For the last few weeks, email marketers have debated about the decision Apple has made to block open tracking. Some have wondered how they’ll be able to optimize send time or send real-time content. Some have debated the merits of open rates as a metric in general. There are some concerns about segmentation strategies and if countdown timers will work as a tool.
There are a lot of questions to ask about this big change and much has been answered in the industry over the last few weeks. That’s why we invited some of the brightest email minds in the industry to weigh in on what losing open tracking may mean for email marketers and how the discussion should shift from what’s going on, to what do you do!
The Three Main Steps to Take Now – Kath Pay
There are three main steps that should be taken now, in order to be ready for September.
1. Audit your email marketing program
Measure everything that’s happening with your email program now — opens, clicks, traffic to site, AOV, conversions, number of products ordered, revenue (per email, per order, per action, etc.). As well as open-reach, click-reach, and CLTV.
This gives you a set of before-and-after benchmarks you can use to measure changes. You can compare your open and click rates to look for correlations. Do click rates move in tandem with open rates?
Or you might find no patterns — and that’s why we need to rely on actual activity, like click and conversion rates and website activity.
2. Revise the success metrics for your email testing program
If you’re like many email marketers, you do basic A/B testing to see which subject lines are more likely to drive opens. However, increased opens don’t necessarily correlate to increased conversions. Revise your testing to measure which subject lines correlate to more clicks or conversions – whatever your success metric will be.
See it for yourself with my “litmus test.” Create three lists:
- Top 10 campaigns based on opens
- Top 10 campaigns based on clicks
- Top 10 campaigns based on conversions
Assuming your conversion calculation isn’t tied to your open rate but based on emails delivered or clicks registered, you should see minimal overlap among the three sets of campaigns.
3. Re-evaluate your use of other tools that use open data
These include send-time optimization, which uses open data to calculate the best times to send email, and real-time content that relies on open data such as time, location and device to automatically personalize or update email content.
Also, update all segmentation and automated programs that use open rate as a deciding factor. Instead of the open rate, which can overlook activity in other channels, use these to detect activity accurately in programs like win-back and reactivation:
- Average order value
- Website login/visit and other website data
- Revenue per email/revenue per subscriber
Kath Pay, CEO at Holistic Email Marketing
About Kath: Kath lives and breathes email marketing and is recognised as one of the industry’s leading Email Marketers. She devotes her time to developing customer-centric eCommerce journeys using a holistic, multi-channel approach. A thought leader and industry veteran of 23 years, Kath is the author of the best-selling book, Holistic Email Marketing, and is a regular blogger, expert contributor, Keynote speaker and trainer.
Apple Email Privacy: Billboards or Dashboards? – Dr. Matthew Dunn
Can you remember the last billboard you passed today? I can’t.
Billboard salespeople pitch on how many thousands of cars pass every hour, but driving by and paying attention are not the same thing.
Same with pixels. Apple will be proxying pixels, masking IP addresses and device details, in their next iOS release. That announcement has stirred up considerable conversation in the world of email marketing, particularly around open rates. But open rates never measured attention; a pixel request is basically the digital equivalent of a billboard drive-by. Can you remember the last marketing email you opened today? I can’t.
Image proxying will change real-time content as well, but it’s a mix of bad news and (surprise) good news.
Bad news — easy protocol-data feature like IP location and device type won’t work. (Most real-time platforms were designed for 1st-party data as well as protocol data, so those features remain viable for marketers with solid 1st-party data.)
Good news — open-time features like “send the most effective image” will still work (unless you have a magic device that sends all emails at once, instantly.)
Mixed news — re-open features like countdown timers and inventory/price updates may or may not work, depending on some highly technical specifics about HTTP header handling.
Terrific news — since Apple just signed up to cache 50% of the worlds emails on-device, personalization just got a massive performance boost.
I think there will be some unexpected secondary impacts on email marketing as well. I’d be surprised if campaign send times didn’t start stretching out; actual business-impact data (like Revenue Per Email) will start setting campaign tempo. To paraphrase Scott Cohen, email marketing will have a new reason to extend its tentacles into the business data.
Bottom line, this is a terrific opportunity to move email marketing out of the billboard business and into the relationship business where it belongs. With less shiny short-term data, we’ll focus on the long-term stuff. Buckle up.
Dr. Matthew Dunn, Founder, CampaignGenius.io
About Matthew: Dr. Matthew Dunn is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Campaign-Genius, the real-time content platform for email. He has been a startup CEO, Fortune-1000 Senior VP & CIO, Microsoft veteran, professor and teacher. He is also an award-winning speaker, writer, designer, director and inventor.
It’s Time to Start Thinking Differently – Ryan Phelan
First, I want to thank all the contributors to this topic. It’s fantastic to see us all continue to give back to marketers!
