How email marketers can best address tabbed inboxes

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When Gmail introduced multiple tabs for user inboxes, email marketers shared their anxieties about how the change would effect their marketing campaigns. Would recipients fail to see promotional emails because the messages would not arrive in their main boxes? Would online conversions decline now that consumers had the option to avoid emails from brands altogether? While these concerns are indeed legitimate, marketers should not toss their business email lists quite yet. Consumers are still looking for promotional emails and there are ways to keep campaigns from fizzling out. Here is what email marketers need to know about the tabbed inbox and how best to handle it.

How recipients responded initially
There is no doubt that tabbed inboxes have changed the way that consumers find and open promotional emails from businesses. Just as email marketers feared, fewer and fewer of their messages made it to primary inboxes after Google implemented the tabbed system with a dedicated ‘promotions’ box, according to a study from Return Path. Of the commercial messages tracked in the report, 90 percent went directly to the promotions box while only 0.3 percent found their way into the Primary tab. Nine percent of these emails landed in the social inbox and the remaining 0.7 percent were delivered to other, customized tabs.

Gmail was undoubtedly successful in its efforts to channel commercial emails into tabs other than the primary inbox, but what did this mean for marketing efforts? At first, strategists actively resisted the change with “move-me” campaigns encouraging consumers to move their promotional messages back to the Primary tab. Return Path noted that these efforts were largely ignored, failing to make an impact on Google and quickly forgotten. Of the 65,507 emails sent with the purpose of being sent to the Primary inbox, only 61 actually made it there. At less than 0.1 percent, it was clear that consumers had made the choice to accept this change – marketers would simply have to adjust accordingly.

Where does this leave marketers?
While the primary inbox was effectively rendered a no-fly zone for commercial messages, this shift actually benefited email marketing campaigns in a way that many strategists did not expect. Return Path explained that consumers are now clicking on their promotions tab with the sole intention of looking for offers from their favorite brands. This kind of deliberate search puts recipients in a more receptive position in which they are actively seeking the benefits of marketing campaigns rather than trying to avoid them in their normal inboxes. In addition, the rate of This is Spam (TIS) reports dropped significantly in the Promotions tab as only 0.12 percent of those emails resulted in a complaint. Primary inbox messages saw TIS reports at a rate of 0.26 percent while the Social tab had the most with 0.87 percent.

Spam filters were also less discerning when it came to the Promotional inbox, according to Return Path. An impressive 93 percent of commercial messages managed to avoid the spam folder on their way to recipients while only 77 percent of messages headed for the Primary inbox made it to their destinations. This means that email marketers are actually more likely to reach their intended audiences with the help of the Promotional inbox as it allows more emails to make it through unscathed. Of course, campaigns will meet more competition when they arrive, which is why Business Day reminded strategists to keep messages engaging, interesting and relevant to user preferences. Social media should also play a major role in beefing up email marketing lists.

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On November 29, 2019

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