Gmail’s New Inbox: The upside for marketers

Gmail recently made some major changes to the way it sorts and displays email. The new Gmail tabbed interface is not only concerning to email marketers who are comfortable with the Inbox/Bulk folder placement, but it’s also raised some uncertainty around whether brands will continue to reach their customers. Making matters more confusing, some recent blog posts and articles have referenced the great difficulty senders can expect to encounter when sending to Gmail users.

The newest iteration looks like this: 5 tabs that contain different types of messages. If a recipient doesn’t agree with the placement of a message, they have the option to drag it to another tab and even route all future messages of that type to the same tab. Let’s review the tabs and their functions.

  • Primary Tab – Messages from individuals
  • Social – Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter notifications
  • Promotions – The new home for marketing messages
  • Updates – Transactional messages like order confirmations
  • Forums – Messages from groups

Responsys has been closely following open rates since Gmail has rolled out the new interface and we’ve seen less than a .2% change in Gmail open rates among our customer base. This is significant because Gmail has one of the more fluid open rates in the industry. We’re encouraged by these early numbers and feel strongly that email marketers should be embracing Gmail’s changes as great for their business.

The biggest advantage of the new layout is a much better use of space.  In the old format, the inbox contained the 50 most recent messages. A typical inbox might contain a couple of dozen social notifications, 5 group subscriptions, 10 messages from friends and family, and 4 or 5 transactional messages. Not a lot of room here for marketing messages, and if there was, they sure wouldn’t stay in the inbox for long.

There is a new socially driven behavior that I also think will work in the favor of email marketers. Today, when you visit Gmail, the tabs that contain new messages are highlighted.  Human behavior makes it really tough to avoid taking a peek at those new messages. All of this works in the favor of relevant, individualized email marketing messages. Marketing emails will now be gathered with like messaging, and have a real opportunity to stand out.

With all the positives, it is prudent to also point out a risk of Gmail’s new interface. Brands with a tendency to mail a lot could be in jeopardy. In the new interface, you could see a lot of messages on the Promotions tab from the same sender, which could certainly prompt users to notice the large amount of email and as a result, incur some negative attention. Of course, if you’re using best practices and sending relevant messaging you shouldn’t worry about these issues.

Changes at email providers always tend to raise some concern, but at Responsys, we think these changes are a glimpse into the future of email behavior. 

Kevin Senne is senior director of deliverability and messaging compliance at Responsys

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