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How do Gmail changes impact brands?

Data and views from the Consumer Insights & Targeting team at Experian Marketing Services

James Murray, Experian

*This is a guest post by James Murray, Digital Insights Manager at Experian Marketing Services*

Earlier this year, Google released some important changes in their Gmail platform that strongly influence how Gmail users now interact with incoming emails. As Gmail is