Disruption In The Email Conversion Funnel

The email marketing industry has been fascinated with the innovations happening in the inbox over the past couple years, and especially those being led by Gmail.  The Promotions Tab, the unsubscribe feature, grid view, image caching, quick actions, the Inbox app and the soon-to-be-launched Google payments functionality called Pony Express are changing the way consumers engage with email.  And the vast majority of these changes focus on meeting the needs of the always-on, connected consumer.

The challenge to marketers is that these innovations are changing the process of micro-decisions that a consumer goes through each time an email is received.  For example, by embedding a quick action button in a subject line, marketers can enable recipients to respond to a CTA and be taken to an intended landing page without opening the email.  And that's not the only innovation that enables consumers to interact with messages without actually opening them. Google's Grid View allows recipients to compare all offers in the inbox with a highly visual, banner-like representation of the messages and offers.  The bottom line is that the email conversion funnel is getting disrupted.



Here are a few tips for marketers looking to survive in this fast-changing landscape:

Accept the unknown. In typical Google fashion, new functionality is almost always launched as a short field test and then quickly rolled out as optional features to all users.  It’s unknown how much these recent product launches by Gmail have penetrated the inbox, as many of the features are optional and managed by the recipient.  Google is also not especially quick to share this information with marketers.  For example, when Gmail released the inbox unsubscribe option, marketers had to work closely with their ESPs to gain access to any unsubscribes captured by Gmail via feedback loops vs. the traditional ESP-provided unsubscribe link.  There was a gap in time before the Gmail unsubscribe information was provided to ESPs and marketers, which caused a commensurate gap in reporting.   

Expect that benchmarks and trends will change. As the new features become more commonplace and widely adopted, trends will change. There will be questionable trends upward and downward that seem unexplainable when compared to prior time periods. Here are some anomalies you might see:

  • Reduced open and click rates could be caused by quick actions that allow the user to go right to the website to make the intended purchase/check into a flight/register, etc.
  • Increased unsubscribes could be caused by Gmail's inbox unsubscribe feature.
  • More organic search-driven sales when emails are sent because of the Inbox app and its direct tie to search and other utility functions native to Google.
  • Increased opens – a trend already happening  because of Gmail turning on images by default.
  • For companies sending email reminders about bill payments, there could be more opens, clicks or replies as a result of Google’s yet-to-be-launched payment functionality called Pony Express.  According to reports, participating vendors can send users bills by email that can be paid directly with Gmail, without over going to the payee's website.  The impact on engagement metrics will vary depending on how the functionality works.

It’s an exciting time to watch a mature channel like email evolve into a sophisticated workhorse that continues to dominate at driving engagement and enhancing customer relationships.  While evaluating success may temporarily get confusing for marketers, these changes are sure to keep our beloved channel going strong for a long time.  Disrupt or be disrupted!

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