What does the new Gmail mean for marketers?

What does the new Gmail mean for marketers?
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You may have noticed the recent changes made by Gmail to the layout of its inbox. Gmail is one of the top four ISPs in Australia and around the world, so any changes to its setup or filtering of messages will have a significant ripple effect on the success of email marketing campaigns.

The changes explained

In May this year Gmail began a roll out of introducing tabs into the email interface which automatically ‘sort’ emails in to categories, such as promotions.  This isn’t the first time Gmail has attempted to introduce a sorting feature, last year it introduced what was then termed ‘Priority Inbox’.  The move to Priority Inbox, which attempted to identify important incoming emails, caused some concern among marketers/ senders that their messages would be missed, but in reality turned out to be a little bit of a dud.  The adoption rate for this feature was much lower than expected and outside of some engagement benefit, was really a non-factor for marketers.

This time, Gmail rolled out the new changes as a default, so the impact is much larger and includes mobile app updates too. This takes the ‘will’ or ‘won’t they’ factor out of the equation in terms of consumer updates and brings the new feature into practice much quicker across all inboxes.

The new Gmail has the following tabs:

  • Inbox – These are mostly individual messages from friends
  • Social – These are messages from social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter
  • Promotions – These are messages generated by marketers
  • Updates – Transactional messages such as bank statements and utility bills
  • Forums – These are message board notifications and digest emails such as those from discussion groups

The good news outweighs the bad

So what does this mean for email marketers? Firstly, it’s well known by those doing research on Gmail that since 2011, there has been high variability in open rates.  For instance, in the last 24 months there has been overall positive growth of 21% and then a decrease in last 12 months of 13% in opens on Gmail according to Litmus.  Given it’s still early days, there’s no need to panic or react too quickly – let’s see how it plays out over the next 12-24months before coming to any strong conclusions.  So far, we haven’t noticed any difference in our global open rates of messages that have been filtered into the Promotions tab. This is a promising sign as it means consumers are actively clicking on the Promotions tab to see their messages. 

Another interesting view is that over 66% of Gmail opens happen on mobile devices. iPhones have the largest open rate and the iPhone email client does not have tabs. Only 19% of opens actually happen in Gmail itself where tabs are most prominent (Litmus 8/2013). 

Finally, according to Return Path research, when asked about the last 17+ weeks of activity and if consumers were ignoring messages post Tab introduction the answer was clear – ‘They didn’t” (ReturnPath 7/8/2013)

As it is still early days for this change over and while the early outset is good, email marketers should keep a close eye on specific Gmail data to detect any particular movements or variations.

If open rates decrease, there are options, marketers can pursue. For instance, Gmail can be trained by customer education techniques to encourage emails to land in the inbox. In addition, asking consumers to add email senders details to their address book to ensure correspondence is not looked at as spam.

It is encouraging that consumers are clicking on the promotion tabs as it means they’re keen not miss out communications from the brands they love.

As long as email marketers are continuing to monitor and adapt to the consumers wants and needs email marketing will continue to remain a successful channel. Responsys will continue to monitor this local and global transition over the coming months with interest.

How to ensure your messages are being heard

Here are my top tips to ensure that your email communications continue to reach your target audience:

  1. Don’t spend time trying to change how Gmail classifies messages, the Promotions tab is being read!
  2. Content and Creativity are more important than ever to engage consumers, start with a great subject line and continue through to the body of the email
  3. Watch your open rates closely, different senders have different experiences, but in all cases traditional deliverability troubleshooting is the way to improve open and inbox placement rates
  4. Transactional messages should be read at a very high rate in the new layout and can be a great  vehicle to promote your other programs
  5. You can also teach users to drag and drop messages to other tabs.  This can be an alternative to an add to address book method

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