In iOS 15’s new world, email marketers are turning to a new channel to engage customers

The recent rollout of iOS 15 introduces Apple’s latest addition to the digital privacy toolkit, and new additions to Cupertino’s growing suite of do-not-track options represent a sea-change level event for email marketers in particular.

The change is tied specifically to iOS 15’s new feature, Hide My Email, which is set to do exactly what it says. Additional features won’t make email marketers’ lives easier either. For example, iOS 15 alters how brands can track open rates based on pixels. IP address masking also blocks the marketing team’s ability to strategize based on known locations and geotracking. 

The stakes are material and significant. With some 30%–50% of email users being Apple Mail users, for advertisers that heavily rely on email to unlock personalized, meaningful, permission-granted engagements, campaigns are going to become even more challenging. 

However, one thing brands tend to do well is adapt to new and shifting technology. In the way of alternative channels that make up for missing addresses, and right on the cusp of its 30th anniversary, the longstanding SMS message is on the shortlist of approaches marketers can take to stay close to their customers with one-to-one offers and loyalty-driving campaigns.

How SMS is set to solve Apple’s email challenge

The iOS changes aren’t the first time advertisers have had to work with alternatives to email. They’ve been building multi-channel solutions all along.

“We needed a revenue-driving solution that could reach our customers faster than email but wouldn’t take away from our email channel,” said Ori Adler, e-commerce director at American Hat Makers. “We wanted a solution that could supplement it.” 

For Adler’s team, that solution proved to be SMS. The channel ticks three crucial boxes: SMS is opt-in, it’s anchored by zero- and first-party data, plus it’s location-aware and performance-oriented when it comes to metrics such as CTRs, CVRs and ROI. Furthermore, as a primary conduit to the consumer, SMS represents a one-to-one approach that carries an urgency often missing in the average email subject line. 

However, for marketers to achieve swift and successful adoption in iOS 15’s new privacy-first world, marketing teams will have to find a way to turn email subscribers into SMS subscribers — and they need to do it at scale.

Approaches and insights for turning email lists into SMS sign-ups

First, for marketing teams that haven’t put an SMS list into play, the primary step is to invite email subscribers to the new conversation. A targeted email campaign promoting the SMS program and encouraging existing subscribers to migrate over is the most direct route. Teams can also include SMS sign-up as a regular call to action in email newsletters, and for prospects and customers who haven’t yet signed up for either email or SMS, marketers can still engage them with website dual subscriber collection tools.

The key to subscriber success with this tactic is differentiation. In a recent survey, for example, Yotpo, a leading e-commerce marketing platform, found that 36% of shoppers will sign up for SMS in addition to emails if each channel has its own exclusive offers. 

It’s also essential to begin testing from the beginning, trying straightforward approaches to the SMS value exchange, and then testing and refining as responses come in. 

“A new channel might look overwhelming, but if you start with the essentials, you can test until you succeed,” said Anthony Ridley, head of marketing at Til You Collapse. “Start with simple ways to grow your subscribers and tried-and-true messages, and go from there. After you see the (fast!) ROI, going all-in will be much easier.”  

If a bit of “extra” is in order, another way to convince customers to make the leap to SMS can be found in a recent Glossy report on Steve Madden and that brand’s list-signup strategy. The marketing team nudged its 15% discount offer for sign-up to 20%. According to Jeff Silverman, president of global e-commerce for Steve Madden, the move was easy to justify: the brand expected to see steady conversions from migrating customers over the lifetime of the relationship. For Steve Madden this was a loyalty program focus, but the strategy is equally applicable to growing an SMS subscriber base.

The long game: Keeping SMS lists strong after the switch

Once the post-iOS 15 move to SMS is underway, the marketing team can bring additional tactics into play, further expanding their subscriber lists and keeping their SMS programs vital. 

The first step is to make it easy for people to opt-in by adding multi-channel subscription tools — essentially, sign-up widgets, QR codes and the like. The idea is to catch the eye wherever shoppers happen to be, whether it’s scrolling through social media, browsing the brand website or visiting a physical store. 

The second step is to clearly communicate the reasons why they should share their phone number in the first place. What gets customers to “yes” on the move to SMS is the short-term value that comes with the promise of new, unique discounts. What keeps them on the SMS list after that is related: It’s the long-term value of the channel’s customer experience and relationship-oriented incentives. 

In the end, it’s important to emphasize that email marketing is not going away just because Hide My Email was added to iOS 15. Brands will adapt, but to do so, it will be critical for advertisers to expand and diversify their marketing. From early access to new product drops to prioritized support responses, the key to solving the challenge is to effectively engage the iOS audience of mobile consumers who prefer texting as their way to communicate and encourage them to share their private information. Adopting SMS now is an essential step for marketers striving to keep the brand–customer conversation alive and vibrant — even as privacy policies evolve, and even if they become stricter in the years to come.

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