8 Alternatives to Open-Triggered Email Sequences

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As more Apple Mail users have enabled Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), opens have become an unreliable signal of individual-level engagement with marketing emails.

Email marketers are now having to redefine how they select active audiences for campaigns, how they determine inactivity and make suppression decisions, and how they design journey progressions that were previously driven by opens.

That last impact will be particularly hard by B2B brands, which are the biggest users of open-triggered journeys to move customers and prospects down interaction funnels.

Although B2B brands are likely to be less affected overall by MPP than their B2C colleagues, most will ultimately have 15-35% of their audiences affected. That’s too much of an audience impact to ignore.

Brands will have to make changes to their open-triggered journeys, and they have several alternatives to consider.

Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.

1. Sending the Full Journey Sequence With Prominent Opt-Out

The crudest approach is to simply remove the requirement of an open to move forward in the series and just send the full series spaced out over a period of time. If you use such an approach, however, you must set expectations.

Consider including a series name or some other common language in the subject line of each email in the series so subscribers can immediately see how all the emails in the journey are related. The subject line or preview text could also indicate how many emails are in the series and which email a particular one is (eg, “Part 2 of 3: How to…”). The body of the email should also include common language, plus a common design.

You could also use a secondary content block to strengthen each email’s place in the series, either to remind openers of what the previous email in the series discussed or to tease the next email in the series.

Since the journey isn’t driven by the subscriber’s engagement, be sure to provide an opt-out for the series so those who aren’t interested can stop getting the series. In addition to your global unsubscribe link in the footer, place an opt-out higher up in the email, as well.

Pros:

  • Easy to set up, since it’s a singular track
  • Can be aligned to the buyer’s journey—for instance, there can be an awareness track, consideration track, etc.

Cons:

  • The longer the series, the higher the risk that you’re sending emails to some subscribers who aren’t interested in them
  • Because the progression isn’t engagement-driven, the pacing may be too fast or too slow for some subscribers

2. Using Clicks to Accelerate a Full Journey Progression

Depending on the calls to action in your series, clicks can be a signal to speed up the timing of your next email.

“If your subscribers are engaging with the journey, you want to capitalize on that,” says Jessica Stamer, the consulting technical manager for Oracle marketing consulting. “With just a couple extra steps on your journey canvas, you can give them another opportunity to engage sooner so their lead score can potentially rise faster, and you can get them over to sales when they’re the warmest.”

Pros:

  • Easy to set up
  • Can capitalize on subscriber interest by not making them wait for the next email in the series

Con: Doesn’t eliminate the risks associated with sending your series to subscribers who may not be interested—and the longer the series, the higher the risk

3. Using Real Opens to Accelerate a Full Journey Progression

Just because some of your opens have been deprecated by MPP doesn’t mean that all opens are useless. Many digital marketing platforms are able to discern real opens triggered by subscribers from the unreliable auto-generated opens from MPP. Depending on your email service provider, you may be able to use real opens to accelerate the progression of a subscriber through your series.

Pro: Real opens are a lower bar for engagement than a click, resulting in more subscribers’ being advanced more quickly through your series

Cons:

  • Not all marketing platforms can distinguish between real opens and auto-opens
  • Doesn’t eliminate the risks associated with sending your series to subscribers who may not be interested—and the longer the series, the higher the risk

4. Using Real Opens and Auto-Opens to Trigger Journey Progressions

Although MPP has made an open rate a less reliable trigger for journey progressions, B2B brands with a low percentage of auto-opens may opt to continue using both real opens and auto-opens to advance their series.

Yes, that would mean sending the entire series to any subscriber who has enabled MPP, but you’d avoid sending it to non-Apple users who aren’t engaging with the series. So, compared with sending your full journey progression to everyone, the approach would result in a much more targeted audience.

Pros:

  • Marketing platform doesn’t have to distinguish between real opens and auto opens
  • Progresses far fewer nonengaging subscribers through the journey compared with sending the full journey progression to everyone

Con: Still progresses subscribers through the journey who aren’t engaging

5. Using Clicks to Trigger Journey Progression

Instead of using an open, marketers can use an email click to progress the subscriber through the journey.

