Google rolled out Gmail tabbed inboxes last May. Predictably (and understandably), email marketers were worried. The tabbed inbox aims to give Gmail users more control over their inbox, pushing emails from brands into a separate tabbed inbox and keeping them separate from the main inbox. Sounds a lot like legitimate marketing emails (that consumers signed up for) being relegated to a spam-like folder, where the email user could ignore them. But, despite widespread email marketer panic, it seems that email marketing survives to live (and thrive) another day.
“As the change rolled out and I watched our metrics nothing was going down really,” Susan Cho, email marketing manager at The Honest Company, said. The Honest Company, started by actress Jessica Alba, focuses on eco-friendly baby and household products. So, this retailer didn’t see a change. And, as it turns out, neither did most other retailers.
How Tabbed Inboxes Work
The new Gmail inbox automatically sorts users’ emails into tabs. “Primary” is for real, general correspondence (i.e. that email with your mom, a confirmation of a plane ticket purchase, etc.) The “Promotions” tab houses those marketing emails announcing a secret Nine West sale or 25% off sitewide at Petco. Finally, the “Social” tab contains all of those social media messages Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram (and on and on) send.
Users, of course, have control over whether or not certain emails continue to end up in the non-primary tabs. They can designate a sender’s emails to always send to their primary inbox. So, retailer made a plea: if you’re a Gmail user, be sure to add us to your primary inbox so you don’t miss any updates!
The Honest Company sent out this email, as did many other retailers, like Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters said they haven’t noticed a decrease in email opens. Neither has Constant Contact, who said that their clients haven’t seen a noticeable change in open rates. While there was a very small change in open rates when tabbed inboxes launched, it wasn’t very noticeable. “But what has changes is a delay in opening – now we’re adding about 24 hours,” said Ron Cates, director of new market development at Constant Contact.
The Upside of Tabbed Inboxes
Of course, tabbed inboxes were generally greeted warmly by consumers. But, it turns out that tabbed inboxes might actually be positive for marketers, too. Cates notes that having tabbed inboxes where marketing emails go into promotions actually makes the emails more relevant and targeted. When people make the conscious choice to go into the promotions tab, they’re ready and in the mood to view content from marketers. It could mean higher click-throughs and purchases.
A Return Path study backs up Cates’ assumption. The study showed that fewer marketing emails were marked as spam when they were delivered to the promotions tab. 93% of emails sent to the promotions tab delivered successfully compared to a 77% delivery rate for the marketing emails to the primary tab.
Of course, the tabbed inboxes do present a challenge, but one that is in no way insurmountable. Marketers will need to keep getting better at targeting email offers and optimizing for mobile. For example, The Honest Company has started mining consumer browsing behavior to create their email content. That way, someone that doesn’t have a baby or shop for baby things won’t receive email promotions for baby products. Seems pretty straightforward, but it’s a difficult shift to make.
Optimizing for mobile is obviously important as more and more people sift through their emails on their smartphones. Many marketers still aren’t hitting the mobile email mark, using too much content or overly image heavy.
The bottom line? Email marketing is far from dead. It’s just needs to evolve, like every other medium of marketing.