What marketers need to know about 2022’s key privacy changes

In many ways, 2021 was a good year for marketers. The bounceback for the global economy after the dip of 2020 led to an expansion in marketing activities.

This has been confirmed by a new report from SparkPost, which has discovered that 71% of businesses have grown their marketing teams in the last year. These figures reflect a vibrant industry landscape and the value organizations place on a strong marketing team.

Yet, at the same time, marketers are having to contend with perhaps the most seismic changes to the way they operate since the introduction of GDPR in 2016.

Privacy concerns, which have been percolating for several years now, have become the catalyst for two of the world’s global tech superpowers to make changes to the way they operate, which will have a significant impact on the day-to-day processes of marketers.

Apple’s iOS 15 updates, which were rolled out in September 2021, allied with the ongoing industry-wide phasing-out of third-party cookies, mean that marketers are finding it harder to mine information about their customers. It is possible, too, that the two initiatives are the beginnings of a paradigm shift that will continue to drive marketers to rethink data collection and usage practices.

It is no wonder then that the SparkPost report, titled ‘Email in 2022: The trends, behaviors, and benchmarks driving email forward’ discovered that 82% of marketing leaders are actively preparing for privacy changes, and that 67% of practitioners say they’re concerned with how privacy changes will affect their ability to perform.

Apple shifts the goalposts

Over the last few years, Apple has responded to increased concerns about privacy with a series of changes. It was one of the first web browser developers to limit access to third-party cookies and, in June last year, it announced that Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) would be coming to the company’s Mail app on iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey devices.

MPP’s key initiative is that it prevents senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. Essentially, senders are unable to tell if a person has opened an email, thereby depriving them of one of the key methods of gauging the effectiveness of their communications. MPP also masks the recipient’s IP address, so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location. You can find out more about the impact of iOS15 on email marketing in our ultimate FAQ guide: ‘Apple Mail Privacy Protection’s Impact on Email’.

Among the impacts that MPP is already having are:

  • Open rates are inflated
  • Open times are random and unreliable
  • Device information is unavailable
  • User location is approximate

To sum up George Schlossnagle, founder and distinguished engineer at SparkPost, said recently: “The privacy landscape has been changing for years, as users have been clearer about their displeasure with marketers peeking into their private lives. This has taken the form of both regulation – CAN-SPAM, GDPR, CCPA – as well as moves by industry leaders to protect user privacy.

“Apple’s MPP is a significant advance in the latter, and with Apple’s wide reach, it will likely have impacts beyond Apple customers. It will change how the industry looks at email engagement, along with many aspects of email workflow that will impact.”

Google to end third-party cookies

Third-party tracking has until recently been a staple of the marketing/advertising world, enabling marketers to collect data so they can serve ad content based on previous behavior.

Now Google has committed to ending third-party access from its Chrome web browser – which has a market share of just under 70%. It’s a controversial move that some pundits think will be catastrophic for the adtech industry. It has also sparked a response from German publishers who recently vowed to fight it in the European courts.

What is most likely to happen is that a compromise will emerge before the plug is finally pulled on third-party cookies in 2023. Google has been working on a series of alternatives and recently unveiled a concept called Topics that learns about a person’s interests by logging their moves around the web. The company categorises the sites that the user has visited and segments them into one of 300 topics. Advertisers will then be invited to display ads on one of the three topics that it has allocated based on a user’s browsing history.

What next for marketers?

The recent changes underline the importance of zero-party and first-party data to marketers. These are likely to take centre-stage as the changes occur. Zero-party data is data that an individual proactively and intentionally shares with a company – the most obvious example is buying intention. First-party data concerns data that is collected directly from interactions a customer has with a channel – for example visiting a website or responding to an email.

In the ever-changing privacy landscape, getting access to third-party and second-party data will become increasingly complex – first-party and zero-party data will become the gold standard.

Which brings us neatly back to why I think marketers will renew their focus on email and other channels that are powered by zero- and first-party data. Brands need to know their audiences as well as possible, but far better to work with consumers to create better profiles that drive longer-term loyalty and engagement.

As email marketers, we’ve long understood the importance of building these profiles and putting data to work more effectively for our beloved channel. Email has the ability to be the glue between consumers and brands. Everything from promotions, to educational content, to retargeting can all be done using your most precious first-party data asset: email.

The bottom line for marketers is that, in the coming years, as much as 50% of open data will become unreliable and no longer useful as a success metric. It will be time to focus on reliable first- and zero-party data given willingly by consumers.

Email has always been a highly useful tool for marketers looking to build meaningful relationships with their customers. As the tech giants continue on their path towards higher levels of privacy, email and the data it generates will become ever more valuable.

The demise of third-party cookies puts a tailwind behind channels that leverage first-party data – email being the most pervasive channel using first-party data. We should all be gearing up for more investment in email and SMS because owned data is about to be more valuable than ever.

You can check out the full benchmark report for more 2022 email insights here.

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