If you live in America or visited during October, did you ever get an urge to scream, “Why are Christmas decorations up when Halloween hasn’t even happened?!” Hopefully, some of you are nodding, so I’m not alone.
I now understand WHY those big-box retailers are so proactive when it comes to the holidays.
The holiday season is a LOT of work. It takes a lot of preparation, not just for the sellers dealing with staffing, product forecasting, shipping logistics, etc., but for the consumers and their lengthy shopping lists, carefully shaped throughout the year. They know the sooner you can start preparing, the easier the season is to manage.
So, I’m doing exactly what I often rail against by getting an early start on holiday content to help you adapt your email programs to upcoming changes.
This year’s holiday season will be a bit different for marketers since Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature is currently being adopted and will soon be the standard on Mac machines.
In this month’s roundup, email experts from Adobe, Splio, SocketLabs, Campaign Monitor, Twilio, and ActiveCampaign, as well as myself, your Kickbox email geek, discuss holiday deliverability and how Apple’s MPP rollout will impact you.
And off we go!
Will Holiday Deliverability Be Impacted? No. And Yes.
Mailbox Providers have a myriad of things to deal with during the holidays. However, Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) is not high on the list because it doesn’t impact the signals THEY measure. So, will holiday deliverability be impacted? No, and Yes.
MPP will impact the signals marketers use to measure email success and the strategies tied to those measures.
The goal is to keep the signals consistent for the Mailbox Providers.
Pendulum swings within these signals will negatively impact deliverability. How MPP will impact you will depend on data availability and how granular you get with reporting.
Those that can dig into the logs, report, and target on domains and devices, will, I suspect, have a very similar holiday to those in the past.
“Why? Opens are dead!” Not just yet.
Moveable Ink reported their findings on usage. My takeaway is that the use of ‘portable’ devices will keep ‘real-time’ opens a little closer to the mark than initially anticipated. Using the fine-details of the data, reports can be adjusted to temper some of the nighttime noise.
In addition, the adoption rate isn’t as rapid as past releases, as illustrated in the following tweet.
— Brian Sisolak (@bsisolak) October 11, 2021
Keeping to the ‘old’ ways is still a valid approach with both of these things factoring in.
When the OS 15 version rolls out after October 18th, the noise will amplify throughout the day as ‘portable’ devices sync with those plugged in and connected to WiFi all day.
Based on past releases and adoption curves, MPP via OS will likely hit in earnest as we are moving out of peak and into making those New Year’s resolutions.
Need tips on what to do when it all comes full circle? Check out this recent article about the future of email marketing in a world of privacy.
For those with only a small window into the data, consider the following tips during the holidays amidst the MPP release:
- Test now using clicks as a measurement for success to establish a new baseline for the holidays.
- Offer customer perks (points, discounts) to customers willing to give feedback about offers and communications.
- Supplement campaigns with SMS to ease the flood of emails.
- According to Klaviyo’s study on SMS, with SMS becoming more popular and more accepting of brand messaging, this may be a welcome change this holiday season. But be careful not to abuse it.
- For holiday reactivactions and reengagements, avoid reactivating the ‘proxy engager’ by shifting from opens to a clearer signal like clicks.
- Measure success over time with a 360° view of all influential KPIs.
- Comparing year-over-year email metrics will be misleading. Make sure to include metrics around social, website visits, purchases, cart activity, etc. for monthly and seasonal comparisons.
- Monitor bounce logs and reputation sites.
- Track open trending for a temp check on deliverability.
- Current data suggests that bulked messages won’t trigger a proxy open, which means if there is a drop in opens for Apple users, you may have a deliverability issue on your hands.
- Rethink multi-touch initiatives.
- Multi-touch campaigns that are same-day emails are often intended for those that didn’t open. If the OS release comes later in the season, you may still be able to do some same-day targeting.
- Scrap multi-touch campaigns that rely on engagement and span a couple days. Instead, consider new content, a new campaign, or a new channel.
For more deliverability strategies to inbox your holiday emails check out Netcore’s latest #fortheloveofemail videocast featuring yours truly and fellow deliverability geek Tejas Pitcar.
Fall Back to the Basics of Best Practices
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection release has created a lot of buzz in the email industry. Marketers are understandably concerned because they won’t have full visibility into opens on Apple devices using the native mail app, but this isn’t a reason to panic.
