How Does Gmail’s New Promotions Inbox Change Email?

Google is slowing rolling out the new Promotions inbox to those who have requested it; I still haven’t heard of anyone getting the new inbox who did not request it. In case you haven’t seen it, this is what mine looks like.

Gmail Promotions Inbox
My Gmail Promotions Inbox

This is an interesting and drastic change to what we know as email. And I believe it changes the game (again) for email marketers. One stat you need to track: what percentage of my email file uses Gmail. At this point, Gmail is the only email service even attempting to be innovative. And their innovations tend to roll email marketers.

The promotions box that came out last year limited your access to customers. It essentially quarantined promos to a separate box that only gets looked at when customers are shopping. And no one (believe me: *no one*) moved your corporate promotional email to their main inbox no matter how many times you sent that email asking. But I actually think this change is bigger for email marketing.

At the surface you can clearly see that images win again. It becomes much more important to have a captivating key image in your email than to have a good subject line. Subject lines are relegated to the small type at the bottom. And that’s literally the last thing you look at. But it’s more than that. I think there are few key changes here.

First, font sizes have to go up. Way up. One main idea, expressed clearly and quickly to capture attention. Design matters. Note the Scoutmob example here – extremely well done. If you pack a paragraph of copy into your main email image, it will be unreadable.

Second, your Google+ account has to be verified. In this example only American Airlines and Scoutmob have verified their Google+ accounts. That’s why they have a nice logo in the box on the right, rather than a weird grey letter.

Third, those with compelling imagery win. This is a small section of a big inbox. Your image has to capture attention quick and hold it long enough for your key copy idea to get through. Your main image also has to be one solid image, not broken into a hundred slices.

Fourth, metrics have to change. Open rates have been used since the start of spam to measure subject line efficacy. Clearly now this is wrong. Open rates are now determined by the key idea of the email; essentially we used to use click-through rates to tell us if the content works. Now opens and clicks are judgments on the key idea and creative execution of the main image. Your brand name is larger than your subject line.

Note that several of the key spaces are blank in my inbox. Technically you need to define the main image of your email using this spec. If you don’t, Google attempts to guess at which image is the most important. As you can see, they suck at this. It takes very little time to define it; go do that now. Verify your Google+ account now as well.

Finally, if you aren’t doing photography specifically for email, I think it’s time to start testing. The new email is all about images, so the quality of your images is likely to determine open and click-through rates.  And this will help all your emails, not just Gmail accounts.

This is a way for Google to monetize the promotions page within email. Now the promos are almost unrecognizable in your inbox. Definitely a win for the big G. And maybe an opportunity in terms of marketing to current non-subscribers. Time to test; the new ad is much, much better than the old yellow faux email ad they used to serve up.

Anything I’m missing?


** Side note: Animated gifs don’t work. Really too bad from a marketing perspective ….