Competition in the inbox is fiercer than ever. Global email volumes are approaching record highs, and recent privacy restrictions and regulations surrounding email data have many marketers scrambling to come up with a new strategy. Marketers need to reevaluate the fundamental ways they measure and diagnose their email performance to stay ahead in this rapidly changing digital landscape.
Recently, my colleague Jeff Foley, Sr. Director of Product Marketing at Validity, and I broke down these changes in a webinar we presented with ClickZ. We discussed three specific ways the email landscape has evolved and provided takeaways so you can take advantage of these evolutions.
1. Dramatic increase in global email volume
Email continues to dominate as the #1 preferred channel for communication with customers. Not only do consumers prefer email, but it also delivers huge value for businesses. However, the key evolution over the past few years is the volume of email being sent. Before the pandemic, email volume was on a predictable growth path with expected seasonal peaks, but post pandemic, we’re seeing record-breaking send volumes that have become the “new normal.”
Email became a truly business-critical channel during the pandemic. It wasn’t just about marketing anymore, but also about communicating critical messages to people as they were restricted to their homes. Currently, the data is showing no signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels—so what does this mean for marketers?
Higher volume leads to much greater deliverability challenges for senders. This is because during high volume periods, mailbox providers prioritize messages from senders with the best reputation, which makes it more challenging for senders to reach the inbox. For emails that do reach the inbox, there is more competition than ever to stand out from other senders and engage your recipients.
So, how can marketers overcome these challenges?
- Focus on deliverability. The journey to the inbox is complicated. There’s a lot of planning, testing, and infrastructure to support your email marketing before you even hit send. After that, your email must pass numerous security checks, authentication checks, and reputation checks before it reaches the inbox. Some things you have control over, but some things are decided by the mailbox providers and subscribers themselves, so you’ll want to make sure you’re following their different sets of rules for determining what messages make it to the inbox.
- Improve sender reputation. Mailbox providers use your sender reputation to measure the trustworthiness of your email. A good sender reputation significantly increases your chances of landing in the inbox, which leads to more engagement and a better ROI on your email marketing campaigns. If you have a poor sender reputation, your email is more likely to be blocked or placed in the spam folder.
Stand out in a crowded inbox with BIMI
Let’s say you have a great sender reputation and over 95% of your emails are reaching the inbox. That means you’re all set, right? Wrong. Now you need to address the second challenge, which is that your emails are buried in the inbox with everyone else’s, all competing for your subscribers’ attention. This is where BIMI can help.
BIMI, or Brand Indicators for Message Identification, is a fancy way of saying “make your brand logo appear beside your email in the inbox.” It may be the simplest, most effective way to dramatically increase brand recognition in the inbox. Gmail just recently announced that they are supporting BIMI, which no doubt represents a significant portion of your list. But why is BIMI so important?
A recent study found 68% of consumers said “recognizing the brand” is an important factor for determining whether they’ll open an email—even more important than the subject line or preview text! Therefore, it’s crucial to invest time in improving brand recognition, and BIMI is a great way to do this.
For brands who have already implemented BIMI, there have been very strong results. In a recent survey run by Entrust and Red Sift, results show that when brands displayed their registered logos in the email inbox, they saw a 21% increase in open rates, a 34% increase in average purchase likelihood, and an 18% increase in brand recall. These early results show that BIMI presents a huge opportunity for marketers, because when consumers trust your email, they are more likely to engage.
2. Increased focus on consumer privacy
As businesses have relied more and more on digital channels throughout the pandemic, it has become even more important for companies to deliver a trustworthy experience. Consumers—especially younger generations—care passionately about the brands they are buying from. They care about what brands stand for and why they should trust them. A key component of building and maintaining that trust is privacy.
The continued rollout of privacy laws in the US shows no signs of slowing down as more and more states are realizing the importance of protecting their residents’ data and privacy. This is a challenge for marketers, since they must monitor and comply with multiple laws passed by individual states, rather than one comprehensive federal law. With various privacy laws pending across multiple states, the complexity will continue to increase.
We know that complying with these regulations is critical to winning customers’ trust, but what’s the best approach for doing so?
Reviewing your compliance with privacy policies is a good place to start. If you find the strictest standard and create business policies to meet that standard, then anything less restrictive will be covered. The truth is, others out there who are adhering to the regulations are finding it’s a positive experience, not a negative one.
Preempting customers’ concerns can give you a competitive advantage and create more loyalty with your customers. Apple is a great example of this. They continue to make a name for themselves by being a strong advocate of consumer privacy, most recently through their introduction of Mail Privacy Protection, or MPP.
