Gmail is big. The Google platform has nearly half a billion users, and it is keen to be at the forefront of innovation on both desktop and mobile email. But one of its latest moves, has raised eyebrows amongst email marketers.
Gmail has released a new tabbed inbox system, grading what it calls Primary, Social and Promotional emails. Ostensibly, they have explained that it’s about the user: “We get a lot of different types of email: messages from friends, social notifications, deals and offers, confirmations and receipts, and more… All of these emails can compete for our attention and make it harder to focus on the things we need to get done. Sometimes it feels like our inboxes are controlling us, rather than the other way around.”
There may be some truth in that, but principally, the move is designed to help Google better sell ads on the platform. It has introduced a new format of ads aimed at cashing in on what is regarded as a highly effective marketing channel. Recent research by the DMA indicates email marketing has never been more popular, with 43% of us now choosing to subscribe to 10 or more brand emails. One in three now also find over half the emails they receive to be of interest to them. It’s little wonder therefore that Google want a part of the action: their new ads will mimic emails carefully, and will pop into the new Promotional inbox tab, as if they had been subscribed to.
Clearly, most company and brand emails are also now going into the Promotional tab – and that’s being seen as something of a relegation. Rather than competing amongst an already competitive inbox, brand emails are being carted off to a different space altogether.
There have been some concerns about what this might mean for marketing to Gmail users. Facebook similarly filter emails, and although it is a fair less developed email provider, most users have long since forgotten – or don’t even know about their ‘Other’ inbox tab which contains promotional content.
Many brands and companies are right to be slightly miffed. It shouldn’t be forgotten that many consumers elect to receive emails from their favourite brands. Gmail users are at risk of missing out on content they have requested.
But some have suggested it will in fact improve engagement: when users do navigate to the Promotional tab, that proactivity is likely to indicate a receptiveness to messaging they see. But it will likely to lead to a ‘honing’ of the best emails – and once again require the skills of email marketers to stand out in a more difficult climate.
Some brands have taken matters into their own hands. The Outnet for example, sent email to its lists titled ‘Gmail Users – Don’t Miss Out’. with instructions on ensuring emails get through to the “primary” mail tab and therefore do not evade their readers. Clothing retailer Mr Porter have just done exactly the same.
But Gmail’s moves are already having an impact. An informative study by MailChimp suggests that after an initial spike (probably while some people figured out the new tab system), open rates have fallen by one percentage point.
Ultimately, Gmail has thrown its eggs into the same basket as companies that use email marketing: if users simply do not visit the Promotional tab, they will equally not be exposed to the adverts that Gmail is selling. In that instance, we can expect further changes in the future. In the mean time, a new challenge has been set…