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The iOS 15 Update: What Building Materials Marketers Need to Know

Did you know that we spend more time checking our email on our phones than we do our desktops? And any time Apple — who has the lion’s share of mobile users — makes a change to how they collect data or handle privacy around email, it's going to have an impact on those of us who are marketers. And Apple's done it again.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About the Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

What do the iOS 15 changes mean if you’re a building materials marketer? To make sure you're getting the most out of these changes, Beth and Zach break down the technical aspects of the update, what to worry about, what to look forward to and what your next steps look like.

The iOS 15 Update: Why Should I Care?

Apple’s iOS is the operating system that runs their devices, and the iOS 15 update brings a few changes that will impact everyone, “especially marketers because we use our phones all the time, and you're marketing to people on social media, on email, on your website,” explains Zach.

Updates from Apple aren’t always so massive, but this one impacts marketers in a few ways. “Frankly, it feels like every third month there's a software update, and we shouldn't be reviewing all of them because a lot of times they are just rather neutral,” says Beth.

“Online traffic is typically 60/40, still desktop, specifically in the building materials industry, which makes sense because architects sit at their desks a lot. Dealers and distributors are visiting your website from their specific dealer location. And also, we've all been at home a lot on our desktops quite frequently over the last 18 months. So,” Beth continues, “why do I need to care?”

Anyone in marketing, even in the building materials industry, will feel the impact of this update, because it’s affecting email, and “close to 60 to 65% of your emails are being opened on mobile,” explains Beth.

“Doubling Down on Privacy”

This isn’t the first time Apple has rolled out serious security updates. “[W]e did an episode a few months ago about iOS 14, which iOS 14 was that massive, massive change that is causing this friction in the big tech space, specifically between Apple and Facebook/Instagram, because they're not allowing apps to track you from one app to the other,” explains Zach. “Apple's basically doubling down in the security area. They want to be known as this privacy secure organization, which there's differing opinions about it as marketers.”

Wherever you stand on data privacy, there are three primary updates that will affect anyone who handles email marketing. Here’s what to look out for.

Feature: Mail Privacy Protection

Apple’s email product will allow users to opt-in to stronger mail privacy. These features mask IP addresses and block third parties from tracking things like email opens.

“This isn't something that means your email newsletter metrics are immediately unreliable,” says Beth. “However, if you do see something that just seems a little bit wonky in the next couple of months, or suddenly a spike is up or down, this would be something to look into to understand if this is potentially impacting that.”

If one of your marketing leads enables Apple Mail Privacy Protection, Apple Mail will preload pixels, even if your contact hasn’t opened the emails. With Apple Mail Privacy Protection enabled, it is likely emails will be reported as "opened" regardless of the contact's activity. That means you won’t be able to accurately count opens, estimate location, or determine device type or email client for these contacts.

“And the second thing is, just to finally reiterate, this is a predictor of the future. Gmail isn't rolling this out tomorrow. They haven't said anything about it or made any comment about it, but it is something to keep an eye on as privacy comes more to the forefront in the online world,” explains Beth.

Feature: iCloud+ Subscription

Apple is also updating users’ iCloud subscriptions with additional privacy features. “Essentially what Apple is doing is they're allowing a subscription that enables an additional privacy feature that is this VPN-like private relay feature that prevents sites from tracking Safari users,” explains Zach. “So if you opt-in to something, they're going to allow you to see, well, who are they sending information to?”

This feature gives users more transparency around how their data is used. “What's important to note about this feature is that this is still in beta,” says Zach. There are questions about how this feature might impact the user experience by blocking access to certain sites or applications.

If there are enough complaints, it might be phased out, he says, “but either way, this is going to impact things like geotargeting, as well as other ad services, through IPs and the networks for companies like Google, for example, because they rely on GPS, they rely on WiFi and Bluetooth and other Google cell IDs or cell towers and databases.”

Feature: Hide My Email

The Hide My Email feature is an email address-cloaking update that enables users (within iCloud+) to give sites a "fake" email address. “This is a great idea,” says Beth, “and it's not something to be worried about, but it is good to know if you start to see weird things happening.”

“So instead of having to create a bunch of random emails so that you can just get the download that you want and then know that that person can't sell your email on to somebody else and give you a bunch of spam, they allow you to enter your email,” Beth explained.

“Mine is [email protected]. If I had an iCloud subscription, I would put [email protected] as my real email, and then they would give me dummy emails, like [email protected], and I would be able to use that to get the tech specs, download the tech specs off of a manufacturer's website or sign up for your newsletter.”

While promotional emails sent from the brand to the fake address will still go to someone's inbox and shouldn't impact important communication, brands will not be able to see the person's real address unless the contact shares it.

“So this keeps you from getting actual personal information about me, which is kind of a bummer from a lead contact and nurturing standpoint. But from a privacy standpoint, this is fine. Frankly, people have been doing this for a very long time. It's not the first time that somebody gave a bogus email to get exactly what they want,” explains Beth.

What Do These Changes Mean for a Manufacturer’s Marketing?

The changes will impact marketing efforts in a few ways, and the real question is: “What does this mean for you as a building product manufacturer? The big thing here is that we need to start to change the way that we look at the metrics in our marketing,” says Zach. There are a few tactics that marketers can use now to get ahead of this change.

“So instead of open rates,” he says, “we need to begin to shift to other metrics to gauge success of an email campaign specifically. This is all targeted email. Metrics like clicks, site traffic, click maps and unsubscribe rates can be other indicators that you should be looking at. But we'll also use things like surveys and customer interviews to gain additional information about what readers are looking for and responding to.”

It’s crucial for online marketers to stay agile. Google also made some changes this year and will be phasing out cookies on Chrome browsers in 2023 — another reason for marketers to take these privacy shifts seriously. These changes mean tools like UTMs will be more reliable for tracking how users engage with your email and website. (HubSpot has a crash course in using UTM codes here.)

Tools like UTMs “are going to become even more important for connecting browser activity, a.k.a. site visits and conversions, with specific users. So if you're not using UTMs as a part of your campaigns, which is something we always do and we recommend to everybody, you need to absolutely be doing that,” says Zach. “Because that is going to tie that user activity across multiple sessions more directly because you might see that disconnectivity between people because they're changing their email address or masking it for some reason.”

But ultimately, “if you have good content, you don't need to worry, because people aren't going to magically stop reading your emails just because these privacies are rolled out,” says Beth. “But if you have just kind of been spamming and getting away with it, this additional privacy stringency is going to hurt you.”

Want Even More Insight?

“There's not a windfall of iCloud subscriptions just stampeding to get this type of privacy,” says Beth. “We all know Apple does things before people even want them. Did anybody want them to get rid of the headphone jack? No. But now we're all super glad that they did, and we love our AirPods.”

Marketers aren’t entirely at the mercy of Apple and the seemingly constant updates, but you can get ahead of these changes to email privacy by implementing other tools and smart strategies.

Need more guidance around marketing your building materials brand? Check out our other episodes for additional insights and tips from industry experts. And be sure to subscribe to and rate the show.