What the new Gmail Tabs Mean to Marketers

Google made a quiet change last week for everyone using Gmail.  I don’t remember hearing an announcement, but I did see a pop up window the other day when I logged into my Gmail account.

The change is very simple and does a great job of cleaning up the Gmail inbox, but the results could be devastating to businesses that rely on email marketing for their livelihood.

Google introduced tabs into Gmail and they automatically move emails to the tabs as they arrive.
Gmail Tabs
The default tabs in every Gmail account are:

  • Primary
  • Social
  • Promotions

The emails that Google believes to be sent from individuals are delivered to the primary email tab, which is what you see when you log in to use Gmail.

Notices from Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Google alerts and other similar services are delivered to the Social tab.

Newsletters, deals, promotions, and other bulk commercial emails are delivered to the promotions tab.

The impact on businesses relying on email to drive sales is that subscribers using Gmail will now have much lower likelihood of seeing your bulk promotional emails because they will likely be delivered to the Promotions Tab.  When your subscribers do see your emails, it will be through the lens classifying them as promotions.

You can instruct customers to white label your emails so that they arrive in the main email tab, but don’t get your hopes up.  Personally, I find the tabs very helpful in organizing my wildly out of control inbox.

So what should a marketer do?

Recognize that when you don’t control end to end distribution of your message, you could find yourself out of business.  My friends in the email marketing business tell me that upwards of 35% of their subscribers have Gmail addresses.  This doesn’t even count the number of people that have a personal domain name such as YOU@YOURNAME.COM that are delivered and read within Gmail.  I read my personal email through my Gmail box.

Diversify your communication channels with your customers.  Email, Text Marketing, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Yellow Pages, newspaper, and direct mail all work in conjunction.  Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately, having a choice keeps you from being completely at risk when you’re focused on only one channel.

Collect every possible channel with your customers.  Ask customers for their physical address, email, text opt in, and social media connections.  It helps to understand which traditional media channels such as newspapers, radio, outdoor, flyers, etc. will be most helpful reaching your audience.

For a good tutorial on communicating the Gmail changes to your customers, see this post at Social Media Examiner.

This change doesn’t mark the end of email, but it does make it more difficult to reliably and inexpensively reach your customers.

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