EP #42 Email technology: Changes, challenges, and what’s coming !

EP #42 Email technology: Changes, challenges, and what’s coming !

About this Podcast

In today’s special episode of the “For The Love Of Emails” Podcast, we welcome Derek Harding, Principal MarTech Consultant at Little Bee Consulting. Derek, as a technologist and marketer, excels at strategizing digital marketing and cross-channel marketing. In a span of over 2 decades, he has developed visionary products and product strategies, lead a MarTech company, reviewed platforms, and more. He also speaks, writes, and educates on various topics of marketing and technology focusing particularly on email and digital messaging. Matthew Vernhout, VP of deliverability at Netcore Cloud, hosted the podcast.

Quick Snapshots
In this podcast, Matthew Vernhout and Derek Harding discussed :
Changes in the email technology and challenges that come with it
The new reality post-Apple MPP, where open metric has fundamentally changed
Why administration and management of journeys will be complex for marketers ?
Why it is important to keep the choice of tools simple and sensible ?
Episode Transcripts

Intro (00:06) : You’re listening to the “For The Love Of Emails” podcast, powered by Netcore, a weekly show dedicated to helping email marketers, marketing enthusiasts, and professionals of all walks engage, grow, and retain customers through reliable, innovative, and effective email communication and engagement. Discover actionable ways to increase ROI and deliver value through email innovations, personalisation, optimisation, email deliverability, and email campaigns.No fluff! Tune in to hear best practices and tactical solutions from the best thought leaders and practitioners. Master your email communication now.

Matthew Vernhout (00:00)
Hello, and welcome to another edition of, For the love of emails podcast. I’m your host today, Matthew Vernhout, vice president, deliverability for Netcore Cloud in North America. Today, I have another exceptional guest for our listeners, my good friend, Derek Harding, principal MarTech consultant at Little Bee Consulting. I’ve known Derek for probably close to 20 years in various different roles. We’ve worked together, through the email experience council, and we’ve worked together through other marketing and technology associations. We’ve always sort of sat on opposite sides of the table, but, today I’ve got him here and I’m gonna pound him with questions. Are you ready for this? So let’s see, Derek’s been in the industry for just around 20 years, a little over, a technologist and a marketing developer, with a number of different innovative products and services. This includes founding, building, and leading a MarTech company, and selling it to a major advertising holding company. He’s a regular speaker, writer, and educator on all things, email marketing and technology with a particular focus on digital messaging. Derek, welcome to the show.

Derek Harding (01:16)
I had to be here. Thank you.

Matthew Vernhout (01:19)
So we’re going to start where I always start. And I’m going to ask you to give me a little bit about your company, Little Bee Consulting, and what you do there.

Derek Harding (01:28)
Okay. Uh, so I’m the principal consultant, we’re a consultancy, focused on marketing technology and really both pieces to that. The marketing side of it and the, and the, the technology side, fundamentally we help companies solve their MarTech stack issues. That’s really what it comes down to. So many companies have so many different tools, and different challenges, getting it all to work together and digitally transform is, is a huge challenge. And that’s what we help people with.

Matthew Vernhout (02:07)
So that includes things from integrations to picking the right MarTech stack to potentially saying, you know, you no longer need this in your stack or things like that.

Derek Harding (02:17)
Yep. What the heck did you buy that for? You’re not using it properly or effectively or at all?

Matthew Vernhout (02:22)
Using 20% of the product you’re paying for?

Derek Harding (02:26)
Yeah. Those two things will never work together unless you get yourself a nice or a big team of people and you probably don’t want to do that. There are a lot of challenges there, a lot of things that companies small and larger are struggling with.

Matthew Vernhout (02:43)
There’s actually recently an article written by Chris Marriott. I’m sure you know, Chris quite well. And about the idea of building your own ESP. As a MarTech consultant, is that something you would recommend to a brand?