There are other data points available to create successful holiday email strategies. The open rate has always been a somewhat flawed metric due to images that are suppressed by default at some providers, and the option to always enable images at others. Because of this, I’ve never advocated using open rate on its own as a performance metric, but to instead consider it a single input. Open rate is just one tool in the toolbox.
So what are the other options for holiday planning? Start planning your email strategy now. We see holiday campaigns earlier and earlier each year.
If you plan to increase email sending during the holidays, you will need to start warming your IPs now. Otherwise, large spikes in volume on the day of your big sale can lead to bounces and throttling.
Holiday promotions and beautifully designed emails don’t matter if they aren’t landing in your customers’ inboxes. Each email that isn’t delivered to the inbox is a potential missed revenue opportunity.
We know that customers will engage with emails that are relevant to them. Right time, right offer. Analyze their interactions with your brand across channels. What are they browsing on your website, and clicking in the app?
Use analytics to present 1:1 personalized offers in your emails. Each customer is an individual, not a segment of your list. These personalized, relevant emails will drive customers to your website for further activity, and hopefully, a transaction.
When new email & privacy technologies arise, we often worry about how we’ll need to adjust our strategy. My perspective is that instead of focusing on the change, fall back to the basics of best practices.
Smart email strategies will continue to be effective, regardless of whether we can accurately track an open.
Target the Factors You Can Control & Directly Impact
On 7th June 2021, Apple announced it was advancing its privacy leadership with the release of Mail Privacy Protection (MPP).
As part of the iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8 updates Apple had planned for September 2021, MPP (among other features) would stop “senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user.”
Apple’s press release didn’t initially provide any details on how MPP would “prevent senders from knowing when [users] open an email” and understandably it caused a massive stir in the email sender world with some comparing MPP to email armageddon and the pixel apocalypse!
Originally, it seemed that MPP would decrease open rates, as reported by Email Service Providers (ESP). However, as more information was released/uncovered from testing, it became apparent that overall open rates would dramatically increase within ESP reports. Prior to Apple’s public release of the software updates, it was difficult to predict the exact impact of MPP as it was uncertain:
- The extent of Apple’s proxy servers preventing pixel and IP tracking
- When Apple would release the software update and for which devices
- How quickly users would adopt and install the upgrades
- How many users primarily/only used the Apple Mail app to view their emails
- How many users would opt-in for the MPP feature or if it was turned on by default
On 20th September 2021, MPP became available for iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 devices and macOS Monterey will be released on 25th October 2021.
Slower user adoption of OS 15 compared to OS 14 makes it difficult to predict what impact, if any, MPP will have on this year’s holiday marketing season.
In a real sense, deliverability has not changed with the release of MPP, and Mailbox Providers use the same signals to determine how to treat incoming emails and senders still need to comply with email rules and follow best practices.
Instead of concerning themselves with uncertainty and speculation, it’s more productive for senders to target the factors they can control and directly impact their sender reputation and inbox placement. These include:
- List collection – sending relevant and wanted content to fully opted-in lists means high user engagement.
- List management – there is still plenty of data available, including open and click rates, for senders to determine how active and engaged their recipients are and using those they can send targeted emails.
- List hygiene – permission to send emails isn’t evergreen and every healthy relationship requires ongoing care and attention. Now is the time to audit marketing lists, review engagement metrics holistically both within and outside emails, re-engage the less engaged and say goodbye to the dormant contacts.
During the busy holiday season every year, email volumes are at a record high, anti-spam filters are stricter and email fatigue means lower user engagement.
Now is the time for senders to prepare for the coming busy season and to engage with their audience with honesty, respect, and clear communication. Campaign Monitor’s A Marketer’s Guide to Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection post has more in-depth information on MPP and how it impacts marketers.
It’s Too Early to Have Significant Impact But There’s a Lot to Learn
Apple’s iOS 15 market share is growing slower than we could have expected (although steadily). We’re witnessing 10% of open rates generated by the Apple Mail app on iOS 15 almost one month after its release date, and are expecting to see 40% ultimately.
Also to be noted, it’s impossible to tell when “Mail Privacy Protection”, triggering open pixels even if the recipient didn’t read the email yet or at all, is enabled or if the open pixel is downloaded by a regular recipient using the Apple Mail app on iOS 15 and using the Hide-my-IP feature.
