Gmail enhancements will force marketers to target effectively

E-mail marketing industry experts shrugged off Google’s debut of the “Priority Inbox” enhancement in Gmail this week, saying it may even help them target consumers more effectively. The feature prioritizes e-mail messages for consumers.

Priority Inbox filters incoming e-mail messages into three sections: “important and unread,” “starred” and “everything else.” Messages are automatically categorized as they arrive to a consumer’s inbox. Google is offering the feature to consumers on a rolling basis.

“Gmail uses a variety of signals to predict which messages are important, including the people you e-mail most and which messages you open and reply to,” Google explained on the Google Blog.

“This is a welcome change to mailers like us,” said Marc Haseltine, manager of e-mail marketing at the National Geographic Society, noting the “incredible amount of inbox clutter” many consumers experience. “I think some of what we’ll do is to be a little more proactive on segmenting our reports by ISPs so we’re not seeing any problems with what they are implementing.”

Haseltine said the company will examine deliverability, inbox placement and response rates by ISPs more closely with every campaign it develops.

Tom Sather, director of professional services at Return Path, said the move is no cause for concern for marketers who use best practices and have active user files.

“They will get an extra bonus by having their e-mails prioritized more effectively if their subscribers are engaged,” he said, adding that brands should be able to improve the subscriber’s experience in the process.

Relevancy will be key for marketers to navigate the ISP changes, said Spencer Kollas, director of delivery services at StrongMail, an e-mail marketing firm.  

“If you are not relevant, it won’t matter – you never will be. You’ll always be in that ‘everything else’ bucket,” he said. “It’s really about what consumers want – and if you’re not giving that to them now, it doesn’t really matter.”  

A Microsoft spokesperson told DMNews that the company released a series of enhancements to Hotmail in May and will unveil more in coming weeks.

“There are going to be a lot of false positives. [Marketers] may have a knee-jerk reaction to a decrease in response of e-mail addresses,” said Melanie Attia, product marketing manager for Campaigner, an e-mail marketing service provider. “I would try to address those more on an ad hoc basis, especially if he or she is an existing customer and you know he has been reading your e-mails.”

Attia added that marketers could even point out to customers, in a subject line, that they are no longer reading messages.

Dennis Dayman, chief privacy and deliverability officer at Eloqua, a marketing automation and demand generation firm, said marketers have had a tendency to use “batch and blast” while not focusing on relationships with consumers. The changes made by the ISPs, he said, may force marketers to monitor these more closely.

“If you can watch their digital body language and monitor their behavior, you can [begin to better] target messages,” he said.  

Haseltine added that the changes to Gmail will force his organization to be more creative – “not too predictable” – in its promotional e-mails.

“We’ll look to mix it up and not have similar subject lines when we send them out,” he said.

The ISP changes will also force brands to try new strategies to see what works, said David Daniels, CEO of The Relevancy Group, an e-mail and digital marketing consulting group.

“The notion of direct marketing — digital, measureable direct marketing — is built on the notion of testing and failure, which if embraced drives optimization,” he said.

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