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How to Set Up a Paid Newsletter

Paid newsletters are driving profits in the creator economy. Podcasters, YouTube personalities, bloggers, musicians, business coaches, and the like are collectively called creators. Creators who are compensated directly or via a social platform represent the creator economy. And the creator economy is one of the fastest-growing forms of ecommerce.

Paid Newsletters

Paid newsletters are becoming popular, although they are just one of the ways creators are earning a living. Software-as-a-service platforms such as Substack, ConvertKit, Memberful, and Mailchimp have made it relatively easy for creators to sell newsletter subscriptions.

“We believe that what you read matters, and great writing is valuable. We’re building a future where writers can flourish by being paid directly by readers,” says the Substack home page.

How to Start

Value and a lack of advertising typically separate paid newsletters from free. When they pay for a newsletter, subscribers expect to get something of value in return.

Value. Identify what purpose the newsletter serves and what makes it valuable to the reader. Will the newsletter offer time-sensitive cryptocurrency tips? Will there be exclusive tutorials? How about detailed case studies?

For example, Indify’s Daily Flag is a paid subscription newsletter that uses social media data to identify artists who have the potential to become superstars. The newsletter is valuable among creators.

Screenshot of Indify's Daily Flag newsletterScreenshot of Indify's Daily Flag newsletter

Indify’s Daily Flag creates value for thousands of paying subscribers.

Audience. The value a newsletter offers is related to the audience it serves. Some creators build the audience first. Perhaps they have a podcast and have encouraged listeners to sign up for free notifications of new episodes. That audience might also be interested in a premium newsletter. So the creator will try to upgrade them.

Other creators use advertising to build an audience, either promoting a free email subscription and then seeking to upgrade the audience to paid or by using ads to promote the paid subscription directly.

Facebook Leads ads, for example, are a good way to get subscribers.

Price. Indify’s Daily Flag costs $50 per month. Lenny’s Newsletter, which covers product, growth, and business topics, runs $15 per month. The Bitcoin Forecast by Willy Woo is $150 per month.

The point is that newsletter subscription prices vary. The price is relative to the value for subscribers while also generating a profit. A creator could consider what competitors are charging or A/B test subscription prices to learn what works best. Some creators could charge more if they built the audience first.

Schedule. Develop a publication schedule and stick to it. Paying subscribers expect their email newsletter to arrive as promised. If the newsletter is supposed to go out every Monday, it had better arrive on that day.

It can be a good idea to practice building the newsletter. Determine how long it takes and what problems might arise during production.

The Grind

Researching, writing, and publishing a paid newsletter can feel like a grind.

Gary Vaynerchuk, the business and marketing guru, has repeatedly told creators to pay their dues and put in the hard work of audience building. Vaynerchuk began by publishing wine videos on YouTube five days a week for roughly six years.

Starting a paid newsletter will take persistence. Be prepared to compose newsletters even when there are few subscribers, putting in as much energy as when there are thousands.

The Platform

Creators looking to earn money with a newsletter need a method of composing, distributing, and getting paid.

Composing. That act of writing the newsletter can be done on Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or even a text editor.

Images can be edited and resized using Adobe Photoshop, Canva, or system tools such as Apple’s Preview.

Distributing. SaaS email platforms manage subscribers, provide formatting tools, and send newsletters. Specialty offerings such as Substack have built-in payment tools.

When selecting a platform, consider deliverability and fees.

First, the platform should have put the newsletter in subscribers’ inboxes 80% of the time or more on average. The newsletter content will impact deliverability, but the email provider can do a lot to help.

Second, understand all of the platform’s charges. How many subscribers and deployments are allowed on free plans? What features are included? How will fees increase as the number of subscribers grows?

Payment. Depending on the platform, payments can take a few forms.

  • Complete integration. Payment processing is built-in to the platform.
  • Close integration. The creator connects a Stripe or PayPal account to the platform.
  • No integration. The creator accepts payments and manually adds subscribers to the platform.

Each of these options has fees. For example, Substack charges 10% of the subscription price plus processing fees of about 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction.

If a creator had 1,000 subscribers paying $15 per month for $15,000 in gross revenue, Substack’s take would be roughly $2,135.

