Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) is upending how email marketers measure email marketing performance. In addition to hiding IP addresses, blocking forward tracking, and obscuring open times, MPP pre-fetches email content to create a haystack of fake opens to hide the needles of real opens by their users. With upwards of 95% of Apple Mail app users likely to enable MPP and Apple Mail accounting for roughly half of all email opens when MPP went into effect last September, email opens have been dramatically depreciated.
That has marketers reevaluating how they measure email marketing success. Let’s discuss how things have changed and how they haven’t.
Unfortunately, a chorus of people have made a confusing situation worse by declaring opens dead. Fortunately for marketers, opens are far from obsolete. Even when MPP reaches peak adoption, the average marketer will still register reliable opens from half of their subscribers. Marketers would be foolish to ignore that open data.
Indeed, opens are still important for:
Going forward, part of using opens wisely will entail identifying an audience segment that generates reliable opens and then using that audience as a proxy for all of your subscribers. Marketers routinely use small segments of their audience to stand in for their entire audience when doing A/B testing. MPP will require marketers to adopt this same approach to measuring open rates and open-based metrics like CTOR.
Will this approach make open rate measurement less accurate? Yes. However, it will still be useful and allow companies to make important decisions. Utility, not accuracy, should always be the measure of a good metric.
At the same time, don’t dismiss auto-generated opens from Apple as completely worthless. Auto opens have several legitimate uses, including confirming that an email is valid and warning of junking or blocking at Apple Mail. There’s not much value in auto opens, but there is some.
As useful as opens have been, email marketers have over-used them, and it’s easy to understand why. They have been easy-to-measure, high-frequency signals of engagement.
In particular, opens were a favorite metric for testing subject lines. That’s because using opens allowed tests to reach statistical significance in hours so that the winner could be used later that same day. The hitch is that opens aren’t as good a predictor of campaign success, so quickly reaching statistical significance on a poorly aligned metric didn’t carry much meaning. Even worse, optimizing for opens led marketers to often favor vague, mysterious, open-bait subject lines that were more likely to attract curious subscribers than interested ones.
Because of their high frequency, opens have also been the key metric in determining the best time to send an email. This has similarly been problematic because most marketers don’t truly want their emails to arrive when their subscribers are likely to open them. What they really want is for their emails to arrive when their subscribers have the time and inclination to engage and convert. While there’s overlap, these two times are not always the same.
So, with MPP undermining opens, one positive development is that send time optimization and subject line optimization tools are now giving major weight to email clicks, while also excluding auto opens. That means that these optimizations are now much more aligned with bottom-of-the-funnel behaviors, which will translate into better results for brands. The downside is that clicks are about eight times less common than opens, so these optimization engines will be slower to adapt to changes in a subscriber’s engagement behaviors. Even so, these tools are as worthwhile as ever.
Even though email clicks are filling some of the void left by the loss of opens caused by MPP, email marketers have still lost a lot of visibility into email engagement. To fill the rest of that void, marketers are turning to cross-channel behaviors.
This is most urgent when, as subscriber engagement is probably the most important of seven factors that determine a sender’s deliverability. When you have recent opens by a subscriber, that’s still the best way to qualify them as safe to mail. But when you only have auto opens, marketers need to take a broader approach and factor in web sessions, app sessions, account logins, purchases, and other cross-channel activity. Essentially, brands are being forced to define active subscribers as active customers. It’s not ideal, but there are really no alternatives unless mailbox providers change their spam filtering algorithms, which is highly unlikely.
Beyond concerns about inbox placement, MPP is pushing brands to embrace a more holistic view of subscribers in general. Honestly, that’s been long overdue, given the omnichannel world we live in. The email marketing silo is being broken down, and email is being integrated with other digital marketing channels to create better customer experiences. That’s evident in both the growing use of customer lifetime value as a metric and the record growth of customer data platforms (CDPs) like Oracle Unity, which pools all customer data in one place to provide a real-time 360-degree view of the customer.
Data is the fuel of email marketing relationships—indeed, of every aspect of a customer relationship. With governments and tech platforms, such as Apple and Google, trending toward tighter privacy regimes that depreciate or limit data collection, marketers will need to remain nimble to continue to deliver the highly personalized experiences that consumers expect.
Need help with your email marketing campaigns? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers, partners, and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Our award-winning specialists can handle everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management. For example, our full-service email marketing clients generate 24% higher open rates, 30% higher click rates, and 9% lower unsubscribe rates than Oracle Responsys customers who aren’t.
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Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.