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Email Marketing and Google’s New Inbox

When Google first announced its new tabbed Gmail layout back in May, email marketers feared that their carefully planned and executed campaign strategies would no longer be effective. Now, nearly six months after the change, we are beginning to have enough data to make some conclusions about how people are interacting with the new environment and how email marketing can best take advantage of it.

Email Marketing and Gmail Tabs

The tabbed Gmail interface gives users the option to pre-sort their messages into 3-5 tabs that correspond to each individual email’s purpose. On default, users see three tabs:

  • Primary: Messages from friends and family and emails that don’t fit into any of the other tabs. This is the tab that users see on default.
  • Social: Updates from social networks and sharing sites.
  • Promotions: Deals, coupons, and other advertorial emails.

And have the option of setting up the following tabs:

  • Updates: Receipts, confirmations, shipping notices, bills, etc.
  • Forums: Emails from online groups, discussion boards, forums, etc.

What this means, in a nutshell, is that the vast majority of email marketing messages will get sorted into the “Promotions” or other non-“Primary” tab.

Since the rollout of the tabs, some marketers have seen a drop in Gmail open rates. Despite that, tabs do not necessarily mean disaster for your email campaign. Here are some steps you can take to help you reach your target audience:

To Ask, or Not to Ask

Gmail does make it possible for users to customize their inboxes by dragging and dropping email messages into any tab they want, and back when the tabs first rolled out, many companies sent emails asking their customers to move their emails to the “Primary” tab. Others asked their customers to “Star” their messages.

Now, however, these questions may do more harm than good. Users may see requests like these as an attempt to assert control how they organize their inbox. In addition, Gmail claims that it can “learn” user preferences. If you provide consistently engaging messages, faithful users may see your emails come through to their “Primary” tab without your having to do anything.

Before you ask users to move your emails to the Primary tab, do some research for yourself. Are your open rates down as compared to a similar period before Gmail tabs? Are your users well-versed in the web? How would they take such a request?

Subject Lines Are Still Important, but Senders Are, Too

You should already be crafting subject lines that are catchy and clickable, but with this change, you’ll want to take a look at your sender names as well. This is because, when a Gmail tab is inactive, only the sender name appears. Use names that are short, so they won’t be truncated, and descriptive, so users can tell who the message is from.

Segment, Segment, Segment

Get more click-throughs by sending the right email to the right customer. Users who are at the beginning of the sales funnel need an entirely different type of email than someone who’s near the end. Keep track of customer data and habits using a CRM tool of your choice and send out customized deals, promotions, updates, and information to each person. This will take more work, certainly, but this personalized approach can help significantly improve your engagement levels.

Using this approach, you may want to reconsider the “ask or ask not” question. If there is a portion of your audience who you feel may benefit from an email explaining how to move your messages to the Primary tab, you may want to send that segment one without annoying the rest.

It’s About Quality

Gmail tabs present an opportunity for savvy marketers to improve the quality, not just the quantity, of their email marketing lists. Instead of “spamming” people who didn’t ask for your emails, develop user-centric strategies that allow people to opt-in for updates. People who like your brand and your product and ask to receive emails are much more likely to find, open, and click-through your message, no matter which tab it happens to be in.

Be Real

Use humor. Engage with customers. Provide excellent service. Don’t fall victim to the temptation to use faceless and flat marketing language in your emails. People want to interact with businesses and brands that are “real.” Let your identity shine through.

It’s the “Opportunity” Tab

One thing that’s worth noting is that the Promotions tab does create interesting opportunities for smart marketers. People who are clicking on that tab are engaged and interested. They are looking for good deals and information about your business.

The Promotions tab also offers more screen real estate—your emails don’t have to compete with friends and family and other news for attention—they are up front and center for your customers to engage with.

Really, this email change is what you make of it. If you already have a sound email promotion strategy, experiment and pay attention to fluctuations to see where you may need to adjust. If you haven’t experimented with email marketing, hire someone and/or get a business loan and get going. It’s a great way to generate leads and potential profits.

Let us know what your tips for Gmail marketing are in the comments below.

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