Gmail’s Redesign & Your Advocacy Effort

UPDATED 8/26 | So the question is, if we were looking at Gmail’s redesign with a literary eye, would an appropriate title for this article be “Much Ado About Nothing” or “That’s It, Email’s Dead.”

From a few folks in the know, see AdAge, Entrepreneur Magazine and Mailchimp as examples, as of now, we’re looking at the former. Early returns suggested that open and click-thru rates had dropped, but in the weeks following, some email marketing firms and companies are declaring their stats almost unchanged following Google’s overhaul of the widely adopted email platform. That said, that doesn’t mean that some marketers haven’t been creative in finding a way to put their message front and center in your Gmail inbox.

Quick Background
Last month, Gmail overhauled the layout of users’ inboxes. With usability as the goal, Gmail split out the inbox to three separate tabs, Primary, Social and Promotional. The idea was to remove the (perceived) clutter of emails from the inbox, splitting out messages into these three separate groups. Messages from friends, colleagues, etc. would arrive in the primary tab, those from Facebook, Twitter and others in the Social tab, while marketing emails from stores, airlines and others would fall into the Promotions tab. See below for the official video release from Google:

Immediately, marketers were worried. No longer would their messages show up in the user’s one and only inbox. Instead, users would now need to actively click to another tab to view all offers, whether they be reduced airfare, clothing sales or the latest advocacy alert message.

The Reality
As I mentioned previously, according to marketers and providers, open and response rates have shown little to no change. AdAge’s article quotes the director of marketing of Jiffy Lube, Jeffrey Lack as saying “We’ve found there’s been really no impact in our business overall. In fact since the redesign launched, we’ve seen no change in [email] open rates, and response rates have stayed almost exactly the same.”

“In fact since the redesign launched, we’ve seen no change in [email] open rates, and response rates have stayed almost exactly the same.”
Jeffrey Lack
Director of Marketing of Jiffy Lube

In fact, AdAge goes further, showing that the numbers from engaged, intermediate and apathetic users show an almost funnel-like effect.

Open and response rates of engaged users appear unchanged if not improved, while those of apathetic users have dropped considerably. In the end, quality trumps quantity, but in the advocacy world, where it’s not so much a new product but an ongoing effort, those extra eyes could mean unsent letters and unshared stories in support of your goal.

The Response
Marketers have started to get savvy. Even though the numbers have shown little to no change in opens and click-thrus, that hasn’t prevented companies from trying to find a way back into your primary tab. Imagine if you convinced users to put your organization’s messages back into their primary inbox. Your advocacy effort might be the only marketer to have a users’ immediate attention when they log in. That’s power. And while it may be fleeting as others may employ similar tactics, you’d still have better positioning than most.

This past weekend, Piperlime sent a note out to their subscribers to have them make the move:

A quick drag and drop into the primary tab and now Piperlime’s message might be the only marketing message in your main inbox. As we all know, the power of suggestion is, well, powerful and might be enough to get your message in front of that many more eyes.

At this point in time, it appears that the change has done little to the world of email marketing. Those that are looking for deals and marketing opportunities will find them, those that weren’t, well, for the most part, they weren’t going to be clicking on your email anyway. Overall though, I think it’s still too early to tell the lasting impact. Right now the tabs are still a novelty, 6 months from now when folks get used to them, I think then we may see the drop-off most were expecting.

That said, the good news out of all of this is that there’s nothing to say that your organization’s advocacy alert email couldn’t be effective with a similar tactic to the one employed by Piperlime (above). Why not ask your users to move your email to their primary tab. It may pay dividends down the road.

Note: Full disclosure, I made up “That’s It, Email’s Dead.” Although it does sound kind of catchy and I’m sure someone’s written an article on the topic somewhere.

UPDATED 8/26: Today, Politico took a look at the issue with regards to politically oriented emails. They too call it too early to tell. As Hadas Gold writes in Keeping ‘tabs’ on campaign emails, “The numbers vary so far on how the new tabs are affecting open rates. Some firms said they haven’t seen any change, while others are reporting up to a 15 percent decrease. All said more data is needed.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/gmail-tabs-campaign-emails-95892.html