Apple will reshape business communications when it rolls out new operating systems this fall, forcing a slew of industry changes, particularly around email marketing.
The pandemic boost to digital
Whether you run a huge blue chip company or a smaller mom-and-pop shop, you can’t ignore how much the pandemic has driven distanced communications. This has boosted delivery services, online sales, and online customer comms.
Mailing lists have become super important, as have messaging apps. Zendesk Snapshot claims the pandemic drove U.S. smartphone users to spend 20% more of their time in messaging apps than before.
When it comes to Apple, it’s important not just to note that iPhone users tend to spend more than those on other platforms, but that they tend to be more engaged in existing communication systems. It matters to every business that an astonishing 90.5% of all mobile email opens take place on an iPhone.
The cost of privacy
This is also the upcoming pain point for many enterprises, as Apple will soon introduce new features that will help users stay private but also add new challenges to online customer communications.
Not only will these changes obliterate support for the open pixels many marketing systems (including affordable systems such as Mailchimp) use to monitor open rates, but they will also give consumers an efficient way to generate unique single-use emails.
These changes have generated a wave of protests, but most businesses should look to the opportunity. After all, once customers feel private and protected, they will be more likely to engage in emails from their favorite brands, even (or perhaps especially) from smaller companies. While the ease with which consumers can unsubscribe from lists is a risk, the challenge for most brands will be to build authentic communications.
Plus, of course, the most important metric – click rates – will still be visible on traffic logs. We all know that a marcomms list of six million means very little if you can’t persuade people on that list to click on links in your mail. Clicks are arguably a better opportunity for customer conversion than open rates.
Small companies seeking to build digital communications with customers will need to focus on their customers, reach out to build relationships, and work to invest real value in the emails they send.
That much hasn’t changed. It’s just that creativity becomes more critical than ever.
What about Apple Business Chat?
The focus on digital communications in the new era of remote working extends to messaging, also. That’s why Apple Business Chat should become another pillar in terms of building and maintaining customer engagement. Launched in 2018, it lets people request information and schedule appointments using Messages on their Apple device. (Canadian carrier Rogers recently enabled support for Business Chat.)
The carrier joins a growing list of big names to offer the service, including Vauxhall, Zendesk, First Direct, BestBuy, and American Express. They support it because Messages accounts for 25% of the global messaging market — and even more in the lucrative US market.
The mantra of “meeting customers where they are” continues. As Jonathan Evans, Digital User Experience & E-Commerce Manager of Vauxhall Motors, said: “A lot of our customers prefer using iOS, and we always want to exceed their expectations when connecting with us. Apple Business Chat makes communicating with Vauxhall as easy as messaging a friend.”
Such ease of contact should become a new touchpoint for customer communications. It makes sense to consider introducing support for it, in part because doing so reflects the importance of Apple’s customer demographic to so many businesses.
Small businesses have the toughest challenge
The problem is that this is not an equal world. Smaller enterprises do seem to be at a disadvantage when attempting to make use of Business Chat.
In part, this is because Apple insists providers should offer a combination of bots and human operatives. That’s an opportunity for companies such as CM.com, Freshchat, Conversocial, and others who offer access to this kind of infrastructure to smaller businesses for a fee. The problem is that these fees may be higher than some small enterprises — particularly small retailers struggling through the pandemic — can afford.
This means small retailers are likely to be most hurt by Apple’s move to change the way email works on its platforms. In many cases, given that such enterprises may manage smaller lists comprising local and regular customers, it’s possible that a focus on local relationships (including local search SEO) and partnerships with key local groups will help. That’s certainly how most such businesses already operate.
It is, of course, important for every business to continue to explore ways to invest in remote communication channels as when (and if) things return to “normal,” the trend to social distancing is likely to stick around.
Many have become quite comfortable with online interaction, in part because it reduces travel time and lets consumers make contact when it makes sense to them. All the same, these changes have accelerated the evolution of business communications, exacerbating the need for creative ways to build close bonds with local customers you may never again get to see.