Gmail Inbox Tabs and the panic among Email Marketers

Gmail rolled out a new tab inbox this late May which has created some noise among the email marketers. It is interesting to see how much of a bigger impact it can have, specially on the small businesses and non-profits which heavily rely on direct email marketing. There is a lot of research being put in Email marketing and it would be interesting to analyse if Gmail Tabs have a significant impact or the panic is just some smoke from nowhere.

Gmail Tabs Overview
Gmail now classifies messages into following optional categories: Primary, Promotion, Social, Updates and Forums. This enables having user read similar messages at once and focus on messages based on priority or the way user organized. The feature is all customizeable and is available in all major Gmail clients like iOS, android. Here is a sample screenshot:

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What’s the Panic?

Marketers speculate that this feature will have a significant impact on the Open Rates. Many promotions from small businesses, non-profits and all those Living Social and Groupon emails rely a lot on the direct email marketing; and Gmail stands among top email services with 425 million active users globally (as of Dec 2012). Hence we know, if the speculation is true, this panic alram is a big concern for such businesses and their marketing strategy.

But such features lead to something called a Malkovich Bias. The user response to the change in email products has always been something unpredictable and any change takes a while for users to adapt.

Stats and Analysis

The change in open rates varies based on season, time and weeks. Hence one needs a bigger time frame to make any convincing deductions. A study from Rocket Science Group, LLC (source: here) says the click-through rate has declined for past three weeks from 13% to 12%. Which is significant but not convincing. Here is another study from MailChimp:
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The impact can be currently accepted as a change and the decrease in open rates and clicks could be an outcome of change but not the product.

Another good point to consider in this analysis which points that the amount of Gmail opens from the Gmail is only 19%. And Gmail accounts for about 4% of total email opens and only 41% of those support Gmail tabs. Considering the same, we can’t say if Tabs is the reason for the decline in open rates.

Thoughts and Implications

For the User: A user always prefers to filter and organize his emails based on relevance. The new Gmail does this automatically. So that’s a sign of a great product design. If a user is missing the attractive Groupon deals which used to catch his attention in the middle of office hours, he should just drag-drop the same and Gmail will do the rest.

For the Marketers: It will be difficult for a promotion email to stand out in the hoard of email in the promotion tab. And it was quite easier to chime in the middle of the day in between other personal emails. But the sweet part to the same is that – now user checks out the Promotion Tab with the required mindset and there will be higher click-though rate for relevant emails.

– Experts have deduced that it’s bit too early to press the panic alarm. But statistics make it important for marketers to keep an eye on the impact and their marketing strategy

– There is a lot of analysis which is done to find the days and times at which the promotion emails should be sent to a user. This can even be personalized based user history and behavior. A rework would be required in these areas.

– Personalized recommendations play an important role in the open and click-through rate. The algorithm might need a rework based on the user mindset and times a user checkout the Promotion Tab.

– The Email content and relevance becomes more important now to be able to stand out among other Promotion Emails.

What Marketers can be done now

– Make users read their email and ask them to drag their email from Promotions to Primary Tab

– Ask users to customize the inbox for their emails

– Make users to “STAR” mark their emails – this will automatically move the email to Primary Tab

– Convince users to deactivate promotions tab

– Since a high percentage of Promotions emails would be read in trains from home to work or at night  before sleep – their timings can be revisited based on the product and user

#references: 1, 2, 3

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