Charts: Global Email Volume, Users, Marketing

The world’s first email was sent in the early 1970s. Since then email has evolved into a vital digital marketing tool.

The number of global emails sent has climbed each year as the internet has become more accessible. Over 306 billion emails were sent daily in 2020. That number will rise to roughly 376.4 billion per day by 2025.

Despite the popularity of mobile messaging and chat apps, email remains an important element of everyday life. The number of global email users reached roughly 4 billion in 2020 and will likely climb to 4.6 billion by 2025. The worldwide population in January 2022 is approximately 7.9 billion.

Recipients are spending less time reading brand emails. From January to August 2021, global recipients spent an average of 10 seconds reading a single brand email. That reading time peaked in 2018 at 13.4 seconds per email before declining in recent years, leaving marketers with an even smaller window to engage readers.

Email Challenges, Tactics

Marketers have made strides in overcoming some of the challenges of email marketing. However, they continue to face difficulties. Validity (a data provider) and Demand Metric (a marketing platform) surveyed (PDF) email marketers worldwide from large and small companies — B2B and B2C — to examine their challenges and tactics.

According to the survey report, marketers in 2020 were less likely to use basic email marketing tactics such as deliverability optimization and list management compared to 2019.

Holiday Email Marketing Trends, Examples for 2021

It’s the busiest time for email marketing. Retailers are preparing and sending their holiday campaigns. Most use proven, tried-and-true email tactics.

In this post, I’ll review a few email marketing examples in this 2021 season from leading retailers.

Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer is applying several proven email marketing practices. First is a “cart starter” to initiate the purchase process, beginning with the subject line: “Here’s $10 To Start Your Holiday Shopping!” It has a dual purpose of a $10 savings and a reminder to get started.

Consumers have endless choices for buying gifts. Deciding factors are typically price, convenience, availability, selection, and quality. Enticing shoppers to populate a cart facilitates abandoned cart reminders if necessary. And auto-loading a coupon code or gift offer can close sales.

Screenshot of an Eddie Bauer holiday emailScreenshot of an Eddie Bauer holiday email

This subject line from an Eddie Bauer email — “Here’s $10 To Start Your Holiday Shopping!” — has a dual purpose of a $10 savings and a reminder to get started.

Upping the email frequency is another proven practice. Thus far, Eddie Bauer has gone from sending a few weekly emails to daily to, most recently, twice a day.

Screenshot of an email inbox showing many Eddie Bauer emails.Screenshot of an email inbox showing many Eddie Bauer emails.

Eddie Bauer has gone from sending a few weekly emails to daily to, most recently, twice a day.

An Adweek survey found that 99% of consumers check their email at least daily. Many check upwards of 20 times per day. A subscriber could easily miss, say, a morning email. But an afternoon message could catch her attention.

Increasing the frequency requires variations on subject lines, preheaders, and body copy. Do not resend the same or similar email more than once daily. Moreover, unique content improves deliverability. Similar (or exact) subject lines from the same sender can trip spam algorithms to block the deployment. Emails from Eddie Bauer have unique subject lines, body copy, offers.

Loft

Loft, the women’s clothing retailer, emphasizes its rewards program in holiday emails, another proven strategy. Rewards encourage loyalty and repeat purchases. The most effective programs allow flexibility as to when and where consumers access the rewards offers.

Sample email from Loft for rewards points.Sample email from Loft for rewards points.

Loft lets rewards shoppers decide when they shop and on what channel.

Costco

Shoppers in 2021 are mindful of inventory shortages and delivery delays. Costco and many other retailers have responded by launching early holiday promotions. Costco’s example email below features a variety of products as many shoppers are unsure what gift to buy.

Plus, a Deloitte survey found that 51% of consumers will purchase something for themselves while shopping for others. Bundled offers — such as buy one, get one free — encourage this behavior.

Screenshot of a holiday email promotion from Costco Screenshot of a holiday email promotion from Costco

Retailer Costco started holiday email promotions on November 1.

Shutterfly

Direct physical mail can complement email promotions and drive online traffic. I’ve seen direct mail campaigns produce a 20% lift in conversions. Direct mail during the holidays can also reach procrastinating shoppers.

Shutterfly deploys direct mail to great effect, as shown in the image below of a physical postcard.

