Next era of email marketing about people, not tired metrics

It’s time to stop treating humans like clicks and opens

Think outside the email inbox. 

Hopefully that’s the message every marketer is taking away from Apple’s first shot at dismantling email marketing as we know it. (Social and other forms of mobile advertising aren’t far behind.)

98% of the emails flying around the internet are computer-generated garbage. A significant portion of the rest powers trillions of dollars in meaningful commerce.

That’s all at stake as Apple’s latest iOS update takes a sledgehammer to the email spam problem. The company plans to obscure open rates in its native mail app, making it harder to determine if those inboxes are still active. In reality, spammers will keep spamming and it will be that much harder for the real marketers that are actually playing by the rules. And just like that, around 20% of iPhone users in any brand’s audience goes poof. 

It may be tempting to write this one fraction of one ecosystem off and focus on the rest of the audience pie. But this is just the beginning. Whether they know it or not, marketers are currently facing but one tiny battle in what will ultimately be a much larger war with Big Tech. 

The writing is on the wall: data is the ultimate currency and every FAANG wants to keep what happens on their platforms to themselves. 

So I say again, we’ve got to think outside the email inbox. 

People are more valuable than code

People. It’s always been about the people. Great advertising elicits emotion. It persuades. It drives action. 

Brands know this. But during the past two decades, many have found themselves resigned to marketing to lines of code. As cookies took over, it was all a volume game. Spray the emails and pray there are enough clicks to justify the spend. 

We can rationalize what has happened in marketing a hundred different ways. But that won’t change that we’ve lost sight of connections with people. 

It’s time for that to change. Let Big Tech have the data. As marketers, let’s start a whole new game. 

Humans Wanted, Zombie Code Need Not Apply

The next era of email marketing and everything around it will be built on people. Not lines of code masquerading as people. 

Let Big Tech obscure open rates. Let them make it harder to understand engagement. 

It’s the people that matter. People engage. People purchase. 

And email isn’t the only way to reach them. It is possible to link a real person’s email address to a mobile device, making email the first core pillar of an eventual robust multichannel program.  

But getting this future requires we take a first step in a completely new direction. 

As I said earlier, this is but the first missile Big Tech has fired in what will be a much larger fight. Maybe they’ll play nice for the next couple years to escape the suspicious eye of the DOJ (good luck with that, Google!). But it’s a matter of time before they hit again. Maybe next time, they’ll go all the way and start anonymizing users too.  

So, let’s build something that Big Tech can’t disrupt. Something they can’t get in the middle of. 

For now, email remains the most cost-effective, easiest way to build and understand an audience. We’ll start there. Throw out the stale cookies. Stop marketing to zombie code. And start building audiences of humans that are invincible to the whims of Big Tech. 

Compliant. Privacy-protected. Futureproof. 

Personally identifiable information (PII)-based campaigns are the path to a predictable future for marketers. One where they can call their own shots, pivot on a dime and truly engage.  

PII will make it possible to accurately manage opt-outs. Do matchbacks against engagement. Design campaigns that traverse platforms so no single ecosystem can throw a wrench into things. REALLY measure. Not nonsense like clicks and opens, but how customized, precise exposure to messages across platforms drives results. 

Eventually, becoming media agnostic is the goal. The only way to get there is by building an enduring model around real people and real info. 

Machine learning that powers highly-optimized programmatic media mixes in an automated way will follow. It will democratize marketing, putting effective campaigns within reach for any sized company, brand or agency. 

Retention is always key, but the next frontier will make acquisition more attainable than ever. 

If considering this future makes what Apple is doing with iOS 15 seem downright antiquated, that’s because it is. 

Let’s start making our collective way to the future now. 

Get in touch if you’d like to learn more.
Steve Horne

Author Steve Horne

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