There are a bunch of things that you can do to react to the Apple privacy news. None of which involve panic, depression, tossing your hands up in the air, or seeking therapy. (That last one may be a bit much, but every time we see a seismic shift in the industry, people react as if the zombie apocalypse is happening.)
It’s not that bad. I have written over and over again that opens were a directional metric to begin with. Apple has just pushed us to the stark realization that we depended on it far too often. There are some things that marketers should be doing:
Reorient your metrics. Start to teach yourself and your organization about the change and what your channel’s performance should be based on. Click, purchase, loyalty – whatever it is, think about the true measure of performance and start to emphasize that.
Start to expand your metrics beyond email. Look at blending email with behavioral data. CDP’s can help, but look at what’s possible.
Look at every automation you have. This is the perfect time to audit your automation (and start doing it regularly). Make sure none of your automated emails are based on the open.
Reallocate your time. Many marketers focused too much on open strategies and tactics. Now that we’re moving past that, let’s take that time and use it for greater innovation on other parts of your program. How can you focus on the message? How can data and systems be used to bring greater relevancy? Even an hour a week of strategic thought can dramatically change your program.
It’s time to start thinking differently. I think, in a year, this will be just like the aftermath of Google Tabs. Not that big of a deal.
Ryan Phelan, Managing Director at RPEOrigin
About Ryan: As the co-founder of RPEOrigin, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience, knowledge and unique perspective have also given him an international reputation as a keynote speaker and thought leader.
A More Efficient Way to Find VIPs – Brian Sisolak
To many it’s yesterday’s technology, but after two decades, I find email marketing to be engaging and dynamic. Opportunities emerge from solving complex problems and finding refined solutions. Instead of dreading the future, we need to rise to the challenge Apple has put forth, dig in, and create more targeted and elegant programs.
Consider these three things as we move forward:
Ensure your databases talk to each other. Acting on opens alone is a chainsaw approach — that is, treating wide swaths of recipients all the same. Instead, move to the jigsaw, a delicate cut requiring a deep understanding of the audience that marries clicks and conversions with zero-party data to replace opens in most use cases. This requires connecting our CDPs and ESPs for a full data picture.
Use contextual analytics instead of just instinct to refocus on the conversion. Once your data house is in order, invest in better data science so you’re not looking at simple X and Y-axis charts, but rich data visualizations developed with a breadth of information about your recipients, and what typically leads to a conversion. The tools are out there. If you don’t have the capacity in-house, hire someone to help or teach you how.
Protecting your deliverability. Without opens to gauge interest, you must double down on reducing risky behaviors that can land you in the spam folder. This has always been a worthwhile undertaking, but now that the stakes are higher. Our universes will be smaller — and hopefully more engaged, if we’ve done our homework! Protect what you’ve built.
You may be thinking: Targeting smaller universes sounds more costly and riskier. However, that old chainsaw approach, when charged per email sent, can actually be more expensive. With a smaller audience, and today’s tools for data targeting and optimization, the jigsaw is not only a more efficient way to find your VIPs, but also a more cost-effective and polished approach.
Brian Sisolak, Co-Founder and President of PeakInbox
About Brian: Brian Sisolak is the Co-Founder and President of PeakInbox. As a creative problem solver and email marketing strategist, Brian has worked for some of the highest profile national political campaigns, Fortune 500 companies and national non-profits in the country. Brian is a leading expert in a broad range of subjects including email optimization and deliverability.
Focusing on Your Data – Dr. Ada Barlatt
There are two areas that I would recommend to focus on.
Focus Area #1: Performance metrics tied to your program’s ultimate goal(s)
For many email marketing programs, opening an email is the beginning of a series of actions we intend for our subscribers to take. The program’s or campaign’s ultimate goal is often beyond the open (e.g., a click, a reply or a purchase). Data about our subscribers’ actions (before and after open) will still be available and can be used to improve your campaigns and programs.
Suggested Action Items:
- Reflect on the ultimate goals of your program
- Document your subscribers’ process by writing down the steps a subscriber takes (before and after opening)
- Collect, track and optimize metrics associated with the process
- Focus on the steps where you have reliable data
- Select metrics that help you understand the effectiveness of the process
- When possible, look to integrate data across different platforms to get a full picture of the process — the fuller the picture you have of
- the entire process the more you can understand how the decisions you make in your program impact the ultimate goal.
Focus Area #2: Collection and use of first-party data
First-party data is the information you collect directly from your subscribers with their consent. A comprehensive first-party data strategy helps you provide personalized content. In addition, the analysis of first-party data helps you understand the subscribers’ process and improve your program.
