Um, Did Gmail Just Kill Email Marketing?

OK, kill might be a little extreme, but in recent weeks, Gmail, the world’s largest email provider, certainly dealt email marketers a hefty blow. The changes they rolled out to the way users view their Inbox has made the already-difficult job of email marketers that much harder.

Gmail now automatically sorts incoming email into several standard tabs: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums, with your Inbox defaulting to Primary. Here’s a quick look at what types of emails fall under each tab:

Primary – These are emails from personal contacts – family, friends, business associates, the school PTA, etc., or as Google puts it, “the ones you really want.”
Social – Someone comment on your Facebook status? You get a retweet on Twitter? These sorts of email notifications go here.
Promotions – Daily emails from Groupon, HauteLook, Gap, possibly your favorite e-newsletter – these items are automatically put under this tab.
Updates – Bills, confirmation emails, receipts, etc., go here.
Forums — Messages from online groups.

Watch this video from the official Gmail blog:

Sounds great, right? Right, unless you’re in the business of reaching customers via email.

If you’re an email marketer, the new Gmail Inbox should (if it’s sorting emails correctly, and my experience is that it is) put your incoming emails automatically under the Promotions tab. It’s up to the user to click the tab and check their Promotions mail….or not. Users may even find their favorite content-filled e-newsletter under this tab and will have to drag and drop into their Primary tab to keep this from happening again.

(Note: If a user notices an email out of place, the user can simply drag and drop the email to the correct tab, and Gmail will put all future emails from the sender in the correct spot.)

Of course, for years, we’ve been able to set up our Inboxs with various rules, filters, and folders to send different emails here, there, or out of sight, but it’s mostly been up to the USER to do these things. The difference with the new Gmail Inbox is that they’re making these tabs the default choice for the user.

Now, I should mention that the user can opt to go back to the Gmail “classic” view, without tabs, if they choose. But, again, it’s on the user to go back to the previous way.

All of this is to say that it’s still VERY early to see the complete impact Gmail’s changes will have on email marketing, but this much is true: they didn’t make the jobs of email marketing any easier. Google’s #1 focus is and always has been providing the best possible user experience. (I have some choice words with them on some other Gmail usability issues. Another time, maybe.)

At TKG, we value the user experience, too — it’s essential to our company philosophy. However, we also know how difficult it is to get an informative email message opened and read, even under the best of circumstances. Gmail tabs just made it that much more difficult.

We’ll keep you updated on this topic as developments unfold….

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