Image of a postcard reading "Holiday Cards and Gifts"Image of a postcard reading "Holiday Cards and Gifts"

This physical postcard from Shutterfly complements email campaigns and drives traffic to the company’s website.

Navigating Email Marketing without Open Rates

Apple rolled out iOS 15 on Sept. 20, 2021. The release provides users of iOS devices — iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch — the ability to load remote content privately, blocking the sender’s ability to track opens.

I’ve addressed iOS 15 twice, explaining its likely effect on email marketing and steps to prepare. In this post, I’ll review the impact thus far, including how marketers should adust moving forward.

Open Rates

First, it’s important to revisit how open rates have never been accurate. Email software embeds a 1-pixel image to capture an open. A recipient who opens an email unwittingly loads that image, which the software tracks. The software doesn’t count opens; it counts image downloads.

It’s a less-than-perfect way to measure opens. It cannot capture:

  • Emails that allow recipients to read without downloading images.
  • Text-only emails.
  • HTML emails in a preview pane without images loaded.

Some email client software uses text-only messages by default. Examples include smartwatches, gaming devices, and voice assistants. None of those have captured opens since they do not download images.

iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection automatically reports every email as having been opened. Thus users who have enacted that protection on their iPhones report as an open, actual or not. Apple iOS accounts for roughly 48% of mobile devices worldwide. And upwards of 80% of email opens occur on mobile devices. The impact, therefore, is potentially substantial.

iOS 15

Brands with a higher percentage of mobile users will experience more inflated open rates. Brands with mostly desktop recipients will see less of an impact. Among my clients at Acxiom, open rates since Sept. 20 have increased by 10-20%. I’m aware of brands with increases of 50% or more.

Regardless, the immediate feedback of instant open rates will likely go away. This includes the testing of subject lines. Marketers have long relied on testing the words, phrases, and timing that prompt recipients to open.

Now, with iOS 15, it’s difficult to A/B test subject lines on, say, 20% of a list and send the version with the highest open rate to the remaining 80%.

Nonetheless, marketers and email service providers are experimenting with workarounds. Litmus, for example, separates iOS metrics from others, providing senders with what it calls “reliable” data. This helps in the short term for marketers dependent on open rates.

However, the longer-term effect is likely to wean marketers from instant email feedback and focus, instead, on engagement metrics such as clicks and conversions.  Both are largely unaffected by iOS 15, although the click-to-open rate will be inaccurate.

Screenshot of the tool from Litmus showing opens on Apple iOS 15 devices versus other email clients.Screenshot of the tool from Litmus showing opens on Apple iOS 15 devices versus other email clients.

Litmus’s tool separates opens on Apple iOS 15 from other email client software, helping marketers during the transition.

Moving Forward

Ecommerce email-marketing metrics, post iOS 15, will measure what matters: the impact on sales. Subject lines, body copy, timing — all ultimately impact conversions. Tracking an email’s open rates will shift to monitoring its effect on profits.

A Perfect Storm for 2021 Holiday Email Marketing

Labor shortages, pent-up consumer demand, and supply chain disruptions could dramatically impact retailers this holiday season. Those developments, coupled with privacy changes on Apple’s new iOS 15, mean email marketers face a perfect storm of uncertainty.

Holiday 2021 Email

Start early.  I’ve stressed over the years the importance of early preparation for holiday email marketing. It’s especially critical in 2021, given the likelihood of delays. Review prior years’ email campaign dates and start at least one week earlier.

For example, in 2019 Black Friday occurred on Nov. 29. If you launched promotions one week before (Nov. 22), start them two weeks in advance this year (Nov. 12). Moreover, communicate to shoppers deadline dates for guaranteed delivery by Dec. 25. Include those dates in email and other marketing efforts, as well as on product detail pages. Holiday “final order” dates spur conversions in my experience.

Avoid delivery bottlenecks. Black Friday and Cyber Monday — Nov. 26 and 29 this year — are typically the heaviest volume for holiday email marketing. Seemingly every retailer is competing for consumers’ inboxes. An unfortunate consequence is reduced bandwidth among email servers, resulting in more soft bounces and delayed or undelivered messages.

