It’s taken a couple of weeks for the flurry of opinions on Gmail to give way to actual results. Now that we can see their real effect on the email landscape, the key “so what” about tabs is Gmail’s emphasis on subscriber engagement and its increasing importance to marketers. Our recommendation: Don’t panic, don’t try to trick the system, and focus like crazy on building the largest percentage of engaged users (that regularly read your mailings) as possible.
Using our email panel of three million users, we reviewed the impact of Gmail tabs on several thousand domains. The subscribers whose behavior clearly indicated that they wanted marketers’ messages – the mailers who had previously engaged with the brand/domain – simply engaged more (about 2% more) and their inbox placement rates mostly stayed the same. The unengaged – those who ignored their email before tabs’ general rollout – simply engaged less (about 7%) while, somewhat surprisingly, their inbox placement rates improved. It appears that overall, the reputation required to make it to the inbox, when the inbox is a “Promotions” tab, is a little less strict than it once was. The full analysis is summarized in more detail here.
Mailbox providers like Gmail are making decisions about how to deliver and place messages based on indications of what consumers want. Senders of wanted mail are already seeing their marketing email perform better in the new Gmail inbox not because they’re early adopters or shrewd marketing tacticians, but simply because their subscribers are engaged. Meanwhile, the declining performance among unengaged subscribers, even if tabs accentuated the drop within Gmail, is part of a bigger trend.
The “economic return” from mailing to generally unengaged subscribers is less than it once was. They are becoming far less likely to read, click, or open than they once were. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mail to them at all. It means that smart marketers are working hard to re-engage “lost” subscribers. However, if you are having delivery problems at Gmail (e.g., mail is going to “bulk”), dropping unengaged subscribers is typically the fastest route to the inbox.
We’ve seen a few mailers try to game they system by moving transactional and marketing messages to the same IP and same mailing domains (the categorization system appears to rely heavily on sending domain as an indicator of mail type). This has resulted in much of the transactional mail being placed in the Promotions tab. Not the desired result. At a minimum, send your transactional mail streams from a separate mailing domain.
The winners in this email revolution aren’t worried about navigating the tabbed inbox – they’re worried about how their customers interact with every campaign they send, and they’ll be focusing their efforts on getting the most out of their most engaged and economically valuable customers, measuring “open reach,” “read reach,” and other measures of how engaged their subscriber base is. They’re winning because they pay attention to customer behavior and look for indications that they’re building stronger relationships – or missing opportunities to do so – and they use what they see to continually make their email programs better.