IOS 15 and Email Marketing: Impact on Ecommerce Brands

IOS 15 and Email Marketing: Impact on Ecommerce Brands
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A massive announcement last week from Apple has sent shockwaves through our industry.

Depending on which side of the fence you're sitting on, they either:

A) Destroyed your whole email marketing strategy

B) Cleared out the playing field and gave you a clear path to beat your competition

... I like to think the brands we're working on fall into "B", but if you're solely dependant on open rates, fear not - read today's article.

One thing is certain: the way we do email marketing is going to change with iOS 15. We can complain, or we can adapt.

Ultimately, the people complaining the most are the ones who follow bad practices and aren't willing to put the customer experience first.

Here's how you can shift your strategy and stay ahead of the curve.

This past week, Apple caused another storm in the eCommerce industry with the announcement of the latest privacy features to come to iOS 15.

For those that aren’t aware, Apple is taking away the ability for tracking pixels within emails to collect information about customers.

This has massive ramifications for everyone in email marketing. Apple is effectively blocking the ability for senders to see whether an email has been opened.

After Facebook Ads teams were hammered with the iOS 14 changes, it now appears that it’s the email department who has to suffer.

I’ve been discussing this extensively on LinkedIn and what this means for the future of email marketing. I’ve linked some of my thoughts at the bottom of this article.

Spoiler: It’s not as daunting as it seems for brands committed to a strong customer experience. But the collection of first-party data will become a prerequisite, and we’ll need to focus more than ever from the first interaction on how to serve our customers best.

Below, I’ve spoken to 3 individuals I highly respect in the eCommerce industry on how merchants can get ahead-of-the-curve before these changes take effect. I’ve added a short snippet below each comment documenting my own thoughts.

Jon Ivanco: Founder at Formtoro

Adam’s Question: How will iOS15 impact the collection of first-party data? What changes do you think eCommerce brands will have to make in reaction to this news?

Jon: First-party data will no longer be nice-to-have. The desire for many brands to reduce friction by just asking for an email upfront and then using traditional guesstrics (guessing + metrics) will find less and less value. The commonly held KPI related to open rate was used to judge if someone was or wasn’t interested in the subject line or offer from your brand. When we take this metric away we’re left with an empty hole where we relied on this barely related metric to influence our decisions.

Ecommerce brands should shift their focus from using guesstrics and instead collecting data directly about the customer journey and the subscribers current position in it by leveraging a data collection tool at the time of sign up. That data collected extends beyond just email and can be recycled via ads, website copy, promotions, and any number of other things.

More than anything else open rate was used to measure the quality of the subscriber, with this removed, we have to rely on things like click through rate and revenue, both of which happen at statistically smaller rates than open rates. In essence what little we had to go on as a passive action to understand the quality of the subscriber has been taken away.

Adam’s thoughts: Since first meeting Jon, we’ve changed practically all of the pop-ups across our existing client roster to collect a data point about the customer’s goals when shopping with us. We’ve seen zero drop-off in terms of sign-up rate, and it’s allowed us to personalise the Welcome Series and segment more effectively from the get-go. If iOS 15 forces us into doing something we already should have to be more customer-centric, then I’m all for it.

DON'T MISS: 9 pillars of email marketing that generate 95% of the results

Romans Ivanovs: Founder Riu Media

Adam’s question: How will iOS15 impact Facebook Ads and the paid social teams ability to work harmoniously with the email marketing department to drive eCommerce results?

Romans: First of all, it’s too early to say how iOS15 will impact ad performance in general. And to be quite frank both 14.5 and 15 updates will affect ad accounts differently.

The biggest issue ad agencies have and will have however more of is the lack of segmented customer data. In fact, it’s always been a hidden gap that didn’t require much attention up until now. 

Smart media buying teams always worked together with email marketing departments. One of the reasons for that is to understand what content performs better. At the end of the day sending an email to test a headline copy that can be then used in ad campaigns is simply much cheaper than putting ad budget behind it.

Now, both sides have no other choice but to start working around iOS 14.5 and 15 updates in a more collaborative approach. One of the ways is data exchange. For example, paid social teams can leverage engaged email audiences (those who clicked through obviously) to build custom retargeting campaigns. Another example is leveraging email surveys to collect relevant customer data points to then build much more targeted cold campaigns and as a result drive higher quality traffic and email sign up rate. 

All in all, I think there can be a definite win-win-win scenario for all parties.

Adam’s thoughts: I echo Romans’s sentiments. One of the biggest missed opportunities within eCommerce organisations currently is syncing custom audiences back to Facebook that have been enriched via the email experience. Klaviyo has an awesome integration that allows you to do this already. A savvy email marketer will work collaboratively with the ads department and not see themselves as competition in order to improve overall ROAS and profitability.

DON'T MISS: eCommerce iOS Changes: 7 Genius takes + The impact on Email Marketing

Juliana Jackson: Chief Growth Officer at Omniconvert

Adam’s question: How will iOS15 impact segmentation strategy currently used in email marketing on a campaign level? How can merchants adapt and thrive to these changes?

Juliana: The current, well more precisely, the common segmentation strategy used by many brands or email marketing agencies is very basic and highly dependent on open rates and CTRs. There is nothing wrong with that, however, if that is your main segmentation strategy, what iOS15 is bringing will definitely shake down everything you are doing in terms of email marketing.

Now, the new solution for thriving with these changes is a very old solution and it’s mostly conclusive with the classic narrative of what the email channel should be: an engagement channel.

