Thursday, May 29, 2014

gmail really isn't the enemy here

by kirk r gray

if you're like me, you've been following the blogs for the past year, and seen news on the latest way that google is going to put us out of business. you'll also have seen that a lot of email marketers (including myself) could be accused of being the "chicken little" of our industry...sounding the alarm every time gmail makes a change. but part of me thinks that we've been too hasty in making those posts. here is why i am changing my tune on gmail's changes, and how it's actually benefiting email marketers.


let me start by saying this, google is the powerhouse of the world. they control the internet, and on top of that empire they have made inroads to places we never saw a search engine going - phones, thermostats, computer operating systems, wearable technology...you can't really think of an industry where they don't have a presence. the changes that they have made ironically have had us turn to the internet to google about the changes - to see if the latest round of gmail changes are in fact one of the four horsemen.

i was just as guilty as everyone else, but now i see the changes that google is making are actually beneficial to both me as a marketer and me as a gmail user.

change 1: tabbed inboxes
there is no doubt that the toll that tabbed inboxes has taken on email marketing has been immense, all of the major blogs and esp's have reported both significant and insignificant drops in overall open rates because of the gmail tabbed inbox design. those drops are more noticeable in certain industries, but in my opinion, here are the positive impacts that the promotions tab has had on emailers:
  • engagement - we now have to be more human to our subscribers, after all that is one of the major advatagess of email; unlike static ads, email empowers us to talk with customers - not at them. google is making us comeback to this foundation, and making us provide content that the reader wants. no one likes having their commnications hit the promotions tab, but by using a gmail specific call out in your emails, that tells your reader to move it to their primary tab, and only displaying that for gmail subscribers, shows the reader how that you want them to see these communications, and if they move your email it theoretically shows gmail that this user is engaged with your emails.
  • virtual shopping plaza - the gmail promo tab is now the virtual mall, delivered right to my inbox. sure the days of 24-hour flash sales and time driven promotions are dwindling, but the profits we rely on don't have to. think about this:
    • if you're a retail marketer, make your flash sale longer, maybe 3 or 4 days
    • you're still sending the same amount of email - no increase in costs there. but more people will look at the email over those days instead of just those hours
    • the extra time for the sale has the possibility of more revenue, from a larger pool of site traffic...more people will see the sale making the possibility of revenue gains a reality.
    • if you use cookies on your site, you could even employ a light box for non-subscribers to sign up during those sales to get advanced notice of sales.
the promotions tab is without a doubt the marketers' enemy, but it doesn't have to be, we just have to smarter when it comes to marketing now - work smarter not harder.

change 2: caching of images
this one did catch us all off guard. no one saw this coming. we were all worried about how gmail would deal with our open pixels. this seems to have worked itself out and hasn't had an impact on our open rates. but it does do a couple of things for us, that is good:
  • gmail caching images provides a consistent delivery of images
  • faster delivery of those images on mobile devices
  • images on by default - what more do i need to say? images convey more than words, they are engaging, and they help provide illustration to complex ideas. what is the impact of that? more engagement with our readers
change 3: global unsub
a bit more controversial, but in all honesty actually good for us. engagement scores are based off people actually interacting with your emails. it is a much better to have people unsubscribe from your emails then to leave them sit in the inbox unopened or deleted. unopened deleted emails tell the isp's that the subscriber isn't interested in actually even looking at the email. gmail's power comes from the fact that people trust it for it's abilities to accurately (most of the time) triage spam from regular emails, because of this gmail users have faith that if they hit the global unsub provided by gmail, that they will actually be removed from the lists. while you may see an uptick in unsubs from your lists. once that calms down, the emails that you are sending will actually go to the people who want them, increasing your engagement scores.
change 4: grid layout on the promotions tab
while this is still in beta, a lot of marketers have jumped on board with this. we are now coding emails with schemas that display a main image and (verified accounts) google+ logos.

this beta program, above all the other changes are why i am changing my mind about google and gmail. it makes us deliver a cohesive brand experience that is more human and better targeted to our audiences. this will become the norm, and marketing professionals will eventually begin to see gmail as a partner and not as the enemy.

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