Derek Harding (02:58)
Well, as, as a developer, I’ve done it. Right! I think there may be scenarios where it makes sense, but I, I can’t help, but think it’s, it’s a narrow range of situations. One of the biggest things that I saw with, with, with email and that was a challenge in, in email, particularly with agencies, where was the, it’s kind of the top gear, how hard could it be the concept. And people often have a tendency to look at email and go, well, I send email all day and I receive it all day. How hard can it be? But as you know, at scale, it is hard managing compliance, managing deliverability, just frankly, even just the technology of emails being properly set up and crafted these days is way more complex than it was 20, 25 years ago.

Derek Harding (04:09)
Should you create your own ESP? I think there are some niche situations, but with the wide variety, these days of everything from a full-blown marketing cloud through to niche, email providers through to the programmatic providers, you know, pure API based. I, I, I would find it hard to say, yeah, it’s worth putting the resources into development. It’s worth hiring ourselves a deliverability team. It’s worth all the administration and management of, DKIM and DMARC and, and all those pieces, the monitoring of our deliverability, the management of, of what has to be a high availability tracking system. There’s a lot there if you want to do it properly.

Derek Harding (05:02)
So, I did see Chris’s article. I didn’t read it in-depth and I’m kicking myself cause I want to know what his reasoning for, and why you should do it is.

Matthew Vernhout (05:12)
I, I think his reasoning really is why you shouldn’t do it. Similar to many the things…

Derek Harding (05:16)
Oh, okay. He was actually saying you shouldn’t? Okay.

Matthew Vernhout (05:19)
Yeah. It was really one of those why you shouldn’t and you actually hit on a lot of the points that he talked about in there? Just the extra costs that are unforeseen beyond the hardware, the technology and the maintenance of everything. You know, it’s no longer, just a matter of building something that can send a plain text email. You have to build something that can do HTML, dynamic content, and maybe AMP, right? So, you’re building on top of all of these different technologies. That’s not just, can I send an email from my desktop to somebody else’s desktop.

Derek Harding (05:58)
Yeah. And, and doing it at scale. And, and, frankly, the, one of the things that I think is, is this sort of leads into what I think is really changing in in email.. is that it used to be, the challenge was how do I build a system that will personalize and deploy, you know, 10 million messages in, in 30 minutes. Today, the issue is how do I build a system that can receive, and analyze the signals of behavior and then in real real-time and air quotes, right. Deliver, follow on messaging across channels for my customers, and my prospects. And that’s a very, very different challenge.

Derek Harding (06:55)
Honestly, the actual deployment of email and you can get into reply mail management, bounce processing, and all that complexity, but just the deployment and handling of the email is it’s a relatively small piece of the business logic for the rest of it. And if you don’t do that, you’re, you’re basically implementing a 1990s solution in 2020. And that’s. Yeah, that’s right.

Matthew Vernhout (07:22)
I mean, really we all started somewhere, right. Instead of stepping back 20 years, let’s, let’s jump in where we’re at. So you know, like you’re talking about it’s all these complicated signals that you’re getting back in, obviously the hot button topic for the last call in six months, maybe a bit longer has been the signal that we’re all getting from Apple now with MPP. So, you know, open rates look fantastic for North American marketers because Apple was accounting for somewhere between 40 to 60% of open rates for many brands in North America.

Matthew Vernhout (08:00)
You know, what are the challenges that you see when you’re talking with clients in regards to either moving them beyond open rates as a, a KPI that they’re focusing on, or, you know, just dealing with Apple MPP as a, you know, a new metric that they have to measure against.

Derek Harding (08:19)
Yeah. I think that’s big talk.

Matthew Vernhout (08:25)
It’s a huge question.

Derek Harding (08:27)
First up, honestly, was I the only one that was, was stunned by how to see this only applies to people reading email on Apple devices, using the Apple mail app. Was anyone…

Matthew Vernhout (08:43)
Mac as well. So, it’s macOS and iOS.

Derek Harding (08:46)
Apple devices and Apple’s mail application, whether that’s on iOS, on iPhone or iPad or, or, or a Mac. I was stunned when I realized what percentage of users are doing that?

