Ask the Expert: How Apple's Goodbye to Tracking Pixels will Affect Email Marketing

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With the recent announcement from Apple about blocking tracking pixels, IP addresses, and cached images for its Apple Mail email users, we're all wondering what this mean for the email marketing industry? 

We've gathered top email industry experts to hear their take on the situation. 

 

 

Vince_transparent-1

Vince Cersosimo,

Chief Executive Officer, Webbula

Apple eliminating tracking pixels validates that email hygiene is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute necessity. Marketers who have relied heavily on email open rates should take note. Depending on ‘opens’ as an indicator of quality is no longer an option. Marketers need an additional layer of intelligence to mitigate the risk of blindly mailing to potential threats, and that is something that Webbula’s emailHygiene was specifically built for. Brands need to protect their online web forms from malicious sign-ups before they enter your CRM/Database and periodically run emailhygiene to identify aging and potentially harmful addresses like spam traps, fraudsters, and disposable domains from damaging a brand's reputation and mailing resources.

 

 

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Betsy Grondy,

Senior Email Marketing Manager, Email on Acid 

I think a lot of concern for this is to be determined. My understanding is this will affect the native Apple Mail App usage mainly, but other apps on iOS such as Gmail and Yahoo mail will not be affected. As a precaution now, I'd recommend looking into how many of your users are, in fact, using apple mail to open your emails. Use this time to gather your data so that you can make an informed decision.

 

 

shmuel

Shmuel Herschberg,

Chief Marketing Officer, Shyn Media 

Email marketers have always had to adapt to the changing times – remember when images didn’t download on most email providers as a default? Back then we had to engage and teach subscribers to “enable” images, add us to their contact list, etc.

Now with Apple’s latest news, I think email markers and ESPs will continue to adapt and improvise because email, as a business and commercial tool, is here to stay. I recently wrote how the open rate metric is flawed to begin with and I believe this news actually pushes our industry to focus on the golden, bottom line stat: revenue per mille.

 

 

Jeanne_Jennings

Jeanne Jennings,

Founder Email Optimization Shop, General Manager Only Influencers 

Apple’s recent announcement about email privacy has caused a stir in the email marketing industry. This is justified, but not for the reasons most people are noting.

Yes, this will pretty much make the open rate metric useless; the pre-loading of all images in emails sent to people using Apple email clients will create a 100% open rate for these messages. The degree of impact will be proportional to the percentage of your list opening emails on Apple devices (which is large for most senders). While open rate was nice to have, it’s a diagnostic, not a business, metric. So while this will make it more difficult to optimize bottom line performance, it doesn’t directly impact performance. Click-to-open rate, which many email marketers prefer to click-through rate, will also be impacted and will be much less useful, if not completely useless.

These impacts are inconvenient. They make it more difficult to gauge and optimize email performance, but they don’t directly impact revenue or conversions.

The larger concerns I have are around things like countdown timers, which have been shown to boost revenue-per-email (RPE) and conversion rates. If all images are pre-loaded, and not updated each time a reader opens an email, these won’t work as intended. This will impact other live content as well – and has the potential to dramatically impact bottom-line performance.

 

 

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Andrew Kordek,

VP of Customer Engagement, iPost

What we need to change are our attitudes. We need to change the conversation, the idea, and expectation of the “entitlement of open tracking” to the “privilege and respect of privacy in engaging” with all subscribers.

 

 

ChrisMarriott

Chris Marriott,

President & Founder, Email Connect LLC. 

This isn't going to kill email.  But it will make it harder for brands to determine exactly who on their list is engaged or not.  Why does that matter?  A big reason why it matters is that ISPs will often penalize a sender who continues to send emails to unengaged subscribers, which then means their sender reputation and delivery takes a hit.  The ISPs are still going to know who is opening the emails or not, but the brands will no longer have that information for a big segment of their list.  This means that in the short run, more brands are likely to run afoul of the ISPs policies of sending to unengaged subscribers.

 

 

 

ryanphelan

Ryan Phelan,

Co-Founder, RPE Origin

Remember back when google tabs came out?  The entire world had a conniption and outright panic. Something resembling Ghostbusters. Yet, what we saw happen is that the channel adapted, and we went back to work.

Now, with the Apple announcement, yes there is a bit of change coming, but remember to breathe. For far too long, marketers have been obsessed with open rates to the detriment of the message. Yes, they’re important, but as a directional metric as it’s already flawed. Read that again. Directional, not the end-all and be-all of our focus.

Listen, here’s the thing. Email will always evolve and conquer over time. Both internal and external factors will change how the medium works. What’s important, is that we pivot as quickly as the rate of change. Does the loss of open rate destroy email?  Hardly. Merely a flesh wound. 

I think this can be a good thing. It helps us evolve our idea of intent from an action that has never been clear, to actions that are actually on the intent scale. 

Additionally, let’s think of this as a positive in showing that some things we focused on were shiny objects that distracted us. Subject line dependency will diminish (thank gawd) and Send Time Optimization will evolve to more advanced inputs. Vendors will adapt and yes we will lose some cool functions but things will return to normal.

