Who Needs Open Rates Anyway?

Apple rolled out a new update that enhances email privacy for users of the iPhone. The result for marketers is open rates for email marketing are less accurate.

What do we do about Apple’s update harpooning our open rates?

Last month, Apple rolled out a new update that enhances email privacy for iPhone users. The result for marketers is that open rates for a marketing email are less accurate.

When email marketing is sent to a user, a single-pixel image is included in the body of the email. When a user opens the email, that pixel is downloaded, indicating to the email marketing software that your email was opened. Apple’s new update prevents data from being shared if the user elects not to (the most likely option in an obvious popup for iOS 15 users). Since the iPhone is the most used smartphone, and mobile is the most popular way to read email (especially in consumer markets), that means your open rates are now wildly inaccurate.

This is a devastating blow for marketers. As professionals trying to optimize the performance of our marketing dollars, we’ve grown accustomed to tracking in great detail to ensure the best results.

But why?

It’s true that a productive marketing spend is one that moves a customer through the funnel. There are several variations. You're likely familiar with the funnel, indicating the stages a prospect completes on the way to becoming a customer.

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Action
  5. Loyalty

But email open rates are essential to measure and guide customers through the funnel, right?

Well, maybe. Consider this. In the funnel, you are only earning revenue at the last two stages.

Subscriptions, opens, clicks, and browsing on your website are not purchasing. These stages do indicate engagement, though. Subscriptions open, and clicks are all past the awareness stage and generally in the interest stage. So, while email opens do indicate whether people bothered to gaze at your email, it tells you little else.

What should we do?

The best course of action is to refer back to why you are in business. To generate revenue (and perhaps some other nuances more specific to you). If awareness and interest deliver a benefit, it is excellent. This explains why you would want to advertise your business or create any marketing initiative. Like a billboard, for example. Cracker Barrel puts a billboard on the highway by the exit leading to their restaurant, not because they can verify it with the equivalent of a highway “open rate”, but because effective awareness leads to desire and then action.

If open rates reduce the value of our marketing efforts, then perhaps we should ask ourselves if we are focusing on the wrong things. Maybe instead of focusing on the measure of Interest, we should focus on the measure of Action.

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