Gmail Tabs: Time To Act, But Not Panic

Gmail's new Tabs feature, which sorts new email messages into tabs labeled Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums, mightactually be an inbox innovation that sticks with users.

This has some marketers fretting that Tabs could eventually hurt email engagement because it segregates commercial marketing messages under the Promotions tab instead of delivering them automatically to the Primary tab.

We probably won't know for at least a year how Tabs will truly affect promotional email, but you don't have to wait that long to get your email act together so that it plays well with Tabs.

How Should Marketers Respond?

Below are four areas you can monitor and address, starting today:

1. Review your email "from" name, subject line approach and preheader text. Does your “from” name clearly identify your company or brand as the sender? This is key, because in the Gmail Web interface, each tab shows the most recent two or three sender names.

Also, put your pre-header text to good use, so that the key reason to open your email is clear from a combination of “from” name, subject line and pre-header text, regardless of tab or inbox format. Not leveraging pre-header text means your “View Web Version” or “If you have trouble reading this email…” copy at the top of your email will be presented underneath the subject line in the Gmail app inbox.

2. Monitor your response rates by ISP. Short term, track your Gmail metrics as of May 29, 2013, the date the feature began rolling out to users. But then, run historical response rates by domain for the last 6-12 months and look for downward trends and comparables with other domains such as Hotmail/Outlook, AOL, Yahoo, etc.

Overlay your opens for transactional emails and purchase behavior to see if your Gmail subscribers engage differently with your broadcast emails compared with other email client users.

3. Consider sending an email to your Gmail users that explains how they can see all of your messages by starring them and moving them to the "Primary" tab. Add this information to your onboarding messages where you explain message whitelisting on webmail clients and similar copy.

4. Watch for impact on real-time emails. The tabbed format could hurt deadline-driven emails such as flash sales or account alerts, if it routes these key emails to tabs that readers don't open regularly.

If you send emails like these, you might need to alter the timing, extend sale hours, and actively push Gmail subscribers to star your emails to ensure delivery to the Primary inbox.

Also, consider recasting the copy in triggered emails such as cart-and-browse-abandonment and welcome messages to keep them relevant, even if recipients don't open them right away.

Consider the Bigger Picture, Too

1.     Email is more, not less, important. Gmail isn't the only email provider investing in inbox innovation. Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL are changing their email services and features because they see email is even more relevant in the social and mobile era.

As marketers, we might not like certain features. But let's be thankful that these companies continue to invest in email to provide a positive and relevant experience for users.

2.     Tabs is the tip of the iceberg for Inbox management innovation.  While I believe the “over-loaded inbox” is less of a problem for the average consumer, clearly many do want help managing their inboxes. Developers will respond with an avalanche of applications and services such as Mailbox, Sanebox and Unroll.me.

3.     Mobile will become the real focus. With many brands seeing around 50% of emails opened on mobile devices, inbox management features are ultimately going to come down to the mobile email apps consumers use. Because our mobile devices are more context-centric, consumers might want to see all of their promotional emails or social network notifications when they are at lunch or on the train home from work, not throughout the day.

4.     The basics of email success won't change. Although you must monitor and know about potential effects Tabs could have on your email, you should still focus on the basics: delivering valuable, relevant emails that customers and subscribers want and will look for.

Let's wait to see what happens with Tabs. My guess? We will look back in 12 months and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Tags: email
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1 comment about "Gmail Tabs: Time To Act, But Not Panic ".
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  1. Ron Cates from Constant Contact, June 24, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.

    The fact of the matter is that this change automatically takes emails from businesses and places them in a tab not immediately viewable by the user, so there is certainly cause for concern about an “out of sight, out of mind” response by consumers. I agree that it remains to be seen whether or not consumers will click on the “Promotional” tab. What is clear is that it will be more important than ever for businesses to make their emails as relevant and valuable as possible, which means interspersing strict sales promotions with great content that makes consumers want to take that extra step to find and read “promotional” emails. It’s fortunate that Google decided to launch this change at the beginning of the summer, a traditionally “slower” season for a lot of businesses. This will allow marketers to see how their open rates and click-throughs are affected by the changes and adjust their campaigns accordingly in preparation for the busy fourth quarter.

    - Ron Cates, Director of New Market Development, Constant Contact