Using email tracking details: spy pixel or customer experience opportunity?Feb 22, 2021
The complaint about the email "spy pixel"
I had a conversation over the weekend with a good friend, who knows I work in marketing. He brought up spy pixels in emails, which he’d seen reported in the media last week.
How "spy pixels" are nothing new
I have to admit to feeling a bit confused. Having used email marketing for around 15 years now, I didn’t see how this email tracking pixel was making the headlines. They are something that I’ve been aware of for quite some time and were certainly not called "spy pixels” by the email service providers (ESPs) creating them. Back in the day when I was working in-house for large organisations managing their customer marketing communications, email tracking capability was a key part of the functionality we were using.
Benefits of the email "spy pixel"
For example, I managed the team responsible for the email marketing for The Body Shop, and we used the tracking to improve the customer experience. Our focus was an ongoing process of improving our communications to our customers - making sure we were sending the right messages to the millions of people on our database at the right time.
Someone like The Body Shop has a wide range of products and people who shop there buy from different ranges. I don’t know what you’re like, but often people are creatures of habit and like to find specific products or brands that work for them for skincare, fragrance or body care and stick with them.
Adding email tracking onto other customer data
Some of that data we could gather through the membership programme, of course. The “Love Your Body” membership is something I was responsible for launching back in 2015. It enabled customers to use their membership across in-store and online transactions, which contributed to work the targeting and segmenting.
But the email tracking was another layer to add on top. You can then find out who is engaged with which types of communications, messaging and products.
My view in the "spy pixel" versus personalisation debate
As a consumer of emails, I admit that I personally prefer receiving messages that are targeted and relevant as opposed to blanket emails. There are a few email newsletters that I allow into my main inbox! It seems to me that what we are currently missing is an overt customer opt-in, so that they are agreeing to the tracking in the same way as they do when accepting cookies on websites.
The challenge is to get the message across to customers clearly. The idea of a “spy pixel” doesn’t do it justice, in my opinion. That seems to suggest that companies are covertly tracking their customers purely for their own benefit. However, if it is done in the right way, I see it as a win: win. The customers will receive more relevant emails and have to wade through less irrelevant emails, that we are swimming in these days... which will make them more likely to.
One area where the problem potentially remains...
Another layer of consideration is whether people who work for an organisation can access the layers of data on an individual level. Or whether they are just using them for mass targeting. This becomes relevant where someone who knows you works at an organisation and you don’t want them to know all your purchasing and interest patterns!
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