Beyond deploying campaigns early, consider these tactics:

  • Use simple layouts with minimal dynamic messaging to reduce pre-send processing.
  • Avoid large images and animated GIFs to lower file size.
  • Check your domain and IP reputation frequently.
  • Shun new sending patterns that could harm your domain or IP reputation. An example is deploying a large reactivation campaign to dormant subscribers immediately before Thanksgiving, which could spur spam complaints and thus lower reputation scores.

Sync with social and display campaigns. Email can help the performance of other marketing channels such as social media, display ads, and even direct mail.

Those channels can also help grow subscribers. Take the example below from Grove, which sells sustainable household goods. Grove’s Facebook ad encourages readers to “Join 2,000,000…” subscribers.

Screenshot of a Grove Facebook ad showing household productsScreenshot of a Grove Facebook ad showing household products

This Facebook ad from Grove targets new email signups — “Join 2,000,000…” subscribers.

Offer a gift guide via email. Consumers don’t often know what to buy until they see it. Including a representation of a gift guide in the body of an email allows recipients to shop without clicking, at least initially. The guide could include gift ideas with reminders, again, of final-order dates.

Screenshot of an email gift guide from J.Crew — "shop Gifts for Her."Screenshot of an email gift guide from J.Crew — "shop Gifts for Her."

J.Crew delivered this gift guide via email. “Shop Gifts for Her,” the email reads.

Emphasize loyalty and rewards. Repeat customers are the lifeblood of successful ecommerce companies. Many rely on well-structured rewards or loyalty programs.

Take Old Navy, for example. After nearly every purchase, “Navyist Rewards” members immediately receive $10 or $20 in “super cash” that expires, typically, in one week. Kohl’s uses a similar approach.

Screenshot of a Old Navy email with a $20 loyalty club reward. Screenshot of a Old Navy email with a $20 loyalty club reward.

Old Navy sends “super cash” rewards to loyalty-club members immediately after each purchase. This example is for $20.

Apple iOS 15

Apple iOS 15 is available Monday, Sept. 19. I’ve addressed that update and its likely dramatic effect on email marketing. Apple will no longer automatically report tracking pixels (which is how email marketing platforms measure opens) without the recipient’s consent. Instead, Apple will, by default, report all emails as having been opened.

Thus heading into the 2021 holiday season, email open rates reported by providers — Mailchimp, Mailup, HubSpot, others — will likely be inflated. Marketers should repurpose all auto campaigns that rely on opens.

Also, iOS 15’s new “Hide My Email” feature allows users to sign up for offers with a temporary, alternate email address, thus hiding a user’s permanent address. The result could be an influx of new subscribers who could quickly unsubscribe or go dormant. Moving forward, ramp up list hygiene and data cleansing to combat bad addresses.

5 Ways Apple’s Email Privacy Impacts Marketing

As early as September 2021, Apple’s mobile email apps may hide a recipient’s internet protocol address, making it difficult or impossible to measure open rates and track user behavior.

Apple announced its new email privacy initiative on June 7, 2021, as part of its forthcoming iOS 15 operating system.

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. “Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with.”

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Since then, email experts have sought to understand how this change will impact marketing, given that Apple’s email applications combined had about 48% of the total global email client market as of July 2021, according to Litmus.

Clicks and Conversions

Most email service providers embed tracking pixels in email messages. These pixels help identify when a recipient has opened an email.

For users who choose to “Protect Mail Activity” in iOS 15, Apple will use a caching server to open emails and provide a general IP address back to the email service providers rather than a specific one that could identify a recipient’s location.

This caching will dramatically inflate open rates, perhaps even sending them to 100% for some businesses.

Screenshot from Litmus of a diagram showing flow of email on Apple iOS 15 devicesScreenshot from Litmus of a diagram showing flow of email on Apple iOS 15 devices

Email messages will be routed through a caching or proxy server, as shown in this diagram from Litmus.

Even if some users choose not to hide their IP or activity, it would be difficult to differentiate them, thus making open rates far less meaningful.

This change will impact how some email marketing campaigns are run. But by no means is it the end of email effectiveness.

“As marketers, we looked at the open rate, but it wasn’t the most critical metric,” said Melissa Sargeant, chief marketing officer at Litmus, a provider of email tools and services.

