Geeks, Rejoice! The Email Renaissance Has Arrived

Pop quiz, marketers! How do you feel about the new Inbox by Gmail?

A.     Annoyed. This is probably worse than Gmail tabs.

B.     Intrigued. What a fascinating opportunity.

C.     Confused. What’s Inbox?

If you answered B, you’re in the right line of work.

If you answered anything other than B, I suspect you are the sort of person who gets under Loren McDonald’s skin.

I’ve noticed a commonality among the very best digital marketers: They absolutely thrive on a changing landscape. It’s what makes our work interesting. We get to flex major creative muscle as new opportunities and challenges present themselves at a rate unmatched by any other industry. And times, they are a-changin’ — and fast —for the email channel right now.



Since mobile technology became a major game-changer for email marketing in 2012, I’ve been telling my clients that not only is email not dead, it’s in its renaissance. And over the past week or so, we may have hit a high that’s on par with the birth of Leonardo da Vinci.

Clearly, this email nerd is excited. Here’s a recap of the biggest news and why I’m so geeked:

1.     The Gmail Android app update offers POP/IMAP. The Gmail app got more than a major facelift this week. The latest overhaul allows you to access email accounts from other providers, including Yahoo, and AOL. In fact, you don’t even need a Gmail account to use the newest app, which is rolling out on Android devices over the next few days.

AOL took a stab at aggregating disparate email accounts with the now-defunct Project Phoenix in 2010 -- and more recently, with Alto. Neither solution took off, likely due to AOL’s not-so-hip reputation and declining user base — problems that don’t encumber Google.

Considering Gmail’s current position as the number-two email client, this is a move that will surely claim more market share. Plus, odds are good that the same functionality will ultimately be rolled into Gmail Inbox.

2.     Inbox beta is live — and it cares about commercial messages. If you aren’t yet acquainted with Inbox, there are some great explanations already published, including a thorough examination from Litmus.

Personally, I am not yet enamored of Inbox. I downloaded it before I read much about it, and I don’t find it entirely intuitive. It’s a new way of thinking about communication and interactions that I’m not used to yet. And I’m not sure I’ll ever love it in its current state, though I’m certain it will continue to evolve.

But I am intrigued by the change it represents. Instead of trying to kill or replace email with a newer communications channel, Google is presenting a new way to access and interact with it.

Most importantly, I am thrilled that it gives commercial messages more prominence than the Gmail app via Bundles, which is a new spin on Gmail tabs that gives visibility to all message types right in the user’s feed. This is a clear sign that Gmail users value the messaging they get from marketers, and that those messages shouldn’t be tucked away where they go unnoticed.

3.     Media-query support is on the Gmail Inbox roadmap. YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT. Google is going to offer a solution that will enable truly responsive email design.

This outstanding gem was buried in a recap of last week’s Inbox Love conference at the Microsoft campus in Mountain View, Calif. I wish I had been there myself to watch the clouds part and a beam of light shine down on the stage as the Inbox team confirmed that supporting media queries is indeed a priority.

However, it’s tough to predict whether Google will extend media-query support to the Gmail app and webmail client too, since the company’s ultimate goal is likely to migrate all users to the more dynamic Inbox. If Inbox really takes off, Google could sunset Gmail as we know it.

4.     The email standards movement is picking up steam. Perhaps this statement is a tad ambitious, but based on that same Inbox Love recap mentioned above, there are hints that the push for email standards (in the same vein as Web standards for browsers) may have gotten a bit of traction at the conference, which included a panel discussion aimed squarely at the need for broader CSS support in email.

Media-query support in Inbox is also a sign of movement in the right direction. Just imagine how rich and elegant responsive email design could be with standardized email clients.

That’s a lot of great news in a very short period of time. Both of these recent announcements aren’t going to dramatically change email marketing overnight. But they’re sure signs of big shifts to come — shifts that marketers should be excited about. Google’s continued focus on radical email innovations alone is proof positive that the channel’s importance — and potential — remains high.

Yes, the renaissance is in full swing. Da Vinci hasn’t painted the Mona Lisa just yet, but it’s coming. Great things are afoot.

1 comment about "Geeks, Rejoice! The Email Renaissance Has Arrived".
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  1. Elyssa D from WPC, November 6, 2014 at 3:36 p.m.

    I think it's important to clarify that mobile responsive support is "on the roadmap" but the initial release of Inbox doesn't support media queries and we don't know how soon it will really happen. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited that it's a possibility. I just wonder how it was not more of a priority.

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