Sunday, October 20, 2013

gmail just subdivided the creative real estate - and no one noticed it

earlier this year gmail introduced tabs. just like a few years ago, the blogs, consultants and marketers were all up in arms that it was going to ruin our industry just like the gmail priority inbox was going too...guess what it hasn't. but what hasn't set the world on edge are the silent changes that gmail recently made to its mobile app.

what? gmail made changes and didn't announce them? yes and no...gmail made changes, and blogs like gizmodo and other tech-based blogs picked up the story, just not our industry blogs. why? because we didn't see these changes as killer enhancements to the inbox. while they aren't killers, they could impact the way we as marketers format our communications centered towards the mobile first mindset.

it's been drilled into us to think mobile first. exacttarget reported at connections this year that 76% of emails are first opened in a mobile environment. if you're program is like mine, you probably have a majority of gmail users on your list - in my case it's 35%+ of any given list. not a majority but it is the bulk of users. so as marketers we have to address the "special needs" of gmail.

so what's the change? in what is probably a scale of efficiencies movement, gmail's mobile app now uses the "card" design. what does this mean for marketers? simply put the initial view of your email is now shifted down the "back forty (think real estate here). at the top of the screen, the subject line is more pronounced; then a divider; then the from address, most-likely with a sender-image and condensed header information; followed by a show images statement - with an icon; and then your message. gmail has redesigned the anatomy of an email - and no one saw this evolution happening. now i'm not claiming that i'm the darwin of the email world, but these changes are substantial. 

in the years that i've been doing email marketing we've gone from emails that are 750px wide, to 640, to most recently being told that we're best designing in the 580 - 600 range. these design recommendations not only lengthen your emails, but they are forcing us to condense messages, and to move the call-to-action out of order for the all important click, or it is being moved down lower and below the fold, which can result in no action at all.

now google throws this curveball at us, and because of this "card design" our communications are being moved even further down the screen. no one is talking about how gmail has subdivided the real estate... worse yet, in my talking with other marketing professionals, we are staying current on trends but we aren't staying ahead of them. we're aware of the big level changes, but not the little ones or even the tech behind the physical technology. as an example, recently my buddy ken magill wasn't even aware of other non-standard email clients on mobile devices. presumably, like a lot of other marketers, he thought people used the stock apps for email on their mobile devices and then the client of choice for their desktops -- and that maybe the case for the first few weeks of ownership, but they discover the gmail app, they discover sparrow, or any of the apps listed in the app-stores. all of which provide challenges for mobile-first thinking.

we can't design for all of them, but we can be aware of them. my suggestion is this, don't just read the blogs we know and love for marketing trends, but read tech blogs and develop your inner geek to learn about the changing world of tech and how it influences our communications.

in conclusion, it is probably not the big changes that gmail announces that we need to worry about, but the little ones. think about how they impact the layout and the way we craft our messages, and we can attain success and a better customer-first-mobilized-experience.

*perhaps later today i'll build out a "gray's anatomy of email" and post that we we can all think about how to deal with the rapidly changing mobile-first world.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

email test sends - gmail quirks

recently, we've been doing a lot of new creative testing, which of course means laying out the email, testing it, changing it, testing it, rinse and repeat... but from all this testing, I noticed a gmail quirk.

we test emails by sending them ourselves, at work addresses (outlook) and then to other addresses, so we can view on desktop, phones and tablets. and with display issues and rewrites, we tend to test a lot, it seems like no one can code an email the first time...it's a common problem with all of the different platforms we have to perform on.

but with all of that testing, I stumbled onto a few quirks with gmail.

the first is caused by the way gmail strings together the conversation, what I have found is for lack of better understanding, gmail caches the message. the actual content may change, but any images that I changed out or optimized in later messages continued to display the original image. i admit when we are that close to deployment, i don't change the file names of the images, so google just caches them instead of pinging the server again. to remedy this, i now delete any previous messages before I send a test message again. this "trick" took me a while to figure out, i thought I was going crazy and that my image server was broken and that I was uploading the wrong code to the esp.

the second quirk is with gmail tabs. the first few tests went to the inbox/primary tab every time. at about test 10 (I'm not kidding - the above mentioned quirk was killing me!) the messages started going to the promotions tab. nothing changed - not the from address, not the subject line, nothing except some images that we were optimizing. nothing we can really do about this, but it was interesting to see  in action that gmail started to actively "promo" these communications because I hit some untold threshold...sadly, there is no conclusive data that the real send entered the promo tab instead of the inbox, or if my multiple tests had an impact on their placement.

so remember, if you have multiple test sends, and your looking for changes and not seeing them,delete them all - including emptying your trash - and that you're not going crazy...and when you can't find your tests after multiple sends, check the promotions tab.