In place of open rates, marketers will likely use clicks and conversions. Both will remain available after iOS 15 is released, according to Sargeant.

Moreover, clicks and conversions may be more meaningful than opens and might lead to better email marketing.

To prepare for iOS 15, marketers should look at clicks and conversions now.

Testing

“You have to think of this change in Apple Mail beyond just the open rate in terms of what it will influence in an email marketing program. For example, it’s going to impact A/B tests that use open rates to determine the winner,” said Sargeant.

In hindsight, using the open rate in an A/B test was probably not the best choice anyway. The purpose of most email campaigns is clicks and conversions, not opens.

Here is an extreme (and unlikely) scenario to make the point. Imagine a business that sells framed wildlife photography. You could build a subject line test with the following two options.

  • “Amazing Animal Portraits”
  • “Nude Photos Enclosed”

Measuring the open rate here is useless. For some audiences, “Nude Photos Enclosed” would significantly outperform the alternative. But those folks would not likely click when they open the message and find images of squirrels and deer.

Thus iOS 15’s email apps might actually be for the better, especially for ecommerce.

Automated Workflows

Many automated email workflows include open rates.

Marketers that use open rate as a trigger in a nurturing campaign or some other form of lifecycle marketing should revisit those campaigns soon, ideally before iOS 15 is released.

Even if the open rate is not a trigger, it could impact a segment or cohort that the workflow uses, such as a segment that includes a last open date.

This is especially important for list hygiene workflows since the inflated open rate could make unengaged recipients appear active.

Dynamic Content

Inflated open rates and the loss of IP addresses will also impact some forms of email personalization and localization, according to Sargeant.

For example, some ecommerce emails include dynamic product lists. These lists show shoppers relevant and in-stock items when an email is opened. Apple’s new email privacy makes these hard to do.

It could also impact location-based personalization. An omnichannel retailer may have included local store information based on IP address. After iOS 15, that IP address won’t be accurate for mobile Apple Mail users.

Marketers will want to evaluate how they have been using dynamic content and ensure the forthcoming changes won’t impact them.

Hence iOS 15 represents a trade-off between privacy and relevancy. Consumers will gain more control over their email privacy, but the content in their inbox could be less relevant.

Customer Data

In general, the trend toward more personal privacy online — including changes to tracking cookies and app identifiers — has driven marketers to collect more so-called first-party data. Rather than using tracking networks to identify customer behavior and preferences, businesses are learning more about customers directly.

“Consumers are going to engage with a brand not just from emails. They will interact through SMS or push notifications, video, voice, in-app, sales calls, the entire ecosystem. That is where you bring it all together to have a more holistic view and not rely on a single open-rate metric,” said Sargeant, whose company recently launched an Apple audience report to help businesses collect baseline data for customers using an Apple email app.

Collecting shopper insights in this way could provide better info in the long run.

The Essentials of High-performing Emails

Creative content is the cornerstone of a successful email campaign, driving opens, clicks, and purchases. In this post, I’ll review the essential creative components of high-performing campaigns.

The Basics

The first step is an effective email template. The fundamentals include:

  • Layout. Single-column designs are the easiest to optimize for mobile devices.
  • Text and images. In my experience, the best emails are roughly 60% images and 40% text.
  • Dimensions. A width of 400 to 600 pixels renders well across all devices. Length can vary based on the message, but longer emails increase load times.
  • Fonts. Stick to popular fonts such as Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Times New Roman, and Verdana. Lesser-used fonts will not function well across all email programs.
  • Size: Keep the file size under 100 KB. The smaller the size, the quicker the email will load and the higher the likelihood that recipients will read the content.
  • Code. Emails must render well on all devices — desktops, tablets, smartphones. Smartphones now account for as much as 75% of all opens. Avoid excess HTML or tags that can trigger spam filters. Use a plain-text editor to copy and paste text, not Microsoft Word or similar, which could cause hidden formatting errors. Never include JavaScript or Flash, as they are not supported in email clients. And avoid embedded forms.
  • Regulatory requirements. Include in the footer an unsubscribe link and your company’s physical mailing address — the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act requires both.

Overall Design

Marketing emails should be simple, clean, and easy to read.

