higher than this across our client base.  Consumers still use their mobile device to scan their emails and clean their inbox so that they can interact with emails at a later point in time. Those who typically use their mobile device in this way will often swipe to delete a message that doesn’t interest them before they ever open it.

2. It is easier to delete than to unsubscribe.

Consumers have to open the email in order to see the new grey unsubscribe bar, and then must not only click the unsubscribe link, but then click again on the confirmation pop-up.  This is more cumbersome than simply deleting.  That being said, if a consumer receives such a high frequency of messages that they become annoyed, they will be likely to use this unsubscribe method instead of scrolling down to the bottom of the message to find an opt-out link.  Yet, this isn’t that much different from a consumer’s ability to click their ISP’s spam or junk button when using a desktop.  Marketers should monitor their frequency along with their opt-out and ISP complaint rates.

3. For those who do unsubscribe via this new method, it is actually better than if they hit the junk or spam button in their ISP.

ISPs use complaint rates along with other engagement/non-engagement metrics to determine inbox placement.  If a consumer doesn’t want to receive your messages, unsubscribing via an opt-out link or this unsubscribe link in iOS 10 is definitely better than them hitting the ISP’s complaint buttons.apple2

So how does this unsubscribe feature actually work?  All emails contain header data which consumers don’t typically see unless they know how to expose the full header.  This header contains all sorts of data including the sending IP address, domain authentication data, a return address, message ID, and much more. Apple is reading the email header information to determine the unsubscribe email address.   Any reputable Email Service Provider (ESP) will have set up the means to automatically receive those unsubscribe emails and automatically unsubscribe the email address in their system.

Beyond opt-outs and unsubscribes, there are several things that marketers do need to consider with the iOS upgrade.

  • It will have an impact on creative design.

This new unsubscribe bar takes up approximately 45-50 pixels, dominating some of the very valuable “above the fold” real estate needed to drive response or further engagement within the email.

  • The grey unsubscribe bar shows on many transactional messages (order confirmations, password resets, etc) that typically don’t have an opt-out link.

Most ESPs have the ability to bypass opt-outs for transactional messages, however this could have a customer service impact if consumers believe they are unsubscribing from transactional messages specifically.

  • Adding a brand or sender to your “safe list” or adding to a consumer’s address book within an ISP or specific email app does not make the grey bar go away.

Intuitively, it should, since that is what typically keeps an email from going into a consumer’s junk folder or not being delivered at all.  For years marketers have sent dedicated emails or added copy within emails reminding consumers to add to their safe list or address book to ensure they receive their emails.Apple3

  • Once the consumer hits the small “x” in the right hand corner of the grey bar, the banner disappears in all messages from that email address.

Marketers may want to consider educating their consumers to click the “x” to make the bar go away (similar to how marketers advised consumers to add to their safe list or address book).  If you use different subdomains based on your various programs or brands, and a consumer clicks the “x” for one address, the grey bar will still show for messages from other subdomains.

  • VIP status doesn’t matter.

From the iPhone, consumers can mark specific people or email addresses as special or VIPs.  Even if a marketer is saved as a VIP, the grey box remains.

It will be interesting to see how this feature evolves as consumers adopt iOS 10. The major take-away from this change is: don’t panic. There are certainly some considerations that every marketer should make as a result of the new email unsubscribe functionality, but it does not mark the end of your email program, or a program’s long term success. Just as Gmail’s Promotions Tab didn’t change the email marketing game like some predicted, I don’t expect Apple’s new unsubscribe feature to either. Be mindful of the creative implications and considerations and start monitoring program performance for your iOS subscribers. Only then will you really know how this update is changing your subscribers’ behavior, and only then will you be able to best determine how to address those changes. As more ISPs and developers look for ways to “ad-block” the marketing messages consumers see, it simply underscores the importance of leveraging data, technology and creative to deliver highly relevant personalized marketing.

Pamela McAtee
SVP, Digital Solutions

This post originally appeared on A Brand New View on September 14, 2016