New Gmail interface – What does it mean?

When it comes to change, people are generally cautious. This makes sense – after all, if something isn’t broke, why fix it? While that may be the mentality of humans, it is not the mentality of digital technologies; just the opposite in fact. So it should come as no surprise that Gmail has shaken things up with their new graphical user interface (GUI).

Despite the fact that everyone knew it was coming, it has still managed to ruffle a few feathers – not least in the marketing community.

So what are these big changes and what do they mean for marketers?

It is difficult to remember a time before tabbed web browsing as it is such an intuitive process. These days, the ‘Ctrl+t’ command to open a new tab is now as widely known as the copy and paste shortcuts.

Google has attempted to apply the same concept to its email platform although its function is slightly different. The new tabs act as a filtering system, which groups emails into categories. While at first glance, this might seem like an over-glorified folders system, similar to the rules that would be found in Outlook, Google’s concept is much more innovative than the archaic sorting rules of yesteryear. Gmail does it by itself.

Gmail automatically detects the type of email and organises it into one of four tabs: Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates. These tabs can be updated and new categories can be added, although ‘Primary’ is mandatory. What is even more impressive is that Gmail learns so by dragging emails to their relevant tab, Google updates its algorithms. Suffice to say, the system works quite well and by-and-large, will probably be a successful concept.

What does this mean for email marketing professionals?

From a marketer’s perspective these tabs present something of a fresh challenge. While there will undoubtedly be some who say that this is part of Google’s ongoing war with email marketing (there are some even calling for boycotts on the use of AdWords), the truth is that the tabbed inbox is simply the next iteration of priority mail.

The underlying reason why Google is the behemoth that it is, is that its search engine and consequent products are the very best at providing the most relevant content in the quickest and most effective way possible. This update is simply another step in that process. Rather than declaring ‘time at the bar’, marketers simply need to focus in on what has been Google’s mantra for many years now – ‘give the people what they want’ – relevant, well-written, informative and useful content.

Google is not at war with marketers, on the contrary, marketers and advertisers are the blood that feeds Google’s bottom line.

Cloud = Grey | Lining = Silver

Every cloud had a silver lining and while most marketers may be calling the GUI update a distinctly dark cloud, the silver lining is that for above board marketers who pay attention to detail, their brand may be rewarded.

There are reports from Gmail users that the Promotions tab not only displays the number of new emails, but it also displays the name of brands. For marketers who use consistent brand strategy, they may find themselves front and centre in the user’s inbox.

Email marketing tips: Send a plain text follow up

Marketers are reporting that plain text emails make it directly to the primary inbox, presumably because Google’s algorithms are unable to use the content to distinguish what tab the email belongs to.

If marketers notice a distinct drop in open rates following the GUI update, they might want to consider sending a follow up email in plain text, advising the reader to check their Promotions tab. Be warned that this may be an unwelcome intrusion and as such, should be treated with care.

The sky is not falling

The evolutionary nature of online technologies is fairly straightforward, one party updates and the other responds, ensuring they remain compatible – cause and effect. It is how it has always worked and how it will continue to work.

Do not fear, the end of the world is not nigh – marketers simply need to regroup, experiment and find out what works best with Gmail’s new interface.