Since Google began rolling out major changes to its Gmail inbox in July, Direct Marketing News has been monitoring the changes (i.e., The institution of tabbed inboxes for personal, promotional, social media-related, billing-related, and forum-related messages) and opportunities email marketers might discover. The importance of Gmail can’t be underestimated. Last July Google blogged it had 425 million active users on the service, essentially supplanting Microsoft’s Hotmail on the ESP throne. And according to email testing and analytics provider Litmus, as of February 2013 Gmail open rates have steadily increased 25% over the previous year—whereas Hotmail and Yahoo! have each declined 4%.
So, what exactly can marketers do to take advantage of Gmail’s new tabbed inbox in order to grab the attentions of engaged Googlers? Marketing software provider StrongView (formerly StrongMail) has published six tips to make sure email campaigns hit home despite Gmail’s interface fluctuations.
Measure, measure, measure – Know exactly what’s happening with Gmail campaigns. StrongView says that while gmail.com addresses typically account for 20% of its clients’ contact lists, most Gmail users at this point probably haven’t been migrated by Google to the new interface. Yet, it’s still important to isolate those Gmail accounts to understand what specifically is going on with the admittedly small segment that currently uses tabbed inboxes. This means checking out the open rates, time-to-open rates, click-through rates, and revenue-per-email of Gmail users. Compare these rates pre- and post-July 5, 2013 (when Google began rolling out the new tabbed inbox), and if there are changes to these rates, decide whether it’s actually because of the new inbox format or some other factor.
Ed-ja-ma-ca-shun – Brands need to make sure their own customers are aware of the changes that have come or are coming to Gmail. StrongView suggests sending separate email messages prompting subscribers to ensure certain emails are directed to the “Primary” tab, so they’re always in view. Here’s an example, combining a promotion with instructions on how customers can customize their Gmail inboxes.
Write awesome subject lines – This one is applicable to every email customer, but it’s worth reiterating: Make sure the subject lines are awesome. This means personalizing messages or using trigger words that grab eyeballs (like “You” or “Discover”).
Do it in real time – If there’s a time-to-open lag, consider using dynamic content, AKA smart content AKA adaptive content. Basically, it’s an email marketing strategy that plugs into a centralized marketing database, sending the right content to the right person at the right time. This is, obviously, on the more sophisticated side and requires a fully integrated email system hooked into a marketing database, a dynamic content generator (basically the rules engine that determines the hows and whens of this customized email content), and dynamic Web pages—controlled by marketing—that can be edited easily.
There’s more to marketing than email – StrongView warns that “conducting email marketing in a silo is a risky and outmoded strategy.” Customer relationships extend beyond the email channel, and marketers need to keep in mind display ads, mobile, SMS, etc., to maintain that relationship. This is especially important as ESPs—not just Gmail—build increasingly sophisticated spam filters. If a marketer’s relationship with the customer isn’t clear, the message is likely going straight to the Trash.
The Primary tab is earned – It’s like first place at the Olympics. Businesses can beg all they want for the top spot—that is, a Gmail user’s Primary tab, where all must-see messages go—but at the end of the day, if they don’t earn it (and the messaging isn’t on point), it’s not going to happen. And this goes back to the fundamentals of email marketing: Be relevant. If marketers are, they’ll have no problem finding themselves at the top of the inbox.