Gmail Priority Inbox: What Does It Mean for B2B E-mail Marketers?

What does Gmail’s new Priority Inbox mean to the B2B e-mail marketer? If you rely on “batch and blast” for your e-mail strategy and haven’t moved up to segmentation, relevance, and engagement, it could mean quite a lot.

For several years, savvy small businesses have been setting up their own domain e-mail accounts through the Gmail Google Apps component, because the e-mail servers from their Web hosting companies don’t offer the same features or level of quality Gmail does.

Using Google Apps gives the small business all the power of Gmail, now including Priority Inbox, which enables employees to spend less time on messages that aren’t spam yet aren’t meaningful or relevant for them at the moment.

Priority Inbox sorts e-mail in the interface by identifying which e-mails are most important to recipients based upon opens, clicks, replies, etc., along with recurring keywords found across all the messages.

These e-mail messages are grouped at the top of the inbox and labeled as “Important.” “Starred” or flagged messages are placed in the next pane and “Everything Else” (i.e., all other non-spam e-mail) goes into a pane at the bottom of the inbox.


                        “Email overload? Try Priority Inbox” The Official Google Blog 8/30/2010

For the B2B e-mail marketer targeting small businesses, this configuration means the “Everything Else” category could soon become the equivalent of the bulk folder if more users become trained to focus on only the “Important” category.

Sending relevant e-mails to your subscribers becomes even more important. Messages sent from the same sender seem to have little impact on what Gmail deems “Important.”

Therefore, your subscribers need to see the value in all of your communications. You can no longer rely upon your good sender reputation if your latest e-mail is a dud.

Below are some tips to increase the likelihood that your e-mail messages will appear in the “Important” pane and not end up as “Everything Else.”

  • Each and every e-mail you send must be engaging and optimized to maximize opens and clicks. Currently the Priority Inbox algorithm does not appear to use sender identification as a predictor of what e-mail is classified as “Important.”
  • Utilize common keywords in all your e-mail messages. Consistent use of important “keywords” across each of your messages looks to be an important indicator of which messages will end up in the “Important” pane.

    Interacting with several messages with a consistent topic, i.e., “networking,” seems to cause additional messages with the same key theme to automatically show up as “Important.”

  • Link your social strategy with your e-mail strategy. Gmail appears to identify Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social-network notifications as “Important.”
  • Utilize transactional messages for cross-marketing. Transactional e-mails also appear more often in the “Important” pane. Utilize up to one-third of the message content area for marketing content.
  • Effectively on-board your customers and prospects. The welcome e-mail is even more critical to help set expectations and establish your e-mail program value:
    • Develop content in your welcome stream that immediately maximizes engagement.
    • Ask your new subscribers to mark your message as “Important” during this initial contact.

The Last Word

Right now, the new Priority Inbox will most likely have minimal impact on most B2B marketers’ e-mail programs:

  • Less than 1 percent of your subscribers might ever use the new Gmail functionality.
  • Less than 5 percent of a typical B2B marketer’s e-mail database is represented by Gmail addresses. This can rise much higher if you are targeting small businesses.
  • Business users might always view their e-mail in Outlook or another e-mail client that does not support the Priority Inbox and mobile devices that do not display the Priority Inbox categories.
  • Priority Inbox is currently in beta testing, and it likely might not be adopted by a large number of Gmail business users.

The future could be a different story. More ISPs and e-mail clients – whether Web-based, desktop, or mobile – will add message activity as a factor in sorting e-mail messages in the inbox or determining whether to accept messages in the inbox, route to the junk folder, or block them.

If you are still taking an untargeted, “batch and blast” approach to your e-mail, consider this a shot over the bow in support of greater relevancy in messaging.

Now is the time to segment your list, focus your content for key segments, delight your subscribers, and maximize your engagement. Once you have completed this, convincing subscribers to classify your e-mails as “important” will be easy.

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