  • Headings, subheadings, and white space help organize the message. Isolate the call-to-action to stand out.
  • Fonts should be no less than 12 to 14 pixels on desktops, 16 pixels on smartphones.
  • Colors. The fewer, the better — no more than three.

The design should always support the four W’s:

  • Who the email is from.
  • Why it is relevant to the recipient.
  • When the recipient should take action.
  • What to do next.

The clearer you convey these four elements, the better chances of conversion.

Images

  • Width. Images can be wider than the template (for higher resolution) and then sized down using the image attributes or CSS.
  • Alt text will display when an image does not load or is blocked by the user. Alt text should therefore carefully describe the image to help users understand its purpose.
  • Include people. In my experience, images containing people outperform those that don’t.
  • Relevancy. Make sure the image supports the purpose of the email.
Screenshot of a Shopilicious email with 4 images and minimal textScreenshot of a Shopilicious email with 4 images and minimal text

This template example from Shopilicious has a good ratio of images to text. Also, the call-to-action (“Shop Now”) is near the top, providing a clear direction for the recipient.

Video and GIFs

Videos and animated GIFs can encourage clicks. But not all email clients support video streaming in the template itself. This includes Outlook and Gmail. The best work-around is to include an image with a play button overlaid that links to a web-hosted video. (However, roughly half of email providers support embedded HTML5 video.)

Screenshot of an email from Everlane showing a female modeling clothes with a video botton on top of the imageScreenshot of an email from Everlane showing a female modeling clothes with a video botton on top of the image

Everlane shows a play button on top of an image in this email. Clicking the button takes the user to the hosted video.

All email clients support animated GIFs. But keep the file size to 1 MB or less.

Screenshot of an animated GIF email from Starbucks showing all four pane.Screenshot of an animated GIF email from Starbucks showing all four pane.

All email clients support animated GIFs, such as this example from Starbucks.

Mobile Optimization

Responsive email design will automatically adjust the template to the recipient’s device. Other helpful mobile practices include:

  • The call-to-action button should be large enough to click with a finger (at least 44 x 44 pixels with 16-pixel minimum font size) and as close to the top as practical.
  • Single column formatting only.
  • Line spacing of at least 1.5 times larger than font size to create sufficient white space.
  • The logo should be top center or top left.

Apple’s iOS 15 Could Improve Email Marketing

When it’s released this fall, Apple’s iOS 15 could make capturing some email marketing metrics more difficult, which might improve performance.

On June 7, 2021, Apple described some of the new privacy features it would offer in its forthcoming operating systems for the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac computers — specifically iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and macOS Monterey. The changes to the iPhone might be the most impactful given the number of individuals who read emails on that device.

New Email Privacy

The Apple operating system privacy updates will impact email tracking — and by association email marketing — in three ways, according to Val Geisler, a customer evangelist at email service provider Klaviyo.

  • More Apple users will know they can hide their email addresses.
  • Apple will hide IP addresses.
  • Apple users can opt out of email tracking.

Hidden email address. The first of these features, according to Geisler, has been available to Apple customers for some time, but Apple will promote it more prominently to users and make access easier.

An Apple support article from December 2020 described the process of hiding an email address as “a unique, random email address is created, so your personal email address isn’t shared with the app or website developer during the account setup and sign-in process.”

Hiding an email address may make it relatively more difficult for list consolidators or even individual businesses to build customer profiles and track behavior across websites or apps.

No IP address. Apple’s Mail app will not share a user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, making it difficult to identify a user’s location and thus build a profile of that person.

No email tracking. For more than 20 years, email marketing platforms have placed invisible tracking pixels on outgoing email marketing messages, allowing these companies to track unique and gross open rates.

But not everyone likes being tracked. So Apple will allow folks reading email on iOS 15 the chance to opt out of tracking, meaning marketers won’t see open rates from those recipients.

Better Marketing

Email marketing professionals can view Apple’s privacy updates as a hurdle or obstacle to doing their jobs. But the changes might make email marketing better and more effective. Better privacy for consumers could require marketers to do a better job of understanding and segmenting subscribers.

Consider the email open rate, which is, perhaps, the most notable casualty of Apple’s proposed privacy improvements.

List health. What does an open actually measure?

