In part two of this series, I pick up talking about the latest and greatest news from the email world: Google’s Inbox. Three email vets chime in on key takeaways and advice. P.S.: Don’t panic!
Simms Jenkins (SJ): What advice do you have for email marketers that may be panicking because of Inbox or ready to seize the new opportunities presented?
Ryan Phelan (RP): Sit down, take a deep breath and relax. This happened the last time with tabs, remember? And since then the world has not devolved into apocalyptic chaos. Many freaked out then, and we are starting to see the same thing now. My phone’s been ringing off the hook with marketers saying “what do we do?” My response? Well, nothing right now, let’s look at the numbers first and realize that Google rolls new stuff out in phases. This is a limited release, so we have time to see what impact this really does have. Additionally, we need to remember that impact is not based on what you believe the consumer will do, it’s based in the metrics. Before marketers panic, perform the due diligence. You’re talking about a small population (now) only on mobile and one platform. Let’s see how the dust settles. Your email is less about how the user experience of one receiver is and more about what resonance your email has with the consumer on a regular basis.
Beyond that, I think marketers again have time to start to concentrate on the real problem, which is the blatant abuse of the inbox by not moving (like the rest of the Internet) toward an informed conversation. Start 2015 out right by looking at the data first and the sale second.
But please, relax first and stop freaking out.
Chad White (CW): Don’t panic. The adoption of Inbox is going to be slow. It’s starting at zero and for the time being, Inbox is by invitation only, just like Gmail was initially. Even once it becomes freely available, people have to go and download it. This is radically different than the rollout of Tabs, which was pushed to a huge installed base of Gmail users over the course of a couple of months. Inbox is a not a sea-change, but rather a groundswell that won’t be felt in any significant way until well into next year.
However, the call-to-action for marketers is clear: Your emails need to be both expected and relevant, because email users have a growing number of tools to manage their inboxes efficiently. Solid permission practices are key to starting relationships off on the right foot. There’s an ever-growing need to send personalized and targeted content by managing customer journeys, creating 1-to-1 recommendations using predictive intelligence, and segmenting messages to custom audiences. And, of course, smart rendering across devices is expected.
SJ: After a decade of inbox staleness, the email channel has evolved quite a bit over the past few years – what’s next?
CW: First, going forward we’ll see much of the innovation focused on the mobile inbox. That’s where the growing audience is. Webmail will continue to slowly shrink, so those providers aren’t likely to invest too much more than they have to in those going forward. Google with Gmail has really been the exception, but I wonder now if they were to a degree using Gmail as a test bed to inform their development of Inbox.
Second, as the wearable market takes off, email marketers are going to encounter more challenging form factors. Watches, glasses, and earpieces will create new design challenges for marketers when it comes to communicating via email. We’ll see the addition of a least two more layers to responsive email design: desktop >> tablet >> smartphone >> wearables with tiny displays >> voice- and gesture-controlled audio-only devices.
And third, one piece of unequivocally good news is that image blocking is likely to gradually go away over the next five years. The spam, security, and bandwidth rationales behind blocking images are getting weaker all the time. So we should see more inbox providers join Gmail in turning images on by default.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen the definition of “spam” completely redefined, engagement-based filtering adopted, inboxes go mobile with HTML capabilities thanks to the introduction of the iPhone, social media dramatically affect email content, and personalization and targeting capabilities grow from infancy to adolescence. The next decade will prove just as dynamic and keep all email marketers on their toes.
RP: I think you’re going to see the other receivers getting on the google bandwagon more aggressively. You might see an “arms race” in terms of who organizes better and innovates. Receivers have had good feedback on the changes they’ve implemented, which will beg the question “how do I make it even better?” I believe that you’re also going to see more and more pressure being put on the marketer by the receivers. They don’t want to lose market share and in turn revenue, and they’re going to start telling us in louder terms how they reward loyalty to brands by consumers.
The innovative and responsible use of data is not going to diminish. We’ve crossed a threshold where companies continue to prove that it works very well. Compression by receivers in consumable content will continue and those that fail to recognize that path will stop innovating and be conquered by those who met and exceeded the future. Data, attribution, and a respect of the customer is where we are. Don’t get left behind because your email program only costs you $.002 per email. Receivers are not going to go backward and decide that irrelevant email is OK. They’re innovating and we had better be out there doing the same thing.
Google and other receivers have changed the email game very fast and recently. If you’re not accustomed to change, maybe now is the time to start to pivot.
Jay Jhun (JJ): In order for Inbox by Gmail to become a real force of nature in email, Google would have to eliminate the Gmail app (which it probably can’t – and likely won’t) or the features on Inbox would have to be rolled into the Gmail app as a default state. It makes you wonder whether the Inbox app is really just a convenient testing silo for Gmail innovation. The bottom line for today: Stay calm. Watch and wait.
If you are lucky enough to be testing this, please share your thoughts below.
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