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Did Google's New Inbox Just Kill Email Marketing?

by Jordan Cohen  |  
August 16, 2013

As one of the most popular email services in the world, with half a billion users and counting, Gmail’s recent inbox changes have some pundits questioning whether email marketing’s best days are behind it.

In a matter of weeks, three small tabs--- Primary, Social, and Promotion---have become giant question marks looming over every email marketer’s head. But is the alarm justified? Or could Gmail’s new inbox provide new opportunities to bring more powerful email experiences to consumers?

What About Those Three Tabs?

For those of you unfamiliar with Gmail’s "new” inbox, here is the quick take: Gmail has begun gradually rolling out changes to its inbox, which automatically categorizes each user’s email into three tabs: The Primary tab is the general inbox and the familiar main display whenever a user logs onto his or her account. The Social tab includes all social media updates and correspondences. The last tab, Promotions, aggregates all opt-in email marketing offers as well as promotional display ads that resemble emails from Google itself.

Email marketers have valid reasons to be concerned. How many times a day do we click and open an email just to feel as though we’re staying on top of our inbox? How many times do these opens lead to an online purchase or at least, a click-through to a marketer’s website?

While it’s too soon to tell whether the new inbox will have a long-term impact on actual email opens, what we do know is that now, with its separate tab, when users open a marketing email, they are doing it with purpose, and possibly, a higher level of buying intent. And therein lies the opportunity.

The Agile Email Marketing Opportunity

How can marketers take advantage of that fleeting moment when a recipient is deciding whether to continue looking or to move on to the next email? The answer is to make sure that every correspondence is timely, relevant, and highly personalized.

The emphasis on timeliness in email marketing is not new, but the technology to swap out content at the moment of each recipient’s open is. With agile email marketing technology, content within emails can be dynamically changed based on when, where, and how recipients open and interact with messages. Building relevant communications becomes easier for the marketer and results in deeper engagement with the consumer.

With only a few seconds to grab a recipient’s attention---especially folks who may not view an email until hours after it landed in their inbox---it’s imperative for content to remain relevant and fresh. Users should be greeted with alternative offers when a “One Day Only” flash sale has passed. Real-time geo-targeting should be used to display specific items based on recipient’s location at the moment of open. Marketers should have the ability to track campaign success in real time and be able to swap out content, even after an email has been sent to millions of recipients.

While it won’t alleviate all of the concerns that marketers may be feeling about the new Gmail inbox, adopting agile email marketing technologies and best practices will bring about new opportunities to improve the performance of email marketing campaigns and elevate their relevancy to a whole new level.

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Jordan Cohen is vice president of Movable Ink.

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  • by Chris Finnie Fri Aug 16, 2013 via blog

    The only people I know who still check their email through an online inbox are 70 and 75 respectively. Younger friends get theirs through a mail client, as I do. And our kids all see theirs on their smartphones. So, unless the Google sorting will affect how my Gmail winds up in my MacMail inbox, I doubt I'll even notice it. I haven't gone to Gmail online but once or twice so far this year. Frankly, I don't like to as I find their login somewhat cumbersome. If Google really wants people to use Gmail that way, they'll fix the login. Since they haven't, I suspect they know most people don't go there.

  • by Matthieu Dejardins Fri Aug 16, 2013 via blog

    You're perfectly right Jordan. Gmail's tab system is a great proxy to force websites communicating more relevantly and intelligently with their users.

    You should also check some possibilities to count those Gmail and/or Google Apps users among your subscriber database (around 30% to 50% in B2B) - check here:

    Lastly there are some ways to treat them differently and get them to read these emails. Check here how:

  • by Sue Duris Fri Aug 16, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for this post, Jordan!

    When I heard about it from someone, I didn't pay it any attention. When I saw it, it was pretty obtrusive to me. Now I have to spend additional time.

    I understand Google's reasoning for doing it - it's about making the consumer experience better. Technology is a double-edged sword. Yes, with tech, our life becomes easier, sometimes. Then, the other times companies get so focused on our having a good experience, they forget why we liked them in the first place - their value proposition. their message.

  • by Henry Fri Aug 16, 2013 via blog

    Speaking for myself, I'm really interested about this change that Google has implemented with Gmail. My business does rely on about 25 percent of marketing based off email. Watching closely and hoping for positive outcomes from this latest Google shake up. Great information.

  • by Julian Poulter Sat Aug 17, 2013 via blog

    What's a bit scary is that I'm in "email marketing" and I didn't even notice it. I don't recall any message about it until I saw this article, and I didn't even notice it in my account though it was upgraded to the new format. I now see several recent articles.....

    I then noticed that Campus London was sending my loads of "promotional" emails. Too many of them!

    I see you can turn them off by hitting the "+" button, intuitive, not.
    I moved a promotional email back to primary, but it seemed to work for only that email, not from all emails from that address. I'm sure/hope there's a way to do this?

  • by Tamar Sun Aug 18, 2013 via blog

    Hi Jordan,
    I think you hit the nail on the head with the solution of making each email personalized, with timely and relevant content. I wonder if it might be better to grab people in real-time with personalized content while they are on your website. This is a similar take to your s on those gmail tabs:

  • by Frank Welsch-Lehmann Sun Aug 18, 2013 via blog

    Can anybody point to some solid data on who reads their email with which client?
    Tx, Frank

  • by Amanda Holt Sun Sep 8, 2013 via blog

    It didn't kill email marketing but it did kill spammers :-)

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