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Google Is Rewriting the Rules of Email Marketing in Its War With Facebook. What Can Marketers Do?

by Dela Quist  |  
August 21, 2013

In this article you'll learn...

  • Why the inbox is the next big marketing battleground
  • How Gmail has changed the email marketing playbook
  • Three critical things you should do now to prepare for potential industry changes

Email marketing works on the principal that your inbox is like your house and that marketing emails are like salesmen. It's your house, your rules. You alone decide which salesmen have permission to enter, which ones should stay outside, and which should never even try to grace your doorstep again.

In the last two months, Google has trampled on the rulebook with the introduction of its Promotions tab in Gmail and the addition of email-style advertising. In effect, Google is taking back the house. And for the right price it can hand the keys to anyone so they can come in and start selling to you without your permission.

A new webmail aesthetic means a new kind of experience

The war for the ad dollar has heightened over the past few years: With more channels than ever, marketers have had the opportunity to spread their ad dollar across multiple new areas, including a focus on social media. Accordingly, Google's core revenue generator, search, has come under major threat.

As part of its retaliation, Google has deviously—and, admittedly, ingeniously—changed its Gmail advertising strategy, now making advertising a natural part of the classic inbox.

By implementing several new "tabs" as part of Gmail design, including a Promotions tab that now siphons advertisements and commercial interests, it has changed the language of not only what it means to advertise via email but also how consumers then receive direct advertisements.

It's important to keep in mind that Google has basically introduced "emails" that circumvent spam laws.

Yes, you may argue that it's "advertising" and these "ads" don't fall under email spam laws, but let's be realistic: They are "sent" to your email address, they are delivered to your inbox, they have a sender field and a subject line, they are coded in HTML, and they can be saved and forwarded. That's the very definition of an email. However, they're also spam by many people's definition: They're unsolicited, and opting out of them is complicated and confusing.

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Dela Quist is CEO of Alchemy Worx, digital marketing agency dedicatedsolely to email. With offices in Atlanta and London, Alchemy Worx has a diverse client portfolio that includes Getty Images, Hilton, and Sony Playstation.

Twitter: @DelaQuist

LinkedIn: Dela Quist

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  • by Roger Green Wed Aug 21, 2013 via web

    Marketers will be thrilled to know that I disengaged the tab feature in Google mail early on. That IS an option, BTW.

  • by Carey Wed Aug 21, 2013 via web

    Facebook does offer the ability to target according to spending behavior in the advanced ad placement tool, Power Editor.

  • by Randy Milanovic Wed Aug 21, 2013 via iphone

    The CAN-SPAM people will have a say for certain. But, it's up to gmail users to vote with their usage. Best to not be a lemming on this issue

  • by Gracious Store Sun Aug 25, 2013 via web

    Are you sure Google configured the email inbox of gmail in retaliation for marketers spread their ad dollars to other sources of advertising?

  • by George Kane Mon Aug 26, 2013 via web

    Google definitely has an advantage over Facebook because of the history. Google can actually see what you are spending on so they know what types of promotions to send you. Facebook has to use "likes". If you are like me, you don't have very many things you like on Facebook so they are having to just use the few things to profile me and advertise to me

  • by Derek M. Tue Sep 3, 2013 via web

    In my eyes this change seems to mainly affect B2C companies, dealing directly with consumers who largely use a free email account platform. In the B2B world, again in my opinion, most reputable businesses use Outlook or some other exchange-based client to handle communications. In fact, having someone that opts into your mailing list that using a Gmail, Yahoo, or any other free consumer-type email address is typically a garbage lead. I would even go as far to say that 95+% of our email list are of users at a "" domain name, yielding no direct impact from these Google changes.

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