Heck folks, we just survived marketing during Covid.  This seems easier to handle.

Breathe.  It’s going to be ok.

 

 

Tejas

Tejas Pitkar,

Senior Product Evangelist, Netcore Cloud

Apple's announcement to block the use of tracking pixels in the Mail app will make the job harder for email marketers. It's another step taken by a technology giant to protect consumer privacy.

With 'opens' data not available, 'clicks' will become doubly important. Open rates were always a part of the journey and not the destination. Marketers will have to smartly connect the dots now between their clicks and conversions.

There's no doubt that a limit on open tracking will impact your subscriber engagement metrics. It will further impact segmentation, send-time optimization, subject line optimization even your deliverability. Like how will you segment the engaged/non-engaged subscribers when you don't know who has read your emails? The inability to show live content, countdown timers will impact the subscriber experience. Masking a user’s IP address will put an end to geo-location targeting.

But I believe that in difficulty lies opportunity. Email marketers should use this news to get even better at following best practices like authentication, list hygiene maintenance, keeping sender reputation intact. Providing good content should become a priority. Do the basics well and you will face minimum issues with mailbox providers.

There's still a lot of questions unanswered about the way Apple will implement this functionality in mobile devices. So don’t take the blast approach to Apple users yet!
Send good content, provide value to the customers, and build a relationship with them.

I believe that it could be the start of an evolution in marketing analytics rather than some people calling the demise of email for the millionth time!

 

 

 

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Dela Quist,

Founder & CIO Alchemy Worx & Touchstone Intelligence Marketing 

The Email industry almost universally uses Open Rates as a proxy for subscriber engagement and indicator of likely success in sales or other goal. Unsurprisingly the announcement by Apple last week that – driven by Privacy it will block pixel trackers its Mail app, which will help hide (should you want that) your IP address, location which will prevent senders from seeing if and when an email is opened, caused quite a stir.

I have never been a fan of open rates, though not for (in)accuracy reasons - as most are, it’s because they are campaign metrics and tell you nothing about the subscriber. Because of the lack of a common standard and the use of blockers the accuracy of opens identified by tracking pixels is questioned, I have never been bothered by that. The reason? Because the error is constant. If one inbox provider or platform counts things in a particular way, it will do the same thing all, the time so if you take that into account, you can still identify changes and trends.

The other problem I have with them is while the signal opens give is strong their correlation with conversions and sales is weak. Click Rates by comparison give off a weak signal, but are strongly correlated with conversions and sales. As a result, we tend to discount Open rates as a metric and use an amalgamation of other, often, more correlated signals. Clicks, site visits, total purchases, purchase recency, social media, SMS etc.

This is how I would look at the issue. It’s a bit like a motor sport where everyone has to use the same engine or tires, advantage has to be gained elsewhere. When we ALL used open rates, folks who optimize using other signals would tend to do better than folks that solely use open rate. Now none of us can use open rates the same is still true. Those with experience of using other signals will do better than those who have relied solely on Open Rates.

 
 
 
 

paulshriner

Paul Shriner,

Chief Evangelist, Co-Founder, AudiencePoint

In email marketing, the only thing that we can rely on is change. Email is relationship marketing and relationships change. The cool thing about email marketing is that individuals, real people, have opted-in to their side of the relationship giving you permission to email them directly as a brand. And, while pixel tracking makes our lives easier as marketers, it is at best an unreliable proxy for customer interest. Honestly, clicks have always been a better metric of engagement as they communicate actual intent. It just means that we will have to get smarter with the data that we do have.
 
 
 
 
 
Jenna-Tiffany
 

Jenna Tiffany,

Founder & Strategy Director, Let's Talk Strategy 

Privacy concerns have been raised time and time again. We had and still have an opportunity as an industry to lead the way. This is the first step of what I suspect to many and either we are at the forefront or we’re on the back foot. I’d love to see more input and voices from ESPs on this. Christopher J Byrne and his team were way ahead of this at SensorPro.

Do I see this as a good thing? Yes, it has been used as a vanity metric and will now force change. 

Will this be disruptive? Yes, it will be difficult for many to change approaches but won’t be the end of the world. Email has stood the test of time by adapting. 

What we need to do is look at other metrics and approaches through the eyes of privacy of the end recipient and ask ourselves, are we being clear that this is how the data is being used/tracked?   

“When using tracking pixels, be sure that to do so with full transparency and consent” (Tiffany, 2021, Marketing Strategy: Overcome Common Pitfalls and Create Effective Marketing.

 

chadwhite

Chad S. White,

Head of Research, Oracle Marketing Consulting 

Rather than blocking tracking pixels as it initially appeared, Apple's upcoming Mail Privacy Protection feature will generate tons of false opens that will make it impossible to tell if a subscriber using an Apple email client has opened a marketer's emails or not. MPP will also obscure IP addresses, location information, device information, and other data. Apple’s new features will undoubtedly affect everything from email analytics to deliverability to email design in a significant way. However, while the new features will change how marketers execute many tactics and strategies, as well as how effective those are, it won't relegate any of them to the trash heap.

 

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