- Email marketing insight. Compliance with evolving privacy laws is crucial in email marketing to avoid legal repercussions.
- Inbox provider priorities. Providers like Google and Apple emphasize user privacy and efficient email sorting, impacting email marketing strategies.
- Subscriber preferences. Email marketing success hinges on respecting subscriber needs for permission-based, relevant and engaging content.
Email marketing is as powerful as it is complicated — and that complexity is slowly growing over time. The reason it’s so complex boils down to one simple fact: Email marketing has multiple stakeholders, each with their own agenda and priorities.
Email marketers have the challenging job of satisfying all of those stakeholders and balancing their sometimes competing demands. Let’s talk about who each of these stakeholders are and, more importantly, what they each want from email marketers.
Related Article: The 5 Biggest Changes From a Decade of Email Marketing Change
When you think about email marketing compliance, the regulations created by governments are probably the first thing that comes to mind. The US overall has very weak anti-spam and privacy laws, which is why a growing number of states have introduced and passed privacy legislation, with California kicking off the movement with CCPA and then its followup, CPRA.
Canada’s CASL and the EU’s GDPR are modern age anti-spam and privacy laws and set much stronger standards that are in line with the expectations of today’s consumers. These laws not only set company policies for many international American brands, but they herald what a new national standard might look like in the US when we eventually move beyond the antiquated and largely ineffectual CAN-SPAM Act.
What They Want:
While there’s a range of rules set by these laws (with US laws setting the lowest of bars), they primarily address permission, data collection and data usage. Consent and transparency are major focuses, so consumers are adequately informed and empowered to control information collected about them and control access to their inboxes.
When marketers fail to give governments what they want, they face legal action and serious fines.
Related Article: Is the Anti-Spam Law CAN-SPAM Now Meaningless?
Inbox Providers & Blocklist Operators
Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other inbox providers are highly aligned with consumer interests in terms of wanting protections against unwanted emails from both unknown and known senders — even from known senders to whom they gave permission.
Blocklist operators, such as Spamhaus, are also key players in policing acquisition practices, enforcing proper inactivity management, and encouraging good list hygiene. They do this through the use of pristine spam traps, typo spam traps and other tools.
What They Want:
Traditionally, inbox providers have wanted to protect their users from unwanted emails, especially malicious emails from spammers. The new joint deliverability standards announced by Google and Yahoo, which go into effect in February of 2024, are part of this long tradition. Those standards enforce spam complaint rate limits, require full email authentication, mandate list-unsubscribe headers for easy unsubscribes, and insist that unsubscribes be honored within two days.
Another central goal of inbox providers has been to help their users sort and prioritize incoming messages so they can more easily find the messages they care about most. The highly misunderstood Gmail tabs, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year, is an example of those efforts.
However, Apple, the largest inbox provider in the US, has been widening its scoop of action to include increasing the privacy of its users. For example, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection obscures the open activity of email marketers, among many other things. And Apple’s Link Tracking Protection removes some tracking parameters from emails in some instances.
Of course, it’s not just inbox providers who have been active on the privacy front. Digital platforms across the spectrum have been strengthening privacy protections, whether it’s the sunsetting of third-party cookies or Apple’s App Tracking Transparency.
Related Article: Email Marketing’s Increasing Role as Third-Party Cookies Disappear
These are your customers, partners and prospects. They’re the reason you send email campaigns in the first place, because you’re trying to deepen your relationship with them.
What They Want:
As I describe in the fourth edition of my book, Email Marketing Rules, subscribers have a hierarchy of needs that start with wanting respectful email experiences that are grounded in permission. But they also want functional email experiences that are user-friendly, and ultimately functional and (at least occasionally) remarkable email experiences.
After creating a solid foundation of respectful and functional email marketing practices, brands rightfully invest a lot of energy into creating valuable email experiences. In a word, the goal is creating relevance.
In practice, that gets complicated fast. As brands seek to send the right messages to the right people at the right time, they deploy a wide array of tools and tactics, including personalization, automation, segmentation, inactivity management, predictive analytics, and machine learning and generative AI, among many others.
When marketers fail to give subscribers what they want, they face rising disengagement and churn.
Related Article: 13 Inclusive Design Changes to Increase Your Digital Marketing Engagement
While subscribers have needs, so do brands. To complicate things further, brands have many factions that influence email marketing tactics and strategies. In addition to the email marketers who manage the channel, there are business executives, marketers running other channels, and people in other departments.
What They Want:
This varies depending on the constituent. For example:
- Business executives generally want email to drive top- and bottom-line business success, but may not understand much about email deliverability, rendering or fatigue.
- Marketers overseeing other channels may want stronger coordination with email or perhaps weaker coordination … or perhaps just weaker email marketing so their channel looks better.
- People in other departments want to meet their own goals, whether that’s clearing excess inventory or promoting brand, PR, philanthropic and culture initiatives, for example, regardless of whether their wants are the best use of subscriber attention.
Having a clear North Star metric and good visibility into performance across channels and departments — and understanding the interplay of all of that — is key to maximizing email marketing performance and minimizing unnecessary drama.
Related Article: 4 Ways Brands Go Wrong With Digital Marketing Metrics
Complex, But Powerful
To bring things back around, all of this complexity is key to email marketing’s strength. Email marketing would be a lot simpler if, for instance, Google somehow had exclusive rights to it. At the same time, email marketing would also be a lot more expensive and reach a much smaller audience. Essentially, email would be just another walled-garden messaging platform like Facebook Messenger, Slack, and — well — all the other ones that were supposed to have killed email long ago.
Put another way: Email marketing’s complexity is a symptom of everything that makes it great. It’s a small price to pay for a channel that has an amazing ROI, tremendous reach, and powerful targeting capabilities, and is the channel overwhelmingly preferred by consumers for brand communications.
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