Matthew Vernhout (09:04)
Well, I read all my Gmail on my Mac iOS devices. And my Yahoo runs through there. My Gmail runs through there. My Hotmail runs through there. It’s all in one client now.

Derek Harding (09:15)
Yeah, I guess I, and maybe it’s me. I never really got on with those apps very well. So I was just very, I was very surprised and given that none of them exists on Android, none of the things exists on windows. The percentage just struck me as really high. Maybe I’m an outlier here and, you know, I, I had my head in the sand or something, but I was really, really surprised by how big an impact it has.

Matthew Vernhout (09:46)
It’s very geographic. It’s very geographic though. So when we were looking across our global clients, our India market for clients, where we are the largest ESP in the market, so only about a 10% impact because the market share of iOS in west devices is submissive in Europe and North America. So I bet you, if we looked at other markets, you know, Asia and Asia, you know, in South America and Africa, you would see a different percentage as well. So you know, where we saw an average of 10% impact in our India market and up to 70% impact for some brands in our North American market, that’s a huge gap. So, you know, where people kind of fit in that sweet spot is that 30 to 50% range, but that’s still very significant.

Derek Harding (10:48)
Yeah. No, absolutely. And I think you, you asked about how it, how it affects clients. I think it fundamentally has to deeply change how they think about their metrics. For the longest time, click rate has kind of been the key gold standard metric but it has a couple of problems with it. One is the number is quite small and marketers don’t like small numbers. They like big numbers. And, it’s one of the reasons for using click to open rate. There are all these arguments as to why click-to-open is a good metric. I’ve always argued against it, but what it does do is it bumps up your click component because you’re dividing it by a smaller number, the number of opens rather than deliveries, but that metric has just got blown up. If the open rate is blown up, the other issue, of course, is that you don’t what the click-through rate doesn’t tell you is your reach. It doesn’t tell you your visibility. It doesn’t tell you how many people may have seen your message and, and been affected by the essentially the advertising component of it, right? Having your brand brought to the front of mind, but not actually interacted with it in that time.

Derek Harding (12:12)
And that is important and useful and MPP kind of damages and, and, and undermines that a whole bunch. I’m really interested to see what ESPs and what companies do to mitigate the issue by filtering some of the MPP out and whether they can figure out ways. I’ve heard rumors that some people reckon. They can identify the non-interactive components of MPP versus the actual. Ones that are triggered by people looking at the message. I don’t know whether I believe them, but I’ve heard rumors. So I’m, I’m, I’m very interested to figure out whether that’s true.

Matthew Vernhout (13:01)
I feel I’ve heard those similar rumors. What we’ve at least done is taken in our reporting, the ability to filter out what is clearly MPP. You can still look at your open rates that are non-MPP focused.

Derek Harding (13:13)
Right. And then extrapolate that into your Apple group is probable. Right. Right.

Matthew Vernhout (13:18)
So it’s, it’s not a perfect science by any means but, you know, just like false opens, we do have an experience with false clicks from solutions, clicking on things. So it’s never a perfect science either way. I’m always a big fan of, did you accomplish the KPI you were trying to? Did you make the sales numbers you were trying to, did you make the number of downloads that you are trying to, and did you generate the number of click-throughs to the article you wanted someone to read? Those are much more tactile and tangible metrics for marketers to focus on, what was the end result of the message? The in-between stuff is very directional, in my opinion.

Derek Harding (14:05)
It, it is, it is, and I think that’s where marketers and advertisers start, start to, sort of, move apart from each other. Right. The advertisers have always been stuck with that. You know, 90% of my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which 90% it is. And yet, advertising is, is vital. Brand awareness from advertising is essential to, particularly in, in consumer brands to success. And which gets to the area where AdTech and MarTech, I think, are kind of colliding in a lot of areas. Advertising thinking and marketing thinking are kind of combining ad advertising, marketing, sales and support are all kinds of the edges blurring, which also means I think that the terminology, the language that the metrics start to blur as well, and directional is important. How we resolve that, how we..

