Gmail promo(shuns) from the primary tab

Oh how I miss the days of one Gmail inbox, where my daily deals, emails from my mother, electricity bill, and LinkedIn updates all come together in one gigantic, magical dance of unread crap (sorry, mom).

After Gmail recently defaulted our inboxes to primary, social, and promotion filters, I must admit I was initially skeptical, but quickly fell in love. I no longer have to spend 15 minutes of my day sifting through crap to read, well, more important crap, honestly.

However, as an online marketing consultant I have seen the unintended (or perhaps intended – don’t be evil, right?) consequences of this change: dramatic drops in open rates and increases in unsubscribes. Here is a sample of declines in Gmail open rates since the changes from one email campaign I observed:


That’s basically a 32% drop in the open rate (most clients are seeing -18% on average). So, let’s assume people like the new layout and won’t switch back to the original. Most promotion tabs now look like this:

Legit email that needs to be placed in Primary

Or, as my inbox reads,

Banana Republic 40% off coupon (still a rip off)
Living social
Living social
Living social
Equinox (had to get that free towel and chance to win a year membership that one day)
Living Social
Waste Management (?)
Amazon Local

I guess this is my fault. I have Living Social deals set for my area, and the surrounding cities. But it begs the question, how many boudoir photo shoot offers do I really need? Oh wait, it actually begs the question: how will we as marketers adapt?

The first thing that happened was every single brand on the planet sent an email like this one:

Man I wish I knew how effective this was – I think the model and her monocolored outfit really helped.

But since we aren’t reading their emails anyway, what is more important is how we master the art of the subject line. Yes, that once annoyingly required field has become more important than any sexy model pose.

The current trend seems to be more of the same: time sensitive emails.



But well behaved women rarely make history, right?

Think about what your brand can do to stand out. What if you changed your “from” to something like “Your Brand Sale Alert” (i.e. Nordstrom Sale Alert instead of Nordstrom) or your subject line to something honest like “Yep, this is a promotion, and you’re gonna love it”).

Now, don’t panic too much. Over 66% of Gmail opens occur on mobile devices, which are immune from the tabs, with 19% occurring in a web browser – that’s right, only 19% of Gmail users open their email on the site. Plus, you can filter on ESP in programs like ExactTarget and Responsys to target only Gmail subscribers. That being said, these drops in open rates are not just due to the lazy days of summer.

Another option may be to simply try to get out of the promotions tab yourself. Make your brand valuable to your customers and provide targeted content. Ultimately, be less ‘spammy’. People may naturally move your emails to their primary inbox as a result.

Bottom line: test, test, and retest. And offer good deals.

Posted under Copywriting, Email Marketing, Persuasion by Greg Sobiech on 11th September, 2013

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