“While opens can be an indicator of the awareness you’ve generated around a particular message,” wrote Chad S. White, head of research at Oracle Marketing Consulting, “they don’t necessarily correlate to bottom-of-the-funnel business metrics like conversions and revenue. They don’t do a great job telling you if your subscribers are getting value out of your emails. Clicks and conversions do a much better job of measuring that.”

While some suggest that open rates may help with subject line optimization, White disagreed.

“The goal of subject lines isn’t to generate opens. It’s to generate openers who are likely to convert,” he wrote, adding that A/B testing subject lines to optimize for clicks was a better strategy.

Opens, according to White, are primarily a measurement of list health and subscriber activity.

But do you need it? Instead of relying on open rates, what if you relied on clicks as a measurement of engagement? It might work better.

Accuracy. What’s more, open rates may or may not be accurate.

Apple’s Mail app will prevent tracking simply by not loading the spy pixel. Effectively, anyone can already do this in just about any email client by not automatically loading images. Here are five articles describing just how to do it.

Many factors come into play here, but, in at least some cases, it may be difficult to identify the percentage of subscribers in a list or a segment whose email client is not loading images. So, again, it might be better to measure clicks instead.

Clicks and Conversions

In short:

  • Clicks and conversions are better at measuring subscriber value,
  • Clicks are better for subject line optimization,
  • And clicks are more accurate than opens.

Thus, email marketers might better understand their subscribers and customers when they stop using open rates.

Email Marketers Should Know Subscribers Better

How important is email list segmentation? Some leading retail brands and marketplaces are allowing subscribers to opt-out of Father’s Day email promotions this year. Etsy, Free Fly Apparel, Tesco, and many others have asked subscribers if they want to receive marketing announcements for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

For example, Father’s Day is this coming Sunday in many countries. It is typically a celebration of family and the parent-child relationship.

But Father’s Day marketing is uncomfortable for some email subscribers. Imagine a daughter who is grieving her father’s recent death. Or a husband who wants to be a father, but for some reason cannot have children. In each of these cases, a Father’s Day promotional email, however well executed, might still spark negative emotions for the recipient.

Thus, companies that reached out to customers about opting out of Father’s Day or Mother’s Day serve as a reminder to all email marketers to consider how well they know and segment subscribers.

Image of a smartphone screen with the Gmail icon prominently displayedImage of a smartphone screen with the Gmail icon prominently displayed

Knowing what is important to a subscriber is key to doing a better job of marketing to that person. Photo: Stephen Phillips.

Segmentation

Any discussion of email marketing and list segmentation should start with “it depends.” What works for one business may not work for another.

What day is best to send promotional emails? It depends. What are the best ways to segment a list? It depends. And should I ever send a message to my entire list? Well, it depends.

We can definitively say, however, that list segmentation, done well, leads to better email marketing performance.

“I’ve seen brands that send [email marketing messages] to very small lists because they are honed in on who they are talking to, and those lists have 70-or-80-percent open rates and high click-through rates,” said Val Geisler, a customer evangelist at Klaviyo, the email marketing platform.

Geisler relayed the example of a multichannel retailer with physical stores in St. Louis and email subscribers in New York. Segmenting the email list so that New Yorkers are not bombarded with local, in-store promotions will improve email marketing performance.

Similarly, asking folks if they want to opt-out of Father’s Day likely boosts performance for at least two reasons.

First, subscribers who would not have responded to the promotion are removed from the segment. The result is fewer emails, but to shoppers who are more likely to buy a Father’s Day gift.

Second, subscribers who read the opt-out email but didn’t respond could look for your store’s Father’s Day promotion. They have, in a sense, chosen to see the email.

In this way, asking a shopper about Father’s Day or Mother’s Day is like asking about her physical location or her preference for one product category or another.

Subscriber Info

The more a marketer knows about a subscriber, the better job she can do segmenting that subscriber and, thereby, providing the most relevant offers.

But it takes a bit of work.

If your company knows that a subscriber tends to buy women’s clothing but purchases gifts of men’s clothing during Father’s Day and Christmas, you might send her a message describing the popularity of men’s chino shorts.

