Responding to Gmail Tabs | StrongView

The recent rollout of default tabs in Gmail inboxes has caused lots of concern and a flurry of industry activity, all aimed at understanding the impact on email performance. My colleagueSean Wirt first reported this developmenton this blog back in May.  Since then, our clients at StrongView have seen mixed results, and we’ve been working fast to help. Specifically, we’ve been taking a very basic yet extremely effective two-step approach.

Step 1: Quantify the Effect

Before we fire, we should aim.

As I mentioned before, lots of industry news has come out, claiming anywhere from 3% to 30% drops in open rates after Gmail Tabs were rolled out. What’s important, however, is the effect on your business.

Identify the segment of your recipients with a Gmail address. (We’re seeing an average of about 20% of lists with addresses.) Of those, what has the open rate been since the middle of July? What was it before then? Is there a huge difference? Be sure to consider things like varying email volumes and other factors (e.g. transactional vs. batch email, day of the week, etc.).

Also, take a close look at your click-through rates and click-to-open rates during that period of time. If you’re seeing significant drops in these as well, that should be a red flag that your emails are not driving the engagement they once did.

If you have access to the data, you should also look at when opens are occurring relative to when the email was delivered. An extended mean-time may indicate that your subscribers are now seeing your emails in the Promotions tab. If urgency is important to your brand, this could be a problem for you.

If everything looks the same, stay vigilant. It may take a few weeks for trends to appear with this segment, and new Gmail subscribers should be considered carefully as they enter.

Step 2: Act

So what can you do to help you brand protect itself or recover from negative effects due to the new tabbed inbox?

Tell Your Customers to Move You to the Primary Tab

One way to stay out of the Promotions tab is to have your customers move you into the Primary tab. You could dynamically populate the pre-header of your email to instruct Gmail users to move your email to the Primary tab, replacing the typical “add us to your address book” or “view this email in a web browser” message. You could also send a separate email to Gmail subscribers, explaining how to make the change.

Make Extra Effort to Stand Out in the Inbox

If your emails are in the Promotions tab, they are now competing for attention from other promotions from other brands. That’s a tough situation to be in.

There are many ways to stand out in a crowded promotional inbox. You can use icons and other attention getting words or sentence structures in your subject line (sparingly, of course). You can vary your subject lines so much from one email to the next that it draws attention simply by the difference. There are many things you can try, as I previously recommended in this ClickZ article. Just pick a tactic and test it.

Refocus on a Cross-Channel Approach

Gmail Tabs are just the most recent and largest scale manifestation of the ongoing inbox foldering trend we’ve seen from email clients. The fact is that email consumption is changing — no longer do emails arrive in a dumb inbox where users must filter them; now the inbox uses past interaction data to decide where emails go.

Bottom line: you don’t want to rely on email alone to drive your business forward.  Email isn't dying, but shifts in consumption like Gmail Tabs are simply too dangerous if your revenue is entirely dependent on email.

It’s time to think cross-channel. How can you leverage mobile apps, SMS, display and other channels to reach the same audience? How can you move between these channels seamlessly so you’re not susceptible to changes in any one? This strategy will become even more important as more email clients follow Gmail’s lead and begin automatically filtering incoming email.

Finally, Be Important to Your Recipients

This should go without being said, but the best thing you can do long-term is to be important and relevant to your subscribers. If you’re valuable to them, they will make sure they get your message, no matter where it lands.