Tip Top Tab: Gmail Promotions Tab Lets Brands Offer Visual Previews

Don’t get flustered by the new Gmail Promotions tab. 

Yes, a bug caused Promotions emails to pour into primary inboxes a couple of weeks ago, but the updated tab offers a chance to “use real estate that you couldn’t use previously,” says Bettina Specht, of Litmus, a company working with Gmail to explain the new capabilities.

In general, Gmail uses machine learning to identify the most valuable messages for a person, then groups them into bundles organized by topic, Specht says.

But now it is doing more. For example, “in the past, you only had the subject line and couple of characters to get subscribers to open your emails,” Specht says. “They’ve changed it so that a little bit of extra code powers a special preview.” 

That preview can include a custom logo and custom image. And you can set an expiration date, which gives the email a chance to be featured more than once, she adds. It can get bumped to the top.



Litmus is working with Gmail to help marketers understand these elements.

They are running a webinar on December 18, featuring Jordan Grossman, product manager of Gmail, and are offering other resources.

Specht reports in a blog post that the update is live for all Gmail mobile app users on Android and iOS.

Gmail’s web client will follow early next year. She adds, “This experience does not impact G Suite users.”

In short form, here are some of the new features, as cited by Specht: 

  • Single Image Preview —This allows the brand to place a custom image that serves as a sneak peek of the message.
  • Green deal badge — This space can be used to provide details on the value of the discount offer. 
  • Grey discount code badge — You can populate this field to feature your discount code in the deal preview. 
  • Logo — This feature lets you display your logo so that consumers can quickly identify one of your emails
  • Expiration date  This helps brands create urgency and potentially move to the head of the queue again. 

The down sides to all this? For one, “it doesn’t happen automatically — you have to add code,” Specht says. But Litmus is offering a tool called the Gmail Promotions Builder, which atomically creates a piece of JSON code in the tab, she adds. And, presumably, other companies will try to help clients navigate the tab.

Then there’s that bug. What happened? 

“An inadvertent bug had made Gmail’s filters go haywire, rerouting messages in a way that made users think it had lost its judgment over what messages deserved to land on top of the pile — and at the worst possible time of the year, when companies are bombarding people with holiday shopping pitches,” the Washington Post reports.

Not to worry: Google said it expected to fix the bug that very day, and we’re presuming there are no lasting effects. 

Finally, there’s this question: What if people don’t check their Promotions tabs? My own is crowded with hundreds because I rarely open it.   

Maybe it would better if commercial messages weren’t grouped together like that. But they are. And given the fact that there are 1.5 trillion Gmail users worldwide, marketers have little choice but to deal with this reality. But there are ways to make it work.

Here’s one more solution: Build trust so that your customers move your messages out of the Promotions tab and into the inbox.


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