Google Tabs happened, now marketers must step up their game

Marketing is always most effective when it is delivered with something else of value. If you open your postal mailbox and its nothing but ads, you tend to throw the whole bunch away. But, if one offer comes along with other interesting pieces of mail or if it includes something valuable like a gift card or a coupon, you tend to give it more attention.

The same goes for email. One marketing message that sits alongside emails from friends and family is much more likely to be looked it or at least considered. That’s why Google’s new Gmail layout, with the addition of Gmail Tabs, is causing such a stir within the marketing industry. It limits the opportunity for marketers to deliver their messages alongside other valued messages.

Even if a customer has signed up to get messages from their favorite brands, they are still getting funneled by Gmail Tabs into the new Promotions tab, unless the user moves them into their Primary tab. This new paradigm requires marketers to think and act differently.

In case you haven’t yet changed over to Gmail Tabs as a subscriber, it essentially involves Google assigning categories to your mail and putting it into pre-labeled folders or tabs. These tabs include Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. Users can choose to show all or just some of these Tabs, but they cannot personalize them. In the past few short months, marketers are already struggling with the sea change that Gmail Tabs brings to their efforts to reach consumers.

On the flip side, Google has said that Gmail Tabs will allow users to take back control of their inbox and bolster user productivity within Gmail. Though Google’s rationale may or may not be in line with consumers’ wishes, and users still have the option to not use Tabs, Google has inevitably changed the game for marketers trying to reach the roughly 425 million Gmail users.

So what does this mean for companies? Do consumers feel like they are missing out on promotions that would have otherwise been seen in the old Gmail inbox?

A survey of the new Gmail Tabs layout by my company gave some surprising insights. We asked nearly 5,000 consumers their attitudes toward the switch to Gmail Tabs inbox view. About 40 percent of respondents say they now spend less time with promotional messages from their favorite brand, while only 7 percent of users say they spend more time with promotions. This large percentage of respondents revealing they don’t spend as much time with their favorite brands shows that marketers must up their game.

Google’s decision to go to the Gmail Tabs format has been more warmly welcomed by young millennials, who find Gmail Tabs useful and are changing their behavior accordingly. Fifty percent of 18-24 year olds find that Gmail Tabs make it easier to manage their inboxes and 100 percent say they have not lost any emails from their favorite brands.

However, marketers should note that over 38 percent do say that they have less interaction with promotional emails than with the old Gmail platform. The survey also found that while 34 percent of Gmail users check their promotional tab once a day or more, 15 percent check less than once a day and a startling 46 percent check less than once a week. The remaining 5 percent check it infrequently or never.

Gmail Tabs has created two challenges for marketers. The first is that eye-catching subject lines won’t be the main influencer for consumers anymore, unless the consumer is looking in the Promotions Tab. Secondly, timing is now up in the air, at least for a significant percentage of folks on Gmail. Almost half of consumers may not see the message until a week later.

So now, marketers have two main goals: not only to get their consumer to seek out their email in the Promotions Tab, but to go beyond the inbox and reach the consumer at every relevant touch point.

When 61 percent of Gmail users check their promotional tab less than once a day, email just can’t be the only way we connect with consumers. To continue to get coveted results from email, you must weave email into a broader strategy involving many different channels. Marketers can educate customers on how to direct messages from their favorite brands to the Primary Tab. Making a message stand out in the inbox is also more critical than ever with strategies like personalizing subject lines and using attention-grabbing language. Given that messages may not be read right away, marketers should consider using real-time dynamic content so that it’s fresh at the moment it’s read rather the moment it’s sent.

But, perhaps, most marketers need to earn their spot in the Primary Tab. They must be important and relevant so that customers want to read their messages. Gmail Tabs is just one of many hurdles marketers will face as consumers become more sophisticated and demanding in the way they like their marketing. It is better for marketers to step up their game now.

Katrina Conn is VP of Marketing Services at StrongView.