New Year, New Gmail Promotions Tab

If you were working in email marketing when Gmail initially released the Promotions tab (circa 2013), you will remember that some predicted that the Promotions tab would be the “end of email marketing.” 

Of course, email marketing continued to thrive. Gmail recently announced an update to the Promotions tab that should (at least on the surface) be more welcome to email marketers.  

There are three primary components to the announcement:

  • Logos, discount codes, and more: Marketers will be able to “mark up” their emails with small snippets of code to add new features to messages in the Promotions tab. These include a company logo, discounts, deal codes, deal expiration dates, and single image previews. It’s pretty cool.
  • Bundles: Certain messages will be selected (using machine learning) to show up at the top of the Promotions tab in “bundles” with labels like “Top Deals” or “Expiring Soon.”
  • Nudges in the primary inbox: The Gmail team has also created a summary display of top deals in the primary inbox that they call “nudges.” This display shows overlapping logos of the top deals, a listing of the bundle type (such as Top Deals), and a list of sending brands.



Currently the scope of this release appears to be to the Gmail mobile client for addresses (that is, not Google Apps-powered mailboxes). My understanding is that this experience will be extended to the Gmail web client in 2019. Google suggests more advanced functionality in the future. One example provided was a carousel of images for a travel company. 

Exciting, right? I think so. Preheaders have been shown to drive increased open rates. Time-sensitive offers have been shown to drive more opens, clicks, and conversions. 

However, for me, there are some unanswered questions and implications.

How are offers chosen as Top Deals — and what can a marketer do to increase the chances of being a top offer? Google has indicated that being chosen as a Top Deals will be determined by machine learning algorithms. Presumably, senders who have offers that are frequently read by a particular Gmail user will be prioritized. 

What does that mean for segmentation and offer strategy? Do you want to send deep discounts to increase the chance of being a Top Deal? Do you want to send only a few messages per week? It’s too early to tell.

Some ESPs don’t seem to be fully ready to support this messaging. Some early adopters are finding it hard to add the additional markup to their existing templates in their ESPs. It’s very early in the game. My guess is that most ESPs will quickly adapt to make this easier.

What about phishing? At first glance, Google seems to make it possible for any marketer to put any logo in their email marketing message. Does this make it easier for a phisher to put a bank logo in their messages? The security teams at Gmail must know this is a risk and have some approach to combat this. There is a proposed industry standard that would include third-party verification of logos and the use of other email authentication standards. Does Gmail’s new promotions tab kill that effort?

All in all, the new Promotions tab at Gmail seems like a positive for email marketers. Why not make a New Year’s resolution to test this new format with Gmail users this year?

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