Ask Us Anything Feb. 24, 2022

SparkPost’s recent global survey revealed that 74% of marketing leaders are concerned about impending email privacy changes – and 82% of leaders are actively preparing for those changes. But this isn’t exactly breaking news. We’re constantly hearing about iOS 15… Email opens are dead… Third-party cookies are next on the chopping block… Zero-party data is the new thing to lean into. 

So what are the specific changes keeping leaders up at night?

  • Apple’s iOS 15 changes are of most concern (81% rank it medium to high concern)
  • Google’s third-party cookie tracking (77%)
  • Government regulations, like GDPR and CCPA (72%)
  • Deprecation of app tracking data (72%)

But what does all this privacy stuff really mean for a marketer? 

A lot, in fact. These privacy changes may seem big-picture, but they have huge impacts on the day-to-day life of a digital marketer. And they’re not a future worry. It’s past time to start prepping for the new world of privacy, especially when it comes to email. Check out our benchmark report Email in 2022 for all the top tips and trends, or read on below for some email privacy takeaways. 

Privacy varies depending on what type of data you’re workin’ with 

Let’s start with some quick definitions because customer data comes in a lot of forms – and I’m not talking about leads vs. contacts in Salesforce here. We won’t get into that timeless debate today. 😜 

Back in 2019, Forrester introduced a “new” type of data: zero-party. Which left us asking… What the heck is zero-party data? At its core, zero-party data is a subset of first-party data. The distinction is around the motivation and the explicitness that the individual had when providing you with their data.

But to be clear: both first-party and zero-party data are collected directly from your consumer.

The line between them is often blurry, but we’ve found it helpful to think of it like this: 

  • Zero-party is explicit data you ask for directly. This data helps you understand your customer better – their likes, dislikes, and preferences. 
  • First-party is implicit data that you infer or indirectly observe from customer behavior, such as purchases, clicks, and other forms of engagement. This data can help you begin to determine customer intentions and help you make appropriate decisions.

Here’s a breakdown of all the different types of customer data that you’re likely leveraging.

Definition Examples
Zero-party  Data that an individual proactively & intentionally shares with you.
  • Product preferences
  • Preference center data
  • Purchase intentions
First-party  Data that you collect directly from interactions your customer has with channels you own.
  • Purchase history
  • Email address
  • Support history
  • Email engagement
  • Website activity
Second-party A trusted party’s first-party data that they

decide to share on a limited basis. Usually, the parties only share data for customers that the parties have in common.

  • Similar to first-party data, but it’s someone else’s first-party data.
  • E.g. SparkPost and Litmus write an eBook together, but it’s hosted on the Litmus website. Any opt-ins from downloads sent to SparkPost would be second-party data.
Third-party  Any data that is collected, aggregated, & shared from one or more sources, often

without a direct relationship with the customer.

  • Weather data
  • Survey responses
  • Demographics
  • Aggregate browsing activities

Pour one out for the loss of third-party data 

To expand on that last one a bit, third-party tracking involves data that’s not owned by the website you’re on – and it’s used after you leave. Let’s say you’re perusing and look at a T-shirt, and then you go to and see that same shirt in an ad in your sidebar. That’s because of a third-party cookie tracking your internet habits so you can be served ad content based on previous behavior. Firefox and Safari no longer support third-party tracking, and Google has announced they’ll follow suit with plans to sunset third-party cookies later this year. 

Similarly, IDFA (The Identifier for Advertisers) tracking went away when iOS 14 was released back in 2020. So Apple no longer tracks user behavior in mobile apps, proving third-party data is truly phasing out. And reminder: this deprecation of app tracking data is something 72% of marketing leaders are actively stressing over. 

Ultimately, as the privacy landscape continues to evolve, getting access to third-party and second-party data will become increasingly complex – and first- and zero-party data will become the gold standard.

Retention is the new acquisition

To marketers, some of these privacy changes feel… Rude. Some of our most measurable tactics are essentially being removed from our toolbox. But I like to think good marketers strive for a customer-focused approach, so appeasing our customers’ desire for privacy helps ease the burn of these changes a bit. 

Consumers also value good marketing though – and that’s the conundrum. 

In the email channel, we know subscribers will keep subscribing if senders provide value. So what’s the equivalent with advertising? Well, the same basic empathy applies. We need to respect their right to privacy and focus on what consumers do want.

The loss of third-party cookies allows a first-party approach to take center stage as marketers scale back on advertising-focused channels.

To quote my beloved boss April Mullen, director of brand & content here at SparkPost, “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.” 

This is an opportunity to look at creating better profiles that drive longer-term loyalty and engagement, leveraging audience behavior on your own website/app. Email marketers have long understood the importance of building these profiles and putting data to work more effectively for our favorite channel. Email has the ability to be the glue between consumers and brands as privacy continues to rise in priority. Everything from promotions, to educational content, to retargeting can all be done using your most precious first-party data asset: email. 

So while some might mourn the loss of third-party cookies (because let’s face it, less data on our consumers is always a bummer), this can help create the email and relationship marketing program that you’ve long envisioned. You know… The one you couldn’t get support for as you lived in the shadow of your ad-focused colleagues sucking up a significant portion of your overall marketing spend. Now is the time to evangelize that retention is the new acquisition.

Apple Mail Privacy Protection… Forever the elephant in the room

While increased privacy as a whole supports the need for a strong email strategy, it’s also actively changing how we measure the success of our email marketing programs. 

The SparkPost team has talked a ton about Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) since last June. At a very high-level, MPP prefetches all images in an email, and it seems Gmail is prefetching images too. So senders need to be aware that:

  • Open rates will be inflated
  • Open times will be random and unreliable
  • Device information will be unavailable
  • User location will be approximated

As 2022 progresses, upwards of 50% of open data will become unreliable and no longer useful as a success metric. This means that marketers will need to take a more holistic approach to measuring the success of email programs – by leveraging clicks, conversions, and engagement in other channels like our apps and website. 

Bottom line: Subscribers are telling us they don’t want their email opens to be tracked, so this is another case of “the customer is always right.” It’s our responsibility to honor that request and move toward zero-party and first-party success metrics.

We get it – email privacy is stressful. So what now?

We get it. I literally took a break from optimizing one of SparkPost’s own email nurtures to work on this blog post. We’re working on email (in many facets) day-in and day-out here. These changes are affecting us big time, and we know they’re affecting you. So let’s chat about it! 

Join our next webinar on February 24, Ask Us Anything: iOS 15 and Gmail Prefetch Edition, to discuss all of the above with our team of experts. We’re an open book, so let’s discuss where we can all go from here. Because let’s face it. When Apple and Gmail walk into a bar… email marketers everywhere groan.

~Koertni Adams, SparkPost Senior Content Marketing Manager

Ask Us Anything Feb. 24, 2022