Likewise, a shopper who has purchased men’s chino shorts for himself and also buys gifts of men’s clothing could receive an email message pointing out that the chino shorts he loves would make a great gift for dad.

Assembling these segments would likely produce better results than a generic message to both customers, but it would take more effort to collect the information. That includes taking action based on a subscriber’s decision to opt-out of a certain promotion.

Geisler pointed out that each of us wants to be treated as valuable individuals. Thus, when we as marketers gather info on a subscriber, be it behavioral or a preference like opting out of Father’s Day messages, we should act on it.

Preparation

“A lot of marketing is very reactive, and we [unfortunately] don’t get ahead of our work,” said Geisler.

Thus, you could send an opt-out message a few days ahead of a holiday such as Father’s Day, or you could ask subscribers about their overall preferences. Geisler suggested doing the latter a couple of times every year. Rather than asking about Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June, inquire also about birthdays, or category affinities, or other interests.

Apple’s iOS 15 Will Change Email Marketing

Apple recently unveiled its iOS 15 software, which rolls out this fall. Most of the new features focus on privacy, data tracking, and user security. Two features, “Mail Privacy Protection” and “Hide My Email,” will dramatically impact email marketing. I’ll address both in this post.

Mail Privacy Protection

This feature will offer iOS 15 email users the option to load remote content privately and not disclose their IP addresses. The result will block the sender’s ability to track opens and forwards and will mask the recipient’s IP, which determines the physical location.

Screenshot from a smartphone of iOS 15's "Mail Privacy Protection" opt-in page.Screenshot from a smartphone of iOS 15's "Mail Privacy Protection" opt-in page.

iOS 15’s “Mail Privacy Protection” will offer users the option to load remote content privately and not disclose their IP addresses. Image: Apple.

Email service providers — Mailchimp, MailUp, Constant Contact, many more — insert an invisible 1-pixel image in outgoing deployments. The image tracks whether a recipient opens an email and how often, resulting in the reporting of unique and gross open rates. This is longstanding, valuable info for email marketers, reflecting the impact of subject lines, pre-headers, and overall subscriber engagement.

With iOS 15’s Mail Privacy, marketers will now be blind to email opens for users who have opted-in to that protection. Other users, those on desktop and Android devices, are still trackable.

Emails in 2021 are mostly opened on smartphones. iOS is a big share of that market. If Android adopts similar privacy options, 98% of smartphone users will have the option of not disclosing their email opens.

iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection is not enabled by default. Users have to opt-in. However, it is safe to say that, once released, senders can expect a decline in the reported open rates. The impact extends beyond subject lines and pre-headers. A user’s engagement over time often affects marketers’ segmentation tactics. Subscribers who open relatively less might receive fewer messages with different creative, for example.

Moreover, marketers frequently purge inactive subscribers. Such database cleaning is essential because it improves overall deliverability. Deployments with large percentages of inactive recipients can end up in junk or spam folders, as internet service providers assume those emails have little value. Apple’s new privacy update makes deleting inactive subscribers more difficult.

Finally, analyzing open rates by domain (@gmail, @yahoo, @hotmail) can identify ISPs who have blocked emails or have otherwise altered the deliverability. With the new iOS email privacy option, marketers lose this ability.

Hide My Email

“Hide my Email” is another new Apple feature, available on iOS 15, macOS Monterey (unveiled this month), and iCloud settings. The feature allows users to sign up for email offers with an Apple-generated randomized address instead of the real email address. Apple then forwards emails into the user’s main email account. Users can delete this new email address easily and thereby prevent its spread across the web.

Hide My Email poses several issues for marketers. First, there is no easy way to tell if a new email sign-up is a legitimate account or a “burner.” This will presumably cause deliverability issues, as subscribers can quickly delete their email, resulting in increased bounces and thus concerns to ISPs, who could alter its deliverability. (However, reputable email service providers automatically purge “hard” bounces, removing their impact on ISPs.)

Prepare Now

Prepare now for iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection. Test open rates extensively before launch this fall. Create before and after benchmarks for:

  • Subject lines,
  • Pre-headers,
  • Time of day,
  • Day of week,
  • “From” lines.

“Hide My Email” will likely impact deliverability. Keep an eye on those rates and make sure your ESP removes hard bounces promptly.