Navigating Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection
MPP is Apple’s latest consumer-privacy feature. It prevents senders from using tracking pixels to measure open rates and device usage. It also hides recipients’ IP addresses to prevent location tracking by prefetching and caching email images at the time emails are delivered. Tracking pixels will fire at the time of delivery, regardless of whether the recipient actually opened the email. Therefore, open rates will skyrocket, but it won’t be because more people are engaging with your email—meaning this metric is ultimately worthless for measuring engagement.
This feature impacts all subscribers who use the Apple Mail app. Apple users who have downloaded iOS 15 are prompted to opt in to MPP when they open their mail app. It does not matter what provider the recipient uses. It only considers the email client. So, if your subscriber has a Gmail mailbox but views all their email on their phone using the Apple Mail app, they’ll be subject to this process.
This presents many changes for marketers and affects a variety of factors, such as measuring open rates, identifying the exact device a recipient is using, sending location-specific information, and sending live content, such as countdown timers. All of this information is important to deliver personalized and relevant content to subscribers and to optimize an email campaign based on performance results.
While this is clearly a huge shift for marketers, there are ways to navigate it successfully. In fact, there are many other useful metrics to keep track of to help you measure your email performance:
- Sender reputation: The better your sender reputation, the more likely your emails will reach the inbox. Your sender reputation is based on IP address and domain reputations, content checks, and user feedback. So, absent of a sudden dip in open rates, this is a good indicator of whether you have a problem with deliverability. Additionally, like sender reputation, inbox placement can be used as a proxy for measuring engagement now that opens are unreliable, since both your sender reputation and inbox placement are partially determined by user engagement.
- Data quality: Open rate data is often used for inactives strategies. Non-responders are either moved to a different cadence or suppressed from receiving further emails. Since opens are no longer a reliable sign of engagement, email verification is even more critical to identify addresses that are no longer active.
- Zero-party data: Greater privacy awareness means more focus on acquiring “zero-party data.” This is data customers intentionally and proactively share, including preference center data, purchase intentions, and personal context. With MPP, you lose insights into your subscribers (things like geolocation, device, etc.). This info is so important for delivering personalized experiences, and since you can no longer collect this data for a large portion of your subscribers, it’s important to focus on zero-party data and acquiring this info from consumers themselves. You should prioritize collection of this data by promoting preference centers and using progressive registration tactics.
- “Deeper” metrics: Metrics deeper down in the conversion funnel, such as clicks, website visits, and conversions, provide much stronger indications of subscriber interest and are more valuable because of this. You’ll also want to pay attention to spam complaints, as clicks and complaints are two sides of the same engagement coin. Both are equally important in determining the strength of the engagement signal they generate. If you put these side by side with deliverability data, you may be able to establish cause and effect.
3. Increased phishing and spoofing
Phishing is when an attacker sends a malicious email designed to trick recipients into falling for a scam so they’ll provide personal or sensitive information. Email spoofing is a technique used in phishing attacks to trick users into thinking a message came from a person or brand they know and trust. At face value, it looks like a legitimate message and recipients are more likely to engage with the email, which is what makes these attacks so effective.
According to the 2020 phishing and fraud report, phishing incidents rose by 220% during the height of the pandemic compared to the yearly average. Cybercriminals are always looking to hook onto emotional topics, so they were quick to capitalize on the pandemic.
Recent research shows that 96% of phishing attacks arrive by email. While these attacks are often directed at consumers, there are long-term implications that can be devastating to the brand, as well, such as loss of brand reputation and subscriber trust, poor deliverability, and loss of revenue.
So, how can you ensure you’re taking every precaution to protect your brand from email fraud? The answer lies in email authentication. Here are three protocols you should consider implementing:
- SPF: Sender Policy Framework, or SPF, is a record you give to mailbox providers saying which IP addresses you approve to deliver mail from your domain. There are lots of ways to configure it, but at the end of the day, it tells mailbox providers it’s okay to safely accept your mail.
- DKIM: DomainKeys Identified Mail, or DKIM, uses keys, tokens, and encryption to verify nothing has gone astray during your mail’s journey (i.e., sender information didn’t change, the body of the email wasn’t altered). It’s the next step up from SPF in email authentication.
- DMARC: Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance, or DMARC, provides an added layer of email protection, monitoring, and reporting. When you publish it, you’re telling mailbox providers what to do if an email fails any of your authentication tests.
The email marketing landscape continues to throw many challenges at marketers, but luckily there are ways to come out on top and continue to be successful in the email channel. We’ve discussed many of them here, but if you’d like to dive even deeper into this topic, you can watch the full webinar below.
To learn more about how Validity can help you navigate the evolving email landscape and continue to be successful, schedule a demo today.
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