Suggested Action Items:
- Audit your current use of first-party data
- Brainstorm all the first-party data that you could collect
- Concentrate on and collect first-party data that helps you provide an improved subscriber experience
- Use the first-party data you collect to provide more tailored experience
- Use metrics about the first party data you collect to quantify the subscribers’ process and improve your program (as described above)
Dr. Ada Barlatt, Founder and Chief Analytics Officer at OperationsAlly
About Ada: Dr. Ada Y. Barlatt, Ph.D. is the Founder and Chief Analytics Officer at OperationsAlly. She helps her clients discover and leverage insights hidden within their ESP data. She loves when her clients start to see their data is a representation of the real lives they impact (instead of just a bunch of numbers). When she isn’t working with clients, you could find her on a cruise ship (pre-COVID) or watching anime (post-COVID). She loves self-assessments, laughing and gluten-free baked goods!
Focus on Conversions- Scott Cohen
Marketers need to take a deep breath. The inbox is a place of incredible influence, whether it’s directly via opens and clicks or indirectly through future engagement with your brand. There are two big things that email marketers need to do right now:
Make first-party/zero-party data collection an absolute must-have for your program.
Establish benchmarks for your programs both by direct and indirect influence.
First, collecting data from your subscribers and customers is already important. Between the Apple change and the impending death of the third-party cookie (though the deadline has been extended), first-party data becomes even more important. And the supposed death of the open doesn’t change that. So, collect data wherever possible, get conversions so you have purchase history, and leverage what you actually know about someone to personalize your emails.
Secondly, benchmark conversion data by program type and by direct and indirect influence—meaning looking at both openers and non-openers. Focus on clicks and same-session conversion as well as lookback performance over 2-7 days. Here’s an example:
In my last two jobs, I’ve run reports with a 2-7 lookback on email campaign performance and looked at the difference the numbers based on a customer receiving an email and a customer opening an email. Non-openers have accounted for upwards of 40% of conversions from those campaigns.
What does this mean? You may not get an open. You may not get a click. But your email will drive engagement and action out of your customers.
Good email marketing programs should be focused solely on conversions. If you’re in ecommerce, conversions mean sales and revenue. That’s true now and will remain true after the Apple changes go into effect.
Scott Cohen, Sr. Email Marketing Manager at Purple
About Scott: Scott Cohen is a proven email marketing veteran with 15 years of experience as both a brand-side marketer and an email marketing agency executive. As Senior Email Marketing Manager at Purple, Scott brings both award-winning copywriting chops and industry-renowned expertise in email marketing strategy and execution to running a growing email marketing program. When not working, Scott is a devoted father and husband, classic rock and ’80s power ballad junkie, and sports fanatic.
Just Breathe – Jeanne Jennings
The open rate is certainly the most obvious casualty of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) initiative (although not the only one, and not the most important one), which goes live with iOS 15 this Fall. Here are some things to do now to adapt and move forward.
This is not the end of the world. There was email marketing before we could track open rates – and there will be email marketing after iOS 15 goes live.
Open rates have never been an absolute metric like click-through rate; they were never a true representation of who read your email messages. I confess to finding them useful as a diagnostic metric, but they are less valuable than click-through rate and much, much less important than business metrics (more about that in #3). So chill. This will be fine.
Take open rates out of the equation
Now’s the time to wean yourself and your program off of open rates. In addition to the obvious, this also means letting go of click-to-open rate (CTOR), which will also be rendered useless in a post-iOS-15 world. Stop relying on them; stop reporting on them. Shift your focus to absolute metrics, like bounce, click-through, and unsubscribe rates.
Also audit your automations and identify those that rely on open rate or anything related to opens as a condition or trigger. Rework the logic so it makes sense in a world where opens are not a sign of engagement.
Focus on your business metrics
Business metrics – like conversion rate, return-on-investment (ROI), and my favorite, revenue-per-email (RPE) — measure the true success (or failure) of your campaign. Open rates and other diagnostic metrics (read: click-through rates) do not. Make sure you are tracking and reporting on your business metrics, preferably in your email dashboard. If it’s not there, leverage Apple’s announcement to get the budget and priority you need to integrate.
Jeanne Jennings, Email Optimization Shop and Only Influencers
About Jeanne: Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and Founder and CEO at Email Optimization Shop, a boutique consultancy helping medium- to enterprise-sized companies make their email marketing efforts more effective and more profitable.
She is also General Manager of the Only Influencers community of email industry professionals, as well as Programming Chair of their annual Email Innovations Summit – and an adjunct professor in the graduate school at Georgetown University.
Her direct response approach has helped B2B, B2C, government and non-profit clients including AARP, Hasbro, Network Solutions, New York Times, Privacy Analytics, Scholastic, UPS, Verizon, and Vocus (now Cision).
Jeanne is based in Washington, DC, she earned her MBA from Georgetown University (Hoya Saxa!), and she is an avid hockey fan (Let’s Go Caps!).
To sum it up, yes, things are changing. But losing open tracking doesn’t have to be the end of the world. In fact, it might just make us better email marketers in the end.