The new Gmail inbox, which is being turned on for users as the default setting, automatically sorts email into three tabs. The first is called the “Primary” inbox, populated with 1:1 communications, news alerts, and critical 1:1 commercial messages like bank balance notifications. “Primary” is the tab that is automatically displayed whenever you log into a Gmail account. The second tab is called “Social,” and includes all of your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media updates. The last tab is for “Promotions,” and aggregates all opt-in email marketing offers.
While it is still too early to tell what the impact on open and click-through rates will be, marketers are right to be concerned that emails placed in a separate tab will be out of sight, and may also be out of mind (or, in the very least, not top of mind). By last count (June 2012), there were 425 million Gmail users in the world, and it may be up to half a billion by now -- so the effect can potentially be substantial.
That said, the larger macro-trend of rising smartphone adoption means that the number of consumers who actually use the tabbed Gmail interface will be smaller. According to deliverability and email marketing expert Len Shneyder, “Gmail opens will be offset given the number of IMAPed mobile devices that do the opening and bypass the new inbox.” Looking at aggregate client data at the company I work for, only 38% of email was opened on a desktop in Q2 2013, with the remaining 62% opened on smartphones and tablets, so Shneyder makes a good point.
BUT even though not all Gmail users will be using the new, tabbed inbox system, there will still be millions -- if not hundreds of millions -- who will, representing anywhere from 10% to 20% of an average B2C email marketer’s list. Marketers will have to rise to the occasion and adopt new strategies and technologies if they want to stay relevant with their Gmail-using recipients.
Attempting to time the sending of messages with when recipients are most likely to view them will be an exercise in futility. Marketers will have to assume that several hours may lapse between the time they send their messages, and when they are actually opened by recipients, and account for that in their campaign planning and execution. The ever-popular “One Day Only Sale” email might be expired by the time someone views it. Inventory being promoted in an email may no longer be available -- whether it’s a retailer’s merchandise, or a travel or entertainment company’s tickets. Each time that occurs, a hard-fought-for email engagement opportunity will be lost.
Fortunately, new real-time email optimization technologies make it possible for marketers to respond to the time-warp gauntlet being laid down by Gmail. By dynamically swapping out email content at the moment of each recipient’s open, marketers can ensure that their consumers see alternate offers when One Day Only sales pass their customers by, and see new, available inventory when originally promoted inventory sells out.
This isn’t the first time major changes have happened in the inbox, and it won’t be the last. Yes, my email marketing brothers and sisters: Our cheese has been moved. The question is, will you move with it?