Gmail Inbox revamp spells trouble for time-sensitive mobile offers
By Chantal Tode
July 23, 2013
The new inbox for the Gmail iOS app
Google’s recent revamp of the Gmail Inbox will impact how frequently users view promotional emails, spelling trouble for mobile marketers as smartphones become the preferred method for managing email.
With promotional emails separated out and placed under their own tab in the new Gmail Inbox, marketers sending time-sensitive offers, such as flash sales sites, will feel the biggest impact. As Android’s market share continues to grow, marketers looking to reach these users may need to rethink their messaging strategy to ensure that emails are not getting overlooked.
“As these changes are occurring without the conscious consent of users, many will not explore the features and customize how things work best for them, but essentially ‘take what they get,’” said Dave Lawson, director of mobile and digital unification at Knotice, Akron, OH.
“This means that many of the new tabs that seem to exist to deprioritize many en masse pushes or automated updates will likely not be regularly accessed,” he said. “Not being seen is the biggest challenge in any kind of marketing.
“As a reputable marketer adhering to best practices, you may notice that deliverability may not suffer at all, but viewability may plummet.”
Mobile tipping point
The rate of email opens on mobile is expected to reach 50 percent this year. With this in mind, marketers are already adjusting their email strategies to accommodate the small screen size of smartphones and the on-the-go nature of mobile users.
Most of these email opens take place with the iOS default mail app, with 52 percent taking place on iPhones with iOS6, 28 percent on an iPad and 13 percent on Android, per data from Return Path.
However, some iOS users may have the Gmail Inbox app installed on their device.
Emails automatically appear under appropriate tab.
Also, it is possible that other email providers will follow Google’s lead and introduce a similar design for their inboxes.
“With the automated classification of your messages, every message you send counts,” Mr. Lawson said.
“If it seems onerous to rethink for a specific domain, know that these Gmail changes will be mirrored by most other mail clients that are crucial to your email/mobile/digital channel success,” he said.
The new Gmail Inbox divides email into several different categories with each accessible via its own tab on the inbox home page. It is the default option for Gmail.
One of the benefits of mobile marketing is the ability to reach users wherever and whenever with a timely offer, but no one knows yet how frequently users will be checking their promotional tab as the new Gmail Inbox is still new.
Still, there are steps that marketers can take with their time-sensitive offers to address these new limitations.
Marketers can extend the time offers or use dynamic creative so that the offer is always current.
Movable Ink offers technology that enables marketers to change images in an email at the time it is opened by a recipient. The content can be changed based on the time of day that a recipient is opening an email, the user’s location and the kind of device that opens the email.
Previously, email content was typically fixed once a marketer sent it.
“With the tabbed workflow, now when I send the email at 12, it is probably more likely that my customer is not going to see the message until 4 or 5 or maybe even tomorrow because it is not popping up automatically in their inbox but when they make the time to check what is going on in their promotions tab,” said Jordan Cohen, vice president of marketing at Movable Ink, New York.
Using Movable Ink’s technology, marketers can still send a message about a limited-time offer and dynamically swap out the message for anyone missing it with a new message explaining that the offer has expired and including details about another item that is on sale.
While users may be viewing promotional emails less frequently, when they do check them, they could be in a buying mood.
“If people click on the promotions tab, it means they are in a higher-intent buying mode,” Mr. Cohen said. “It means they are clicking the tab thinking I want to go and see what commercial offers are waiting for me in my email inbox as opposed to having all email in a single inbox and missing some stuff there.”
Some types of messages are having an easier time finding their way into the primary Gmail Inbox, meaning they have a better chance of being seen.
For example, many transactional messages with information about a recent purchase, delivery, account status change or service update are still appearing in the primary inbox.
While these types of messages typically produce higher engagement rates, marketers have typically not spent as much time creating a strong branding experience for them or optimizing them for mobile, something they may want to reconsider.
“These types of messages typically may have not gotten the ‘branding love’ that many of their promotional cousins have, which includes optimization for smaller screens or touch navigation,” Knotice’s Mr. Lawson said. “You can provide a richer branded experience in these service-oriented messages.
“The easier you make those emails to navigate and act upon, the better you will fare in the new mobile/Gmail world,” he said. “This includes pre-filling forms upon click-through, looking at radio buttons and drop down menus for surveys, and even offering phone numbers for your call center for more complex interactions.”
Marketers will also need to pay more attention to making sure their message stands out from the crowd. If users only check the promotions tab once a day or even less frequently, it is likely to be filled with offers by the time they do check.
Therefore, marketers may need to think about sending more frequently to stay at the top of the inbox.
Marketers will also need to keep an eye on their inbox placement rates.
“The new promotions tab could be great for your deliverability, or a disaster,” said Tom Sather, senior director of email research at Return Path, New York. “It can be good in the sense that less mail will be marked as spam and less marketing mail will be sent to spam.
“On the other hand, Gmail’s spam filters look at engagement as a factor when filtering email,” he said. “Sending to too many subscribers that haven’t interacted with your email in a few months can cause your mail to get delivered to spam.
“Marketers should have a process in place to deal with inactives just in case.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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