What Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox Means For Marketers

By now, you’ve probably heard all of the hub bub surrounding the changes Google made to its Gmail interface – the introduction of the sorted folders in users’ in-boxes. Essentially, this feature automatically filters messages into the primary in-box of users, while separating out many promotional emails from businesses and social platforms into folders or tabs that aren’t immediately visible without a bit of clicking.

What Does The Gmail Tabbed Inbox Mean For Marketers?

Last May, Gmail made the “social" and “promotions" tabs the default for all users, to the tune of much uproar from Gmail fans and foes the world over. Some of the groups that made the most noise about this trend were marketers. They feared that the campaigns they worked so hard on would now be filtered out of the primary inbox and remain unopened for aeons.

But don’t listen to claims the move could be the end of direct marketing. In fact, a study from the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud published two months after the rollout of the new feature showed that open and click rates have not been significantly impacted.

Still, the data continues to pour in, and it’s worth your time as a marketer to think about how this latest feature could make a difference for your campaigns.

Here's the good news

Believe it or not, if you employ smart marketing strategies, this new Gmail feature could actually benefit your email. The strongest email marketers have moved away from campaign-centric tactics like marketing newsletters to focus on more personalised, customer-centred messages that use data and behaviour to enhance their relevancy.

For example, some marketers may use data analysis to track down electronic shopping carts that contain items that were never purchased, and then will send “abandoned cart" emails to these specific customers reminding them that they have products waiting for them. Other smart marketers will send emails asking for feedback on recent products, while others will use post-purchase emails, like electronic receipts, to encourage customers to make additional purchases based on what they initially bought.

These sorts of data-driven marketing messages are consistently hailed as healthier campaigns than those that do not tailor their marketing with analytics and lifecycle marketing in mind. But what’s more, these sort of direct interactions are less likely to be filtered into one of Gmail’s new secondary folders, meaning it will stand out among the blanket-reach email marketing strategies of yesterday. If you add value to the specific customer’s experience, you’ll make it into that precious primary inbox.

But wait, there's more

If you haven’t moved to these sort of customer-targeted email campaigns, then you are likely to experience the new tabbing system. However, not all hope is lost. There are still some factors that mean these tabs aren’t nearly as threatening as they may seem.

First, consider the fact that as soon as these tabs came into existence, Gmail users were clamouring for a way to get rid of them. A simple Google search of the term “how to get rid of Gmail tabs" returns nearly 3 million results, with lots of articles like this.

Google predicted that, as with many of its new services and updates, there would be an initial rejection of the tabs, but then over time people would once again adopt them as part of the normal Gmail experience. However, according to research from ReturnPath, only 61 per cent of Gmail users had kept the tabs at all four months after its initial rollout. 

When looking at the people who did adjust their tabbed settings, 77 per cent kept their social folders in place, but only 46 per cent kept their promotion tabs in place. So there’s a good chance your customers and clients opted out of this service anyway.

Furthermore, consider the fact that many people are opting to check their email on their mobile device. According to ExactTarget’s State of Digital report, which surveyed thousands of marketers, “41 per cent of respondents . . . said that 31 per cent to 50 per cent of their subscribers open their emails via a mobile device, and 24 per cent report their emails are opened on a mobile device more than 51 per cent of the time". A separate report from Litmus found 66 per cent of Gmail opens happen on a mobile device. Those are statistics that can’t be ignored, especially seeing that they will likely rise in the future.

This factors into the tabbed email issue because the iOS default email platform, which is the top program used to open Gmail and is responsible for 34 per cent of all Gmail opens, does not support tabbed email feature. In other words, if your readers are using their iPhone email to read your campaigns, they will see them in their primary (and only) inbox.

How to put your fears to rest

  1. Look at your mailing list and see how many users have “" addresses. Your Gmail readers may constitute a smaller audience than you think.

  2. Before redesigning your entire marketing rate, check to see if you’ve experienced a significant drop in the number of readers opening your emails. There are tools, including ours, that make this a cinch, since it can instantly analyse Gmail tabs engagement.

  3. If you do find your users are no longer reading your emails, encourage them to move your mailings to their primary inbox, a feature which few Gmail users are even aware of. Bear in mind that you’ll need to use a separate email address to do this.

  4. Try switching up the content of your email direct marketing, the sender address and the subject lines you use. This could help pull your emails out of the promotions tab.

  5. Break up your email direct marketing. Send out your company news separately from promotional offers, and see what effect this has on your statistics.

  6. If all else fails, then you know it’s time to change the way you manage your marketing campaigns. The future lies within real-time, data-driven consumer marketing, and when it comes to email direct marketing, there’s no such thing as jumping on the bandwagon too early.
*This post originally appeared on Australian Financial Review. 
Ryan Bonnici

Ryan Bonnici

Ryan Bonnici is the Senior Director of Global Marketing at HubSpot. He’s an experienced digital marketing leader having held roles previously at Salesforce, ExactTarget, Microsoft and Qantas Airways. He's an experienced digital marketing consultant having worked with a wide range of businesses from thermal clothing sales to executive coaching services. For more frequent updates, follow him on Facebook (@growthguy) or Twitter (@ryanbonnici)