Lead-generation forms and promotional email signups are a value exchange between B2B marketers and their intended audiences.

In exchange for research and other content, B2B brands hope to...

  • Improve how form-completers think of their brand, hopefully nudging them toward an eventual conversion
  • Identify the form-completers and the companies they represent, and then connect that form completion to other actions taken by those people to understand their level of interest through lead scoring
  • Form an ongoing relationship with the form-completers if they opt-in to receive promotional messages from the brand

However, when people enter a noncorporate email address into a lead-gen or email signup form, that can undermine those last two objectives. That puts B2B marketers in the position of having to decide whether it's still worth it for them to accept those email addresses.

Some have decided that it's not, and that camp is likely to grow as Apple rolls out a new and improved Hide My Email feature this fall.

Apple's Hide My Email

A paid feature that's being promoted alongside Mail Privacy Protection, Hide My Email allows users to easily input a unique, randomly generated icloud.com email address into the email field of any form.

That email address can be used only for the app or website the user creates it for. Any email sent to that address is redirected to the email account of the user's choosing. However, the user can turn off that relay address at any time, causing any emails sent to that address to hard-bounce.

Relay addresses, therefore, are right next to temporary email addresses in terms of riskiness. Although those relay addresses differ from temporary email addresses in that they don't expire after a certain amount of time or after a number of uses, they are still a potential danger to marketers for two reasons:

  • First, the person's identity is masked. Since each relay address is unique, it won't ever be associated with another one of your customers or prospects. However, it also won't ever be associated again with the person who shared it with you. If that person uses Hide My Email again to provide an email address, your company will receive an entirely new relay address, making it difficult for you to connect those activities as coming from the same person.
  • Second, the person could potentially harm your deliverability by turning off the relay, which would cause the next email sent to the address to hard-bounce. That's also what happens when marketers send email to temporary email accounts that have expired. And just like having too many spam complaints, too many hard bounces can hurt your deliverability. Once your hard bounce rate exceeds 2% on a monthly basis, the potential for your emails to be junked or blocked by mailbox providers goes up.

A Tipping Point Ahead? Then What?

To use Hide My Email, users need a paid iCloud account. Although that will limit adoption somewhat, the cheapest iCloud accounts are just $2.99 a month and hundreds of millions of Apple users already have paid accounts. And because Hide My Email offers considerably more convenience than temporary email address services, marketers could see a steady rise in hard bounces in icloud.com email addresses through the end of 2021 and into 2022.

Moreover, if companies have hard bounce rates hovering around 2%, the adoption of Hide My Email could push them into the danger zone and force them to take action.

What might some of those actions be?

First, you could stop accepting email addresses with domains used by temporary email address providers. Even if you want to give your prospects and customers the ability to use the email address of their choice, it's fine to draw the line at not allowing them to use an address that's going to potentially affect your ability to communicate with your other subscribers and customers. You have to look after the health of your entire email program, after all.

Second, you could also stop accepting icloud.com email addresses, which are likely less than 1% of your email addresses on file. Although existing ones are fine, new ones could be worth blocking if you see harmful levels of negative behavior stemming from Hide My Email. Keep an eye on your icloud.com addresses over the coming year, and track what percentage of them are hard-bouncing. If bounces get out of control, be prepared to act.

Third, you could stop accepting all noncorporate email addresses. That's a solution that only B2B brands can take advantage of, but even for them there are some significant cons to consider alongside the pros.

The pros:

  • Better individual and company identification, so you can tell whether you're reaching your intended audience
  • Better lead scoring and lead nurturing capabilities since you'll have a reliable business email address from the person
  • Potentially improved deliverability due to fewer hard bounces from temporary email addresses and Hide My Email icloud.com addresses

The cons:

  • Alienation of small businesses, freelancers, and independent consultants, all of whom are more likely to use a personal email address as their primary business address
  • Fewer content downloads, which means fewer brand impressions and fewer opportunities to engage a potential customer
  • Slower list growth

And fourth, you could take any of the above actions only for certain forms. Depending on your goals, hard bounce rates, and the behaviors of your audience, you might choose to block only icloud.com email addresses on your content download forms—but allow them for your newsletter signup, for example.

* * *

Privacy is going to continue to be a major issue for marketers to adapt to. However, brands shouldn't lose sight of the need to balance the needs of their customers with the needs of their business. If new privacy-driven behaviors threaten the health of your email program, you should not feel bad about protecting it by changing the types of email addresses that your business accepts.

More Resources on B2B Email Strategy

Four Types of Email Addresses Damaging Your Deliverability, and What You Can Do About Them

Email Responsiveness: Build Trust, Sell More (And More Often) [Infographic]

Building Your Email Newsletter Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

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image of Chad S. White

Chad S. White is the head of research for Oracle Marketing Consulting and author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules, as well as nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing.

LinkedIn: Chad S. White

Twitter: @chadswhite