“For our B2B clients who want stronger engagement-driven routing, this is our recommendation,” says Cristal Foster, head of list growth and demand generation at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “But when embracing this approach, companies need to reevaluate the placement and copy of their CTAs and do some A/B-testing to maximize clicks.”

Pros:

  • Easy to set up
  • Allows branching in your message based on clicks, so the next message in the series can be tailored to the subscriber’s interest and action
  • Ensures that only subscribers who are interested receive the next email in the series

Con: Even if emails are optimized to encourage clicks, far fewer people will progress than when series progression was open-driven

6. Using Real Opens or Clicks to Progress to Next Leg of a Journey

When appropriate, consider breaking journeys up into multiple legs of 2-3 emails each and then using engagement with any of the emails in one leg to trigger a progression to the next leg of the journey.

For example, if a brand sent the first two emails of its series three days apart and a subscriber opened and clicked on the first of those two emails but not the second, then the subscriber would still progress and receive the third and fourth emails of the series.

Pro: More forgiving than a series that requires a click in each email to progress, resulting in more subscribers experiencing the full journey

Cons:

  • Makes sense only for journeys that are composed of at least 3 emails—ideally more
  • May not be supported by all digital marketing platforms

7. Giving Incentive to Click via a Loyalty Program

To increase the chances of success with any of the click-based approaches we’ve discussed, brands with sophisticated loyalty programs should consider giving subscribers extra reasons to click by offering rewards for consuming content, says Clint Kaiser, head of analytics and strategic services at Oracle.

“For example, reward programs for people for blog posts and other rewards, watching videos, or viewing page surveys—often monthly with a cap on such rewards,” Kaiser says.

“All of these activities can be driven through email by requiring a click. There could also be a gamified approach, for example, to a sequence of actions related to an email series and then the consumer being awarded points for it.”

Pro: Provides subscribers with an extra nudge to provide that click to accelerate or progress a journey

Cons:

  • Not effective with prospects, because they’re highly unlikely to be loyalty members
  • Not every brand has a loyalty program—and even some that do, don’t have the ability to incentivize email clicks

8. Using Cross-Channel Activity to Trigger Journey Progressions

Email marketers tend to lean heavily on email marketing data, but brands can trigger journeys based on behaviors from outside that channel.

For example, if you’re a software provider and your onboarding sequence encourages new customers to complete a profile or use certain functionality, and then you see that activity in their account, triggering an email on advanced strategies for using that functionality would make sense. Other cross-channel triggers might include the activation of a credit card, the creation of an account, or the downloading of an app.

“Leveraging other activities like website visits to evaluate engagement is often a forgotten insight,” says Peggy Sehorn, expert consultant technical manager at Oracle Marketing Consulting.

“Website visits provide particularly great insight into your customers’ digital footprint. Plus, if your marketing automation platform allows you to tag pages that are considered high-value content for a particular interest or topic, then that gives you another layer of engagement insight. In those cases, you can apply recency criteria, too, so subscribers who visited any of those high-value pages within the last 30 days, for instance, are automatically progressed to the next email in the series.”

Pro: The right cross-channel activity can provide a clear indication of a subscriber’s engagement with the email, even in the absence of a real open or click

Con: Because of legacy systems or poor integration between your marketing platform and other systems, getting timely data to trigger the progression may be difficult (a customer data platform generally makes that process easier)

* * *

Marketers have many choices for reimagining their open-triggered journeys so that they become more effective in the age of Mail Privacy Protection and auto-generated opens.

Each choice has its pros and cons, but none of them can replicate the experiences that subscribers had prior to MPP. Even so, there’s no going back, so marketers need to choose the best path for each of their journeys that provides the best experience possible.

More Resources on Email Open Triggers

How iOS 15 Will Kill Email Open Rates—And How Marketers Can Prepare

How Brands Are Using Triggered Email Campaigns

What If Your Email Metrics Are Off: Who’s Really Clicking on Your Emails?

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