My solution is highly related to my software REVEAL. Using its native integration with Klaviyo, Direct To Consumer brands can use their existing data to push email flows based on predictive buying cycles and email campaigns with a reduced frequency and lead-in with engagement as the key performance indicator using our bespoke RFM Modelling

This way, brands can create flows and campaigns that stimulate consumers to react and interact, resulting in the possibility of tracking engagement, interest, and intent, outside the classic Click-Through-Rate and Open Rate metrics.

Adam’s thoughts: I think Juliana’s approach is the most mathematically sound one we probably have at this moment in time to preserve email deliverability and engage our audience.

We’ll probably see more tactics to segment based on click-through rate, but the use of predictive buying cycles based on AI and cohort analysis could potentially alleviate a lot of pressure already felt by internal email teams to create manual campaigns based largely on guessing when a consumer is ready to buy. This could actually help us be more efficient with email strategies and improve relevancy of messaging through automation.

DON'T MISS: How to build a segmentation strategy for Apple iOS users

iOS 15: What does the future hold for Email Marketing?

I’ve got a lot to say about this and I’ve been ranting on LinkedIn relentlessly in the last week. Here are some of my main thoughts on the fallout and predictions for the future.

Do Open Rates Even Matter in Email Marketing?

A lot of people have nervously trotted out the line that "Email open rate is a vanity metric anyway... right?"

Not true. Open rates are a key indicator of healthy deliverability which is the foundation of any successful email marketing program.

If you don't know who opens your emails, you could see your inbox placement being hammered over time if you continue to email unengaged segments.

Not only will this impact deliverability, but it will also be another headache for attribution.

Platforms like Klaviyo provide a 5-day attribution window by default for opens.

How can you measure what you can't see?

My prediction: we're going to see a holistic, engagement-focused approach win with email where quality content is paramount.

The brands that adapt to this and change their strategy are going to stand head and shoulders above the competition.

Less spray-and-pray, more emphasis on front-end data collection, experiential email marketing, and blended ROAS with all channels working synergistically.

One thing is certain: marketers who treat email solely as a revenue channel are on their way out or going to struggle immensely to show their value.

We will need to learn to collaborate with other departments in the overall marketing stack and focus on the customer experience more carefully (As Romans predicted above).

Just Measure Click-through Rate Instead?

"We'll just measure clicks! Open rates are a vanity metric anyway!"

News flash: CTR can be equally meaningless without context.

You don't NEED to send customers somewhere or get them to click on something if you're delivering VALUE in the body of the email itself.

What marketers need to do is go back to basics and ask themselves: do my customers *actually* want to consume the content I send to them?

That all starts with a deep desire inside the organisation to build relationships with their customers and putting the effort in to serve them better. (see Ivanco’s point above about front-end data collection).

You're going to see a renaissance of email to foster community-building and generate engagement.

Because we don't need more metrics to measure bad strategy - we need better strategy, period.

Clicks and Conversions Alone Aren’t Enough to Segment Effectively

Open rates disappearing doesn't matter. It was always a vanity metric anyway, right?

What really matters is clicks and conversions, correct?

Two flawed issues with this logic:

1) It implies that you have to convince a customer to 'click' an email in order to measure the effectiveness of your message.

What if you're focused on delivering value in the body of the email without a need to send the customer somewhere? Do clicks still matter then?

2) Not every email has to convert somebody. To suggest conversion rate determines success in all use-cases pigeonholes email solely as a sales channel, which we know it's not.

We've seen in the last week the implications this will have on segmentation as well: marketers suggest we will have to only send emails to customers who click on emails in future.

This is laughable. The average CTR for most email campaigns is 1-3%. Are you really going to ignore the other 97% because they didn't click an email and disregard them from future sends?

Open rate, for all its flaws, is a decent yardstick of how your messaging is resonating with your audience over time.

Yes it can be manipulated in the short-term - but over time, a sharp decline in open rates severely impacts deliverability.

To suggest that all that mattered anyway were clicks and conversions suggests a wider problem with the mindset of email marketers: they're obsessed with using email solely to sell on a message-by-message basis and not willing to build true relationships with subscribers.

I like to compare open rates to a visit to a high street store. Just because I don't buy anything during my visit, doesn't mean it's a wasted interaction and the brand should ignore me in future.

The likelihood is the timing wasn't right or I didn't find what I was looking for on that specific occasion.

Every positive touch point reinforces the brand in the mind of the consumer. To suggest that people who don't buy from each email don't matter, suggests an underlying issue in the psyche of a lot of marketers today: they're not willing to stop milking their audience yet.

I believe eCommerce marketers can learn a huge amount from B2B demand gen tactics these days that are completely changing the landscape in that industry.

I believe there will be a lot of brands and marketing departments that just don't adapt in the next year or two, and we're going to see a huge amount of fallout as a result of their philosophy on the channel.

Concluding thoughts

The days of a fully loaded funnel through cheap CAC and spray-and-pray for retargeting are going away. A new breed of winners will emerge from these changes: the companies committed to relentlessly serving their customers. And that’s why it excites me and the clients we’re working with.

The solution is staring at us right in the face:

  1. Collect more relevant data upon sign-up
  2. Serve the customer based on that data
  3. Use email to enhance the customer experience, not diminish it
  4. Work collaboratively with other marketing departments to amplify ROI
  5. Use data based on predictive analytics to automate sales touch points

I am not worried at all about these changes. It is a chance to do email marketing right again in a way that serves customers better.

Enjoyed this article on the impact of iOS changes in eCommerce email marketing? Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn, and don't forget to join 2,000+ hungry D2C enthusiasts who lap up our weekly insider insights on eCommerce email marketing.

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