Gmail’s new category tab feature for organizing the inbox has been around for a mere few weeks, but email marketers and early adopters are already shedding light to the user experience, along with quirks, likes and dislikes. Gmail hasn’t actively prompted users to make the switch so far, and the feature needs to be manually turned on. Customer’s reactions range from delight to frustration, while marketers fear for declining engagement rates and some express tentative optimism.
In the light of these changes, you may be asking yourself, as an email marketer, should I be doing something in response to these changes?
The answer is - not necessarily. There is no need to take an aggressive stance quite yet, as it will take some time for the new feature to be adopted widely enough to make conclusive recommendations for specific actions. But as always, keeping up with industry changes and making proactive decisions is a wise choice. Here is how to get started:
1) Don’t panic. This is not the first, nor last, major change in Gmail, or any other ISP for that matter. Adoption will likely be slow, and it is yet to be determined whether the impact will be adverse, neutral or possibly even positive when it comes to promotional emails. Hyperbolic declarations like Gmail just killed email marketing are just speculation at this point. While one thing is certain - our inboxes are getting way too cluttered, it remains to be seen whether Gmail’s tabs will indeed be the solution to inbox organization. If the majority of Gmail users ends up adopting the new feature, it will be interesting to measure their engagement level with the dreaded Promotions tab.
2) Do your homework. Get to know the ins and outs of the new feature by turning it on in your own Gmail inbox (instructions in our last post on Gmail’s tab feature). The mobile version of the feature is available with the latest update to Gmail’s App for iOS and Android. Remember to follow your fellow marketers’ blogs for insights and experience into the feature.
3) Keep an eye out for shifting metrics. You’re not likely to see immediate shifts in reporting, but it’s a good idea to pay attention to Gmail users’ potential behavioral changes - and not just opens and clicks. As Christine Borgia points out on the ReturnPath blog, conversion metrics might be impacted as well, as users “will go to their Promotions tab only when they are looking to shop, interested in browsing, etc.” Zeta Mail customers should be speaking with their Account Managers or creating a report to look at Gmail domain performance across campaigns -- pre- and post Gmail Tabs.
4) Tips and tricks? Some will attempt to break the algorithm that categorizes marketing emails into the promotional tab, trying to push marketing messages to the primary tab. Even if you were to succeed in pushing a promotional email to the primary tab, the result is likely to be an increase in abuse complaints rather than engagement metrics. If the Primary tab is truly reserved for the one-on-one emails from senders the user knows, seeing a marketing blast might irritate the user. However, one legitimate trick I’ve seen so far is a prompt the recipient to “star” your promotional messages. The tab feature includes a setting to include all starred emails in the Primary tab, and it’s turned on by default. If the user deems your promotional messaging valuable enough, this could work.
There is a common thread to the early user reactions - the email inbox is a very personal space. It’s a matter of personal preference how you organize, what you choose to read or unsubscribe from, how you make sure you don’t miss something important or remember to respond. Some have their inbox organization figured out, and make frequent use of labels and filtering to keep it all together. This group will have little use for the new categories, while others will be happy that Google is now doing the filtering for them.
What’s your first reaction to the new Gmail categories, from a user or marketing perspective?