You may have heard — if you own a Gmail address or read any digital news sources — that Gmail has rolled out their new Inbox, featuring a tabbed (categorized) look. The basic idea is that now, in your inbox, there are three default tabs for "primary," social notifications and promotions. Many email marketers' emails will probably be classified as promotions, and so many are understandably worried that this new setup will decrease open and click through rates. It's probably a bit early to tell, but here is my take on the Good, the Bad and, well… the Challenge.
Here's the reality: According to my focus group of one (i.e., me and my own inbox), even some of my bills are being sent to the Promotions tab. So, it's pretty likely that many email marketing newsletters, discounts, offers, product announcements will also go under the Promotions tab, meaning they're not visible until you click over to see your Promotions emails. So, users won't organically hit 100% of their messages by going through their inbox and opening/deleting/auto-advancing.
Plus, as many inbox users (and news sources) are starting to see, Google has taken this as the right opportunity to introduce ads as emails, right in your inbox. (This might the real reason for the promotions tab/category?) If they own the inside of millions of people's "homes" (their Inboxes); why would they limit their advertising to billboards on street corners (Pay-Per-Click)? Ok, so that part's not so great, but…
Here's the good news: even my bills may get sent to Promotions, so for a while at least… I'll have to check it. More than that, though, if I signed up for The Roasterie's emails to hear about their newest products or I signed up for KCDMA's email newsletter so that I know about their upcoming events, that Promotions tab and I are going to get pretty friendly. As savvy email marketers, we're not just signing people up because we have their email address. We offer someone value for signing up and we only send to those who gave us express permission by opting in.
And the best news: even though Gmail isn't releasing its formula for categorizing (I suspect this will be like the art/science of SEO a bit), you can guarantee it'll learn from how users categorize. Inbox users can drag emails to different tabs, for example from Promotions to Primary, essentially telling Google to always show that type of email or sender. (Users can opt out entirely of the new layout, too, by the way).
NOTE: As Gmail inbox users start to make sense of tabs, it's important that we track not just opens and click through rates of Gmail subscribers, but ultimately conversions. There are a fair number of speculations in the email marketing industry that the only eyeballs we'll lose are those who are "triaging" meaning open, skim, delete. What does the new layout do to actual customer conversions?
As long as we abide by our Email Marketer Oath to deliver value and relevance, we don't have to be afraid. In fact, we might consider this an overdue challenge. Subscribers that are triaging and never really interact are so last year. This year, we have to offer value with each email send and set a precedent for being useful, entertaining or relevant.