iOS Updates: Influence on Marketing and How to Adapt

5 December 2023
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Apple rolled out the seventeenth version of its iOS operating system, known as iOS 17, on September 18, 2023. This update has introduced enhanced privacy restrictions related to tracking in Safari. The changes implemented by Apple affect the ability to measure campaign performance. This update is merely a single step in a series of changes intended to enhance user data protection. It is not the initial change and will definitely not be the final one. Hence, it is crucial for marketers to comprehend their future trajectory and delve into potential remedies for forthcoming obstacles. But to understand the big picture, let’s go back two years and look at the updates in retrospect.

iOS Updates: Influence on Marketing and How to Adapt

Marketing challenges of iOS 15 updates

Two years ago, Apple struck at advertisers by launching iOS 15 on September 20, 2021. The update has had implications for advertising and digital marketing tactics. This included new functionalities that enabled users to obstruct commonplace tracking practices in performance marketing. Of the numerous new features, the three most influential on your digital marketing strategy were “Hide My Email,” “Email Privacy Protection,” and “iCloud Private Relay.”

Hide My Email

Apple’s Hide My Email feature allows users to generate unique, random email addresses that direct messages to their personal inbox without divulging their real email. As a result, a user can be associated with different email addresses for different companies, although all messages are forwarded to their actual email. That has posed a challenge for email marketing, which is crucial for brands to identify users and establish connections for website purchases. 

The impact: In order to adjust, brands had to reconsider and reorganize their CRM systems to accommodate multiple email addresses for each individual customer. As the email address became interchangeable, it made sense to explore alternative ways of identifying unique customers, such as using phone numbers alone or a combination of phone numbers and names.

iOS Updates: Influence on Marketing and How to Adapt

Email Privacy Protection

The introduction of Email Privacy Protection has significant implications for marketing efforts. It enables iOS users to conceal their IP addresses from mail senders, effectively preventing senders from detecting if their emails have been opened. In the past, marketers and brands relied on tracking pixels to determine email open rates, a crucial metric used to assess the success of email marketing campaigns and guide future strategies.

The impact: Email Privacy Protection results in marketers being unable to accurately monitor open rates and gauge user engagement with their emails. This loss of valuable data represents a notable setback for marketers, as they will no longer have access to insights regarding how recipients interact with specific email content.

iCloud Private Relay

The effects of iCloud Private Relay on marketing are mainly observed in the loss of signal in attracting new customers who have activated IPR. IPR enables iOS 15 and later Safari users to conceal their IP addresses by routing their traffic through multiple internet relays. 

The impact: Relying on IP addresses for audience targeting has become unreliable, leading to negative impacts on geo-targeted campaigns. 

iOS Updates: Influence on Marketing and How to Adapt

iOS 17 update: one more challenge

Initially, we expressed the idea that iOS updates are not one-time sporadic actions of oppression of marketers, but a process aimed at protecting user data. And the more loopholes appear (thanks to new technologies for collecting user data), the more serious and decisive measures are being taken to contain this. And, if iOS 16 turned out to be quite harmless, then the 17th update made a lot of noise.

Link Tracking Protection

The release of iOS 17, which introduces a feature called Link Tracking Protection, is a significant setback for marketers who depend on tracking data across various platforms and channels to assess their campaign performance. With the update, Apple has eliminated tracking parameters from URLs when users engage in private browsing on Safari. Private browsing, similar to incognito windows and tabs in Google Chrome, does not retain browsing history. Apple employs Link Tracking Protection in Messages, Mail, and Safari to achieve this.

iOS Updates: Influence on Marketing and How to Adapt

For instance: Parameters in URLs serve the purpose of identifying the source of the traffic. Although Safari does not remove all parameters from the URL, certain well-known parameters such as Facebook (fbclid) and Google (gclid) are affected. These parameters often contain personal information, which is precisely why major tech companies like Apple aim to halt their usage.

Tracking tools blocked

Tag Managers and other well-known tracking tools are currently not allowed. In addition to removing parameters, Apple has implemented further changes to Safari’s Private mode. The new version completely prevents different Google marketing tools from functioning properly. This includes prohibiting Google Tag Manager and any tags integrated through it. Furthermore, Google Analytics, Google Ads, and Facebook Ads that are implemented separately from GTM are also restricted.

The global trend

In recent years, Safari and Firefox have made similar changes to prioritize user privacy, and Chrome is expected to follow suit soon. This signifies a growing trend among big tech companies to adapt their tools and platforms to better protect user privacy. This shift has significant implications for digital marketing, particularly in terms of tracking user data. 

Marketers need to be aware that tracking individuals on a granular level is becoming increasingly safeguarded. This means that any reports, dashboards, and models that rely on individual-level data must now consider these adjustments. Moreover, it is unlikely that this trend will diminish in the years to come.

The future of digital marketing

The future of marketing lies in the preservation of the structure: utilizing zero- and first-party data. Prioritizing user privacy is not only a commendable objective, but also crucial for establishing trust and consent within customer relationships.

Zero-party data refers to the information willingly provided by individuals to brands, such as email addresses, phone numbers, and birthdays. 

First-party data is the data that brands can observe about shoppers while they navigate their websites, only after obtaining consent.

iOS Updates: Influence on Marketing and How to Adapt

Here are a few examples of how these data types can be utilized:

  • Analyzing traffic flow can help identify methods to increase repeat visits and enhance both desktop and mobile experiences.
  • Understanding the average time spent on specific pages can provide clarity on which pages are most engaging for users.
  • Monitoring cart abandonment can shed light on which products users frequently leave behind in their carts.
  • Evaluating purchase history allows businesses to understand customers’ preferences in terms of product types and expenditure.
  • Measuring purchase frequency enables predictions of future purchases, helping anticipate customer needs.
  • Determining the average order value aids in understanding the revenue generated by an individual compared to the expenses incurred to secure their purchase. This information can be valuable for developing effective pricing strategies.

iOS Updates: Influence on Marketing and How to Adapt

Final thoughts

The recent iOS updates indicate a growing focus on safeguarding users’ personal information and hindering marketers’ ability to analyze their activities. It is important to understand the complete situation and anticipate potential actions from different regulators to ensure preparedness.

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