At 10% a month, we should see the Mail app on iOS 15 take around 20% of all opens for Black Friday, meaning 80% would still not be “fake” opens. It’s enough to keep monitoring deliverability through opens. Sure, the “unknown opens” (they’re not necessarily fake) will ultimately make it less reliable to exclude “inactives”, as some uninterested, churning recipients would still be flagged as openers, but that is only indirectly related to deliverability.
Holiday Season this year is too early for Apple’s MPP to have any significant impact even (or especially) if senders haven’t changed their habits yet. In other words, if you do as usual you’ll get the usual results.
But don’t get me wrong, senders will have to adapt to MPP, even if it is not always clear how and at what scale. And although there’s no universal silver bullet, they can do it already by considering the few following points:
- Try to determine what part of your opens are generated by the Mail app on iOS 15, and rely on the other opens for your deliverability metrics (per-mailbox providers opens, notably). Your ability to do so might depend on your ESP.
- Add the last click date in the equation to determine a recipient’s reactivity recency
- Reducing the delay for considering a recipient inactive based on opens: if this delay was 90 days previously, maybe 60 would make sense now (but keep clicks to 90 days, potentially)
To summarize, yes it can be concerning, no there’s no need to panic, yes you should pay extra attention, and yes there’s a lot to learn here!
3 Reasons Not to Worry About MPP this Holiday Season
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) is causing a lot of Y2K-esque panic within email marketers. And while the implications it has on marketing automation strategies like send time optimization and segmentation based solely on open activity are very real, I do not anticipate this having any effect on email deliverability during the 2021 holiday marketing season.
A few reasons not to worry:
Adoption of Apple MPP is lower than initially anticipated. This moves the goal posts for when email marketers need to care — even for those relying on open activity for segmentation.
Based on the data shared by multiple industry sources, the uptick in opens related to iOS 15 has seemingly been attributed to early adopters and not much more. This could change quickly if Apple begins more aggressively prompting users to upgrade and adopt Apple MPP, but for now, I’d recommend focusing on other concerns.
Tracking open rates directionally at the destination level is still a great way to identify deliverability issues. Initial testing indicates that open pixels are not being loaded for emails that land in the spam folder.
This at-least-for-now fact still holds up a full month after iOS 15 was released. So if you’re comparing performance at Gmail to Hotmail, Yahoo, and all other destinations you send to, be on the lookout for notably lower open rates at one destination as a way to spot inbox placement problems early.
Inactive recipients are not the reason your mail is missing the inbox. Most deliverability issues stem from a problem with who you’re sending to: either recipients are surprised to hear from you (because they didn’t sign up or haven’t heard from you recently), or they didn’t like the experience you delivered (because you didn’t properly set or follow expectations, you send too frequently, or your content over-promised and under-delivered).
All of these things tend to lead to negative reactions, primarily spam complaints. And spam complaints are very damaging to your sender reputation. Generally speaking, “inactive recipients” do not engage positively or negatively with your emails (unless you really piss them off), so these folks are very unlikely to be the driving force behind your deliverability issue.
Ultimately, hitting the inbox with consistency boils down to sending email that your recipients find value in.
So if you focus on building your mailing list through permission, properly setting expectations at the point of sign up, and following your engagement data to determine what the majority of your email audience likes (and doesn’t), you should have very little issue landing in the inbox.
I’m counting on the experts in this post to guide you through the holidays, but if you’re looking for more tips on how to prepare your email program for the rest of 2021, check out my recent post for the SocketLabs blog: Your Holiday Email Campaigns are Already Late: How to Get Caught Up.
Take the Opportunity to Set Yourself Up for Success
If you are like senders I work with, two important topics are top of mind as we come to the end of the year and enter the holiday sending season.
The first one is holiday sending and how should we prepare? The second one is how do we understand the impact of the Apple mail privacy protection changes implemented in the new IOS15, and how should senders adapt?
Both are separate topics, but I believe both offer a ton of opportunity to implement some changes to your customer lifecycle to better understand your customer’s communication pwant to be communicated with.