Matthew Vernhout (15:24)
But I, I think from the deliverability perspective, which is where I spend most of the time, right, it’s incredibly directional, important, right? Open rates, even with MPP, right, if your open rates are consistently 40% every day, and then today they are 10%. Well, that’s a good direction that I know to look at something is changed and there’s a problem. So it depends on the hat you’re wearing. So as a deliverability professional, absolutely directional. I love seeing consistency in behavior. I love seeing consistency in opens and clicks and click to open. I love seeing all that. And then when those metrics drastically shift, that’s when you can identify and say what happened on May 1st or whatever day it happens to be.

Derek Harding (16:13)
Yeah. Yeah.

Matthew Vernhout (16:17)
So when it comes to other technologies, so right obviously, we’ve seen this huge shift away from cookies in the browser that’s coming, you know, it’s got marketers concerned. We’ve seen some of the things that have happened to some of the large social networks as a result of losing some of this cookie data and some of the access to, you know, being able to track across sessions and such. But when it comes to sort of the emerging technologies, we’re seeing in email, so I’m talking AMP for email, I’m talking, BIMI, I’m talking, you know, annotations. So these are things that have been around a couple of years, mild adoption, right? Some of them are growing faster than others. How important is this to help counteract or, you know, influence things like some of these other technologies we’ve talked about?

Derek Harding (17:10)
I have, I think I have sort of a for me, the jury is definitely out. It feels on some days I look up where email’s going, and I always want everything to happen now. Right. I want, I want to progress, I want to move things along and I’m not hanging around and not waiting. And. And these things always take so much longer, than you expect to get any kind of real adoption. And I mean, look, look at, I think it was 2014 that Microsoft was first talking about really building interactivity into, into the inbox. They dropped their approach after a very short time.

Derek Harding (18:10)
And they lost out a lot because they didn’t have the kind of overwhelming market share that Google has. But, but it’s still very, very slow. There is incremental development. Is it gonna help? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know that it’s really going to counteract it. I think the reality is we have to say that open rates have changed. They changed fundamentally. We just have to adjust to that new reality. Is BIMI helpful? Yes, I think it is. Is it a good thing? Yes. Is it gonna really make an impact on how open rates have changed? I don’t think so. I look at this light when, whenever you remember when everyone changed their browser or their email clients from opening emails by default to not opening emails by default, right? Not loading images.

Derek Harding (19:10)
And there was the same sky is falling, now we’re going in the opposite direction. But with anonymity we just went back up.

Matthew Vernhout (19:18)
Everybody’s opening all of a sudden…

Derek Harding (19:20)
Right, everybody is opening now.

Matthew Vernhout (19:22)
As opposed to nobody’s opening.

Derek Harding (19:23)
Right. Whereas before it was low to be it, nobody was opening, but people were reading without opening. Now there are now they’re opening without reading it. It’s kind of the flip, but at the end of the day, you adjust to what the metric is. And it’s kind of, as you said, I think you just have to treat it directionally. You have to look at your open rate and what your new open rate is, and then start saying, is it going up or is it going down? Is it, and in what ways is it changing? And if, and if it’s just not going to change from the Apple users, as you said, with Netcore, ignore those. Look at what the delta is on the non-Apple users. That’s what you can infer is happening with the Apple users as well. And then work from there. Use those metrics, as they work and don’t try and use them in ways that don’t work, which back into your question for business that’s the core challenge for clients.. is having senior managers in a larger organization whose mindset, set, mindset, the mindset has not shifted. From what open rates used to be to what they are today and what they used to mean to what they mean today. Getting that education I think, is going to be the big challenge for the MarTech.

Matthew Vernhout (20:45)
Right. Yeah. And, and I feel over the last 20 years, we’ve moved a lot away. You know, moved away quite a bit from the whole idea of, you know, I used to do this in the offline world, just batch and blast the same message through the posts to everybody. Now I do an email. We’ve evolved at least for a large number of brands to that targeted relevant, not quite batched masses, not to say batch doesn’t exist anymore, but you know it’s certainly more common to do segment and target. With your messaging. You know, what are these types of, you know, these types of events? Has it been a long time coming? You know, you, and I’ve been doing this a long time, where do you see some of these tactics moving forward into the next you know few years? And what should marketers be thinking about now so that they can be ready for that?

