Priority Inbox and Overcrowding – How Can Your E-mail Stand Out?

  |  February 3, 2011   |  Comments

Four strategies to ensure your e-mail doesn't get lost with the rest of the marketing messages your customers receive every day.

Currently, there is no stopping e-mail as an effective marketing channel. A recent Forrester Research survey, "US Email Marketing Forecast, 2009 To 2014," indicated that 66 percent of respondents agree that e-mail is the most cost-effective marketing tool at their company. Therefore, more e-mail is going to be sent in 2011, crowding the inbox further.

In addition to this, the inbox could see some significant changes as e-mail clients find ways to combat information overload and provide customers with a better experience. The big names are competing to develop an inbox that a user has more control over. One that prioritizes e-mail messages based on behavior and also provides easier ways to mass-unsubscribe. Not to mention that Facebook's version of the inbox will most likely be very different.

Gmail launched Priority Inbox last year, and it seems to be doing what it set out to achieve. The latest research from Google shows that "Typical Priority Inbox users spend 43% more time reading important mail compared to unimportant, and 15% less time reading email overall as compared to Gmail users who don't use Priority Inbox."

So what does this mean? It means, as marketers, we should have two clear strategic considerations for 2011:

  1. Inbox overload. What to do to stand out?
  2. Drive engagement. How to build an engaging program?

Therefore, a well-developed e-mail marketing program needs to be well-tested, timely, and relevant so it beats the overcrowding, stands out in the inbox, and facilitates engagement.

Here are four easy but effective strategies you can implement today to accomplish this:

  1. Optimize the pre-header. For me, this is the quickest and easiest way to drive open rates. With a quick tweak of your creative, you can get an extension of your subject line that will help you stand out in the inbox. A pre-header is the first piece of text in the body of your e-mail and is displayed after the subject line. Gmail has been pre-header king for a while, but AOL's Project Phoenix also uses pre-headers. I predict other ISPs will develop their inbox's the same way.

  2. Be relevant, and if possible, timely. Sending e-mail messages containing information that is relevant to a user at the time they want it will produce a response. You should be dynamically versioning e-mail content based on your users' previous behavior and preferences.

    To be timely, think about user interaction with your brand. For example, don't send a welcome e-mail one week after a user has signed up.
  3. Optimize the mobile and preview pane view. The number of users checking e-mail on their mobile devices rose 35.8 percent in November - from 51.6 million in November 2009 to 70.1 million. Therefore, make it easy for a user to react to e-mail without viewing the full creative. Have a link in the pre-header, make the navigation HTML and clickable, and build the e-mail so the top left creative has an action in it.
  4. Develop engagement early in the relationship (priority). One of the factors determining Priority Inbox delivery is a user's behavior, and the perfect time to engage a user is at the beginning of the relationship. A new user is an engaged user, and therefore a well-built welcome program will increase the chances of future e-mail messages appearing in the Priority Inbox.

Use these tips to stand out from your competitors and ensure your e-mail doesn't get lost with the rest of the marketing messages your customers receive every day.


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Matthew Hayes

Matt Hayes is the director of services strategy at Lyris. With experience in the e-mail industry both in the U.S. and in the U.K., Matt has deep knowledge and experience working with clients in the strategy and development of welcome programs, lifecycle campaigns, list retention and growth, Web behavior segmentation, and e-mail design. Matt started his e-mail career at a U.K. agency that became Lyris UK and was instrumental in managing e-mail marketing campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the U.K. Matt's background is specialized in high-end fashion retail where he set up revenue-driving campaigns. In 2009, Matt moved to San Francisco to manage a team of campaign specialists and drove e-mail marketing strategy for clients in the U.S.

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