Apple Privacy changes were released on September 20, 2021. With the release of IOS15, if recipients are using the Apple Mail App, they will be asked if they would like to hide their IP and load remote content, which will hide their genuine open activity.
For you, as a sender, you will likely see some increases in non-human open activity as adoption of IOS15 increases. I highly recommend understanding the impact of these changes. The impact is going to vary from sender to sender.
For instance, I see senders with more impact at Apple domains, which are required to use the Apple mail app. Adoption rates will likely increase as IOS15 continues to get pushed to more and more people. I also expect that Apple is only the first to implement these privacy changes, and we should expect the industry to continue to change and adapt.
There is no time like this season to start looking beyond open tracking to understand your complete customer lifecycle and its performance.
I have seen quite a few people out there saying that open tracking will now be completely useless. I have to disagree. I believe open tracking will still be beneficial to track but shouldn’t be the only metric you look at for good deliverability and customize your sending lifecycle off of.
Opens should be looked at in conjunction with other metrics, start with looking at clicks, then what other indicators of engagement that your platform sees? Conversion rates, website login, purchase history, SMS activity, transactional activity, confirmation processes.
You, as the sender, should be looking at all the data points your customer lifecycle provides and customize sending to people by those different data points.
So what does this mean for the holiday season, and how should we use this time to adapt? Engagement campaigns should become a standard practice throughout your customer lifecycle regardless of the time of year.
Before this holiday season, I recommend sending out an engagement campaign and asking people what they are looking for? Will they be interested in your holiday campaigns? Add incentives or coupons that require them to click on the email. Look at prior purchase history and website logins and customize your sending to the level of engagement you receive from a recipient.
If you see low engagement, non-human opens, and no engagement with your re-engagement campaigns, then send them less until you sunset their address altogether.
You are likely to see increases in engagement throughout the holiday season. Look at the people who really love your brand, the human open, click, make purchases, use that awesome coupon code you sent out. These are the people you should focus on sending to, and these are the people who should definitely be getting your holiday campaigns.
There is no time like now to fully understand your whole customer lifecycle and look at your engagement metrics as a whole. Look at this holiday season and changes to the email landscape as an opportunity to set yourself up for success.
Preparing for the Holidays: Apple’s IOS 15 Update
The holiday season can be the most joyful (and lucrative) time of the year. However, since the IOS 15 update, many questions have been circling around on how this will impact holiday sales. To understand the impact, we must first understand exactly what this update is.
Mail Privacy Protection in the IOS 15 update allows users to mask their IP address. In addition, Apple will now be downloading remote content in the background, which will lead to inaccurate tracking of opens. This leaves open data virtually useless for these devices for all third-party email solutions.
This may sound grim on the surface, but with the right preparation, you can still have a successful and happy holiday season! Here are 4 tips for embracing the changes and moving past surface-level engagement data such as opens.
- Have a catchy subject line
It is important to make your email messages clear and stand out from the pack. Your audience inbox is going to be swamped with emails during the holidays, so it is important to be eye-catching and to the point.
Utilize the preheader text as much as possible, and run A/B testing leading up to the bigger sends during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the weeks leading up to Christmas. A/B testing may cover different phrasing, emojis, and personalization.
- Don’t forget about your loyal customers
Yes, growing your audience is a goal during the holiday season, but it is important to retain your loyal base. Make sure you are sending out your exclusive offers to them, and let them know they are valued. Growing AND maintaining your customer base is key!
- It’s time to get personal!
Now that typical metrics may no longer be the best method of gauging performance, collecting more personalized data from your contacts is crucial. Try to gather more details on your subscription forms, but don’t make them too long and risk subscriber fatigue.)
Offer incentives to fill out surveys in your initial emails to gather more information early on. Having more personalized data will help you send content your contacts truly want and help build segments on sends to increase your effectiveness. Remember, link clicks can still be tracked, so having personalized emails can help boost those rates and help you perform some click-based targeting after.
- Double-Opt In is more important than ever
Not only does double-opt in protect you from bots, but now it will be a clear indication people received your initial opt-in email and want to see more. This will help with unknowingly sending to contacts who aren’t really that interested in your content or products.
The IOS 15 update will cause some changes in marketing. However, this does not mean these changes need to be negative. As long as you continue to send good content, follow best practices, and continue to adapt to the ever-changing environment, good results will come!