Matthew Vernhout (21:47)
And I’m giving you all the heavy questions today you are.

Derek Harding (21:50)
You are. Yeah.

Matthew Vernhout (21:52)
So I don’t get to talk to somebody with this much experience all the time. So I love digging into some deep questions.

Derek Harding (21:58)
Yeah. Why, why does Derek take a deep sigh and go quiet after every question it’s going to be tough questions and I’m like, Hmm. Hmm. Okay.

Matthew Vernhout (22:08)
These are, these are no different than if we were sitting in person together having a beverage, we would have the same conversations.

Derek Harding (22:24)
I think it’s, it’s clear that many marketers, especially the largest ones, have embraced, what’s often called journeys, right? The idea of, of sequences of messages that, vary and adapt based on response or non-response based on user activity and engagement. And but I still think we’re at a fairly early stage for those things in that the tools are pretty simplistic. You, the demos that you see are all oh, right, so what you can do is you can grab this segment of users and then you can say, drag this thing here to send them this email, and then you can wait a few days. And then the people that responded you do this and the people that didn’t you do that. And, and it all looks very easy, but as you endeavor to do it at scale, journeys get complex. And, and as they get more complex and especially over time, you change and alter your journey, you get into a lot of situations where you get unintended and unexpected side effects.

Derek Harding (23:45)
Right? You get a reminder for an appointment because somebody changed a couple of things earlier in the journey and ends up going out after the appointment. Those kinds of things and it was why, well, because six steps earlier in that journey, somebody extended the waiting period from two days to four days because of low response and now further downstream. And I think marketers are gonna struggle with that. I think vendors are going to struggle with it because you get into it, how do you validate that? How do you analyze those journeys and make sure you don’t get into these weird rules. And I’ve literally seen clients with, with journeys, with, you know, hundreds, hundreds of steps and components, and the logic there gets tough.

Derek Harding (24:38)
As a software engineer I start, frankly, I start thinking about BNF packers now, form and, and, and formal logic, of these things. But I don’t think that’s going to work for marketers, frankly, but I do think that’s a challenge that’s coming that’s that’s gotta be resolved by vendors in ways that help. And I’m sure that, you know, we’ll get the, get told it’s going to be solved by AI, but, but that helped him help marketers to manage those help marketers to really understand the signals. And should you be following up in an email? What should be going as a text message? Which channel should you be using, the timing? Because the journeys are sophisticated that what customers expect, managing and administering them is, is getting more and more and more complex. And I think, I think that’s a huge change.

Derek Harding (25:32)
And I think it’s it’s if marketing went from a fairly creative into now quite a technical skillset, it’s turning almost into a programming exercise. For many marketers. And that’s going to be a challenge.

Matthew Vernhout (25:52)
That’s a big shift for a lot of people, but let’s, let’s, let’s pull on a thread a little bit. So when you’re working with a client that wants to start a journey, right. And then, you know, so it’s a simple one-step journey, maybe it’s a welcome program. And you get dumped into the regular marketing communications. Right. But what’s your advice for them when they’re at step ten in their journey or, you know, the difference between step 10 with step 15, because, well, it doesn’t sound like that’s a huge job.. adding five more messages to your sequence, like you just said, right. As a consultant, when you’re working with customers, how do you take them from step 10 journey to step 15 journey?

Derek Harding (26:37)
I’m a huge proponent of the kiss principle. Just it. It’s almost my mantra. Right. Keep it simple, stupid.

Matthew Vernhout (26:53)
I like to go the other way. I keep it stupid, simple! But either way works. Yeah.

