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How Gmail inbox change affects email marketers

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Google earlier this summer rolled out a new, tabbed look for its Gmail inbox. Now, emails are separated into three buckets: Primary, Social and Promotions, with promotions taking the far right position on the page. Given the fact that there are more than 5 million businesses using Google Apps for Business—and using Gmail for their business email platform, according to the company—it's a change that's relevant even to b-to-b marketers. Several organizations and vendors have done preliminary research on how the new view is affecting marketers. For example, email service provider MailChimp found that open rates for promotional email dropped to a little more than 12% from an open rate of 13% after the new tabbed view was implemented. Shar VanBoskirk, VP-principal analyst with Forrester Research, said she could see how it could affect open rates. "My gut here is that this certainly gives users a way to overtly, or inadvertently, screen out email messages that were previously going front and center into their inbox," she said. "So for any marketer, b-to-b or otherwise, the challenge of being relevant is more critical than it ever was. And unfortunately, most b-to-b emailers are still behind b-to-c ones when it comes to creating usercentric messages." Some b-to-c vendors, including clothing retailer Gap Inc., are trying to circumvent the Promotions tab by asking their list recipients to move them into the Primary tab. Gap on Aug. 6 sent out an email with the subject line: "Gmail users: Never miss an offer from Gap!" The email detailed using words and graphics exactly how recipients could drag the company's emails into the Primary folder and ensure all future messages would go directly into that tab. Other vendors are asking their recipients to go into their Gmail settings and manually revert their view back into one that is similar to the old, single-tabbed interface, said Oliver Deng, co-founder of Salesify and TechLeads Online, a professional b-to-b sales and marketing company. It's not a strategy he thinks will work, though. "I can't see a lot of people actually doing that because it does require people to go into their Gmail settings," he said. Sending out an email similar to the one that Gap did may work for some companies, but even that strategy won't work unless marketers are delivering what the prospect or customer really wants, VanBoskirk said. "I always tell marketers who feel like they don't know what users will find valuable enough to open an email—or in this case, file into a "favorites" folder, or pass through Google's filter of preferred messages—to just ask," she said. "Most end users will happily tell a sender what kinds of communications they would rather get."
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