4thenewGoogle's Gmail has become the world's most widely used email service within just a few years. Changes in the functionalities of Gmail, therefore, affect the email marketing, too.

After Google has already questioned the typical inbox by presenting the Gmail Priority Inbox and the so-called SmartLabels, the ‘new’ inbox is currently providing discussions and uncertainties, as it is assorting incoming emails automatically into tabs.

Possible dangers and opportunities

Thus, the new Gmail no longer displays incoming emails gathered in one inbox. Instead, emails are automatically allocated to five optional tabs: primary, social, promotions, updates and forums. These categories make it easy to read messages of the same type all at once, and keep track of your mail, following different intentions:

  1. Primary: Google gives this tab the highest priority in the inbox layout. Appearing first, it features messages from family, friends, and contacts that don’t appear in any other tab. It can also feature starred messages.
  2. Social: Messages from any sort of social site you use. Expect emails from social networks, dating websites, and gaming platforms to appear here.
  3. Promotions: Your marketing emails will most likely appear here. This is where any deals, offers, and any other promotional email will go.
  4. Updates: Automatic notifications of bills, statements, and reminders. Most likely, your airline reservations and your monthly credit card statements will appear here.
  5. Forums: Messages from any forums or discussion groups you participate in will be featured here.

Newsletters and marketing emails get, for instance, organized into the tab "promotions"; transaction emails from e-commerce – such as order confirmations - count as "updates", and under "primary", private messages are combined, as well as emails that do not fit into any of the tabs and messages that have been marked as "important" by the user.

More or less attention

Since the new tabs provoke that marketing emails are not displayed collectively on the main page of the web client, the user has to actively click on each tab to see the respective emails – the mobile Gmail client even one additional time.

There is a risk that the user no longer respects marketing emails and doesn’t click them, if as a start, only the "primary" emails are displayed, and the tabs might have a different priority for the user. This could lead to marketing emails being read later or, worst case, getting ignored on mobile devices when the other tabs are not displayed to the user at first sight. Particularly time-critical emails might be suffering most, for example, newsletters with promotions or temporary transaction emails with cross- and up-sells.

Perhaps, however, the new Gmail Inbox is even an opportunity for email marketing, making sure that messages don’t get lost in the flood of other emails. At the same time, it probably eases the "challenge" of finding an outstanding subject line and the fact that email marketing is permission marketing.

Since the user has requested your emails single-handedly, he has expressed his interest in receiving them and will most probably read them even if it requires another click. And if he clicks on the tab "promotions", he even shows that at that very moment that he has an active interest in marketing messages, increasing the likelihood that he really gets the message.

Back to the main view

In the new Gmail Inbox some marketing emails are still displayed under "primary", even though the user has not marked it as "important".

The reasons for this are not yet known; maybe "only" the algorithm does not yet function properly, or there is the potential to create the email in a way that allows controlling the classification consciously? It is believed by the way, among other things, that the categorization acts in accordance with the bulk information in the email header.

So far, the practical chance to appear with your marketing emails under "primary" is to ask the Gmail users to mark your emails as "important". So, point your users to time-sensitive special offers to convince them to get your emails reappear in the main view under "primary".

To date there is no empirical data on how the new Gmail Inbox is used or e.g. the optional tabs are disabled by users. We advise you to check your figures to determine whether there are significant differences between Gmail users and users of other providers and whether the figures have changed since the launch of the new inbox. Fact is that with the new Gmail feature, the email control goes right back where it belongs -- in the hands of your leads and customers. With only a little up-front work, they can start engaging with the emails that matter to them.

But as already mentioned, there is still no hard evidence to date on the criteria Gmail classifies the emails, but we will keep you posted.

By Daniela La Marca