Derek Harding (26:59)
Keep it simple because I’m stupid. Yeah. But, really, and truly, I think that a programmer’s mindset is to keep it simple. Do everything you can to fight complexity because the complexity will, will overwhelm you very rapidly. So I definitely take that approach. Beyond that, I think, I think one of the challenges is trying to build these things. There’s a component for building these things in terms of like written logic, as in what are the business rules for a given step for a given email to go out. Who should it, and shouldn’t it be going out to, I think you need to write those out, but then you also need the visual flow of it. And I think one of the biggest sorts of checks and balances is then to walk through the visual flow and verify does that visual flow actually makes sense with the business logic that we’ve put together? And then, almost every single platform that I’ve seen gives you the visual, it gives you that drag and drop ability to build a journey.

Derek Harding (28:28)
Almost none of them give you, I don’t think I’ve seen any, actually, that let you define what you believe the business, the full business rules should be for a given step or a given decision. And I think that’s a significant lack. And I think that it’s boring to write those out. It’s not sexy and exciting to write those out, but I think it’s really important to do that. Because that’s your touchstone, that’s your, you know, if this message is supposed to go out to this set of people, well, is it going to, or did we change something that’s going to cause it not to.

Matthew Vernhout (29:07)
And factoring in the recency of contact, how many triggers does someone get in a single day? How many, you know, emails, in general, should somebody get in a day? Not just triggers, but do you prioritize your marketing message over your trigger that day and skip the trigger or vice versa?

Derek Harding (29:23)
Absolutely. Yeah, the more global business rules that you apply to the program as a whole, have to be applied to individual triggers and how those interact with the trigger specific roles. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Matthew Vernhout (29:39)
So just one final question here today. When it comes to marketers looking at their steps, what are the common things that you see there, they’re making mistakes with? They’re overpowered or underpowered? We know, where do you see, sort of the most common problems with your customers?

Derek Harding (30:06)
I would say I’ve seen all of them. I’ve seen marketers with too many tools. I’ve seen marketers with too few tools. Frankly, more often marketers with too many tools, I think they, they were, they’d been sold a bill of goods about what a tool is capable of. But then they haven’t necessarily fully understood how to get that out of it in their circumstances. Yeah, tools that they’re paying way too much for are very common. You know, the so many, so many, folks buy into the dream of what it could do, but that the contract is for a year, but what it could do is what it could do for them in five. You got to figure out what you’re going to get out of this, this. Is it worth it for this year and only pay for the features and the capabilities and the volume that you need this year and pay more next year for what you need next year?

Derek Harding (31:15)
And then understand the difference between what are your core tools, what are the key pillars, and then what are the spot tools and how do you make sure that, that you don’t explode the number of those because every one of them adds complexity, as well as cost. And, and how do you build it around a core a set of core technologies provides the fundamental pieces you need to be augmented with the minimum number of spot tools to enhance as necessary. But again, the, keep it simple is huge. It really is. Frankly, the licensing costs of these can be a lot, but the administrative administration, the management, the overhead of the data manipulations and transfers the integrations, that’s a hidden cost often that is far, far larger, even than the potentially seven figures you may be paying for six, seven figures for the stack as a whole in license fees.

Matthew Vernhout (32:23)
Well, thanks for much for joining us today, Derek, how do our listeners get a hold of you?

Derek Harding (32:27)
Thank you for having me. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m Derek Harding on LinkedIn and, I’m [email protected]. And it’s D E R E K.

Matthew Vernhout (32:41)
Awesome. Well, thanks very much. Great conversation. Really enjoyed catching up with you. Can’t wait until we can do it again in person, hopefully very soon. To everybody out there listening, just want to remind you that our 2022 email benchmark report will be released very shortly. It is an email metrics study across five global regions and, 19 industries. It is a study of over 100 billion emails sent by Netcore’s clients and platforms. So if you want to be reminded, when that releases, head on over to the link, that’s in the show notes and sign up for the release notification, it should be out very shortly. It’s a fantastic report from the previous that I’ve seen. You’re gonna find a lot of value in it, so definitely head on over. As I said, the link will be in the show notes. And thank you once again for joining us in for the love of email podcast.

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