Gmail Tabs: An Opportunity, Not a Threat

If the inbox were a newspaper, all marketers would want their message on the front page, above the fold. Now many marketers fret that Gmail has relegated their carefully crafted messages to the inbox equivalent of those unseemly back-page classifieds.

Rolled out to most users in recent weeks, the new Gmail layout offers people the option of grouping incoming messages into tabs such as “Primary,” “Social,” and “Promotions.” Primary is for personal messages: notes from your mom, invitations to your nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, and so forth. Social is for notifications from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. Promotions is where, from now on, messages from marketers will likely go.

Marketers have received this newest perceived affront to deliverability with considerable consternation. But there’s no need to panic. If your emails are engaging, customers will find them. Keep in mind these three tips that just got more important with Gmail tabs.

Beat Other Marketers at Their Own Game

It used to be that your email competed against all other emails. In an unfiltered inbox, your message competes with emails from people’s friends and loved ones. Now, your competition is just other marketers’ emails. So instead of having to go head to head with your sister’s newest baby pictures, you only have to win out against someone who may well be sending yet another coupon or offer.

This is a great opportunity for marketers who have built trust and real relationships with their subscribers. There’s just one catch: your email marketing has to be engaging.

Make Your Email Engaging

That sounds like a tall order, but it’s actually fairly straightforward. All great email marketing shares the same basic attributes. To be engaging, your email has to be trustworthy, relevant, and conversational.

Think of your email program in terms of relationship-building. All relationships begin with trust. So set expectations during your (crystal-clear) opt-in process, and then fulfill them with every email you send. In Gmail tabs, consumers can actually drag a marketing email into their Primary inbox, acting like a third opt-in. Sure, consumers said they wanted these emails, and confirmed they wanted these emails, and now the emails appear in their main inbox.

Regardless, be relevant and conversational; think of your email in the same vein as your “human” interactions. No one wants to hear you drone on about boring topics that interest you but nobody else. No one wants to hear the same story you told them last week. And no one likes it when all you do is talk about yourself. The same applies to email.

Know who your audience is and what they want from your emails. Send personal, human, well-timed messages that show that you “get” them. Send those messages on their schedule, when they’re interested, rather than when you have a campaign scheduled. The best marketing emails are about the consumer’s needs, not yours.

Finally, remember that your customers see you outside their inbox, too. Marketing is no longer just about being multi-channel. It’s about being omni-channel – delivering an integrated customer experience across every single platform. This requires a single, cross-channel view of the customer and the ability to coordinate messages and interactions across touch points.

Breathe Deeply and Be Strategic

The strategic email marketer tests, measures, and adjusts, no matter what’s thrown at her. Why not take the same approach to Gmail tabs? You wouldn’t rely on your gut feeling to judge the success of any part of your marketing program. So take the same analytical mindset to your Gmail tabs survival strategy: check the open, click, and conversion rates of your Gmail subscribers pre- and post-tabs.

My guess is that, at worst, you might see a slight dent in open rate. And, given that anyone who has jumped through one extra hoop to get to your message is likely to be engaged, perhaps you’ll also see an increase in click-to-open and conversion rates. Take this newest curveball Google has thrown at you and rise to the occasion. You’ll be a better marketer for it and your customers will reward you for it.

Editor’s Note: As 2013 comes to a close, we’re pleased to share our top marketing automation columns of the year. This article was originally published August 5, 2013.

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