How Investing In Consumer Data Will Make Companies Better Marketers

By Mike Audi, CEO, Tiki

Pixels are finally dead, killed by Apple at WWDC last month. Digital marketing turned customer data collection up to 11. Like many finer things in life, marketers didn’t fully appreciate access to this data until it was revoked.

In a big win for consumer data protection – the Apple Mail app now restricts senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the email recipient, like whether or not an email was opened and the recipient’s IP address. Even Google, in its own way, is reducing support for tracking cookies – a tool marketers have relied on heavily for decades. Other big tech companies can be expected to follow suit.

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Millions of businesses rely on open rates as a key metric or driver in their campaign workflows. If you thought App Tracking Transparency (ATT) changed the game for digital advertising, it’s back to the drawing board for many email marketers.

We’ve all seen the numbers – Apple Mail has a 39% market share and Gmail clocks in just above 27%, according to Litmus. Apple Mail is astonishingly popular, and the privacy changes won’t stop at email. With recent updates, Safari now blocks IP address trackers, which will break many geo-targeting and digital fingerprinting initiatives.

For years, the perception has been that third-party data is bad and first-party data is good; and now we have this silly “zero party” data term. The reality is, consumers don’t categorize their data like that. In their minds, it’s all information about them. They own it, and businesses collect it by spying on them.

There are two types of data in the eyes of consumers – explicit and implicit. Explicit data is information that is consciously shared with companies, like entering your email in a signup form. Implicit data is information unknowingly collected about a customer based on their traceable behaviors. Apple builds products for people, not businesses, so they’re on the warpath to stop implicit data.

Marketers should plan for more of their favorite sources of information to disappear in subsequent Apple OS releases. As companies like Google, and even governments, work to catch up with these updates, it’ll be interesting to see how marketing strategies evolve. Data collection and privacy language were already commonplace, now we’re seeing seismic shifts in approach.

In the coming months, we will see plenty of hacky workarounds for this new challenge, like extra clickbaity language, and loyalty points for clicks, or burying content behind buttons. A more sustainable approach is bifurcating your email marketing strategies.

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On one side of the coin, there will be a focus on higher quality, less frequent and more engaging email content. Without open rate analytics, you can’t A/B test every single campaign. Instead of pumping out more junk that no one really reads and just clogs up inboxes, brands will need to create and share content that people actually want to open. The safe move is to stick to stuff you know your customers want — unsubscribes crater sender scores. As email users, we should all be ecstatic if the world moves even slightly in this direction.

High-quality newsletters, even subscription newsletters, made a big comeback in recent years. For some, it might make sense to shift spend from expensive email automation tools to content creation. For others, if you can’t count on people to open your emails, why not skip it altogether or pay for placement in other popular newsletters? It’s worth noting that a study conducted by WhatIf Media Group showed that just 13.1% of respondents rated the email newsletter ads they see as “very relevant” and targeted. The majority of respondents, however, indicated they did not notice or disliked the ads they saw in email newsletters.

When you begin to think about email more like a billboard or a storefront, the analytics change. You focus on different questions. For example, “What should we write about?” becomes more important than “What day or time is best to send emails?”

Data collection strategies change too; what else does your customer do, read and like – beyond your products and services? Explicitly collecting this data will require a compelling value prop. Marketers will also start to see more of the digital twin concept, where a lot of data about a small number of users is used to predict the actions of many.

That leads right into the other side of the coin. There will be a big push to collect far more data than ever before when a user does opt-in. For example, if companies can’t rely on IP addresses for geo-targeting, sign-up forms may start to require zip codes. It will be essential to maximize every chance you have to ask a customer to provide data upfront.

With enough explicit user data, companies can create hyper-targeted emails. By replacing implicit data about lots of people with explicit data about a few customers, efforts shift. It becomes possible to engage customers one-on-one, at the right point in time, based on what they need. It’s important to remember, though, that getting users to share their data requires a damn good value prop. Willingness to share personal data is on the decline. Users willing to share a simple email address dropped from 61% to 54% in 2019.

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Despite its challenges, there is a lot you can do to personalize your emails – just putting the first name instead of “Hi” isn’t likely to cut it. However, if you can find the unique opportunities buried in explicit data, your customer retention and lifetime value will skyrocket.

Honestly, it’s about time we finally fix email spam; all our inboxes are a disaster. Content is still king. Inboxes are going from cheap real estate to prime placements. Analytics will need to be more proactive, shifting from merely monitoring statistics to extracting real, valuable insights about specific customers. Simultaneously, users will be able to select which companies get their data based on perceived value.

These are exciting times. It’s rare to get the chance to reinvent the system for the better. More changes are coming. Users will own and eventually be able to monetize their data. That journey is already underway.