Can We All Please Stop Freaking Out About Gmail Tabs?

Email marketers have been squarely focused on Gmail for nearly a month now. With the recent change in the tabular format of the inbox, marketers are concerned about how this will impact their engagement and conversion metrics. But is Gmail’s tabbed inbox really worth all the fuss?

As Jordan Cohen pointed out recently in his post Coping with the New Gmail Inbox, Gmail has “moved our cheese” (a reference to the book “Who Moved my Cheese?” which you should read if you haven’t already). So how do email marketers respond? Apparently, with a sense of panic.



Everyone I have spoken to recently, from vendors to brands, agencies (take your pick) is so concerned about this change. But should we be? Before we can answer that question, let’s look at the questions you should be asking yourself before you grab the brown paper bag (for the hyperventilating, of course).

What Percentage of Your Database is Made Up of Gmail Subscribers?
If your database construct looks anything like that of the clients I have worked with historically, Gmail addresses probably make up about 20%-30% of your email subscribers. I have seen clients with more; I have seen clients with less; but percentages seem to hover mostly in this range. That is a pretty significant portion of your database to have sitting at one inbox provider.

 If your Gmailers represent a significant number of your subscribers, then you should definitely set some time aside to focus on what is happening and develop a plan. If your percentages are lower, however, you still aren’t free and clear. Assuming that Gmail users respond favorably to the tabbed inbox, I predict that other inbox providers will quickly follow suit. This means that you still need to dedicate some time to this conundrum.

How Are Your Gmailers Accessing the Inbox?
There are a number of ways to access a Gmail inbox. Your subscribers’ point of entry will determine the impact tabs have on their experience with your emails. Device type is another consideration. Do your subscribers leverage desktop, iPhone, Android, iPad, or BlackBerry? Are they using an app? Really begin to understand how recipients are viewing your messages, since all of these factors are going to impact their experience.

How Engaged Are Your Gmailers?
The name of this game is engagement. Recipients who are highly engaged with your email program or your brand may seek out your email by clicking Gmail’s “promotions” tab to find it, or they may add your email address to their contact list so that your messaging appears in the “primary” tab. However, if your subscribers are less engaged, you should be concerned -- regardless of the Gmail tabs. The email channel is about quality, engaged subscribers. If your database is full of email addresses of people that never engage with the email or the brand (i.e. make a purchase or conversion of some type), then you need to be focused on getting these folks back into the groove of your email program  -- or you should find other means to engage with them.

Have You Experienced Tabs First Hand?
Believe it or not, there are people out there with no Gmail address (or who have it on their Android but don’t actually use the email account). Nonetheless, I’m still surprised when I speak with folks who are extremely worried about Gmail tabs without having tried the new interface themselves. By nature, we fear the unknown. If you haven’t experienced the “tabs” experience -- firsthand, in a variety of ways -- you need to. Download popular Gmail apps and try them out. Look at Gmail inboxes on a variety of devices so you can understand exactly what is happening. In this scenario, ignorance is not bliss. Find out all you can.

Are You Monitoring Gmail Engagement Before and After?
The big concern with Gmail tabs is that marketers are going to see engagement metrics drop. The hypothesis is that opens will fall, causing a ripple effect throughout the program. But we don’t know this for certain. And if metrics do dip, we don’t know if that drop will be sustained.

While Gmail has moved the email marketers’ cheese, they have also moved their Gmail users’ cheese – and those users will adjust and adapt to this new presentation of email. If you haven’t already, you should start monitoring metrics that tell a story – length of time between message delivery and open action, for example. Baseline a sample from before the Gmail change and monitor trends from dates after the change. If the time is increasing significantly, or opens are dropping pretty consistently – then you will have to adjust your approach. Don’t panic unnecessarily over a temporary dip, which could recover after consumers have figured out how they prefer to manage their tabs.

I’m not saying there’s nothing to worry about here. The fact of the matter is that inbox providers hold a tremendous amount of control over how our customers see and receive our email – but that fact has always been the case and likely will be for the foreseeable future. As an industry we have become agile in responding to changes – and this situation simply represents a new change. Before you panic, become informed. Then, if you must, panic for a minute, pick yourself up, adjust your approach and get your program back on track.

The Gmail tabs discussion will and should continue. So please share what the change means for you. Are you monitoring engagement since tabs were implemented? What have you seen from your Gmail subscribers? Anything else you’re keeping an eye on? I would really love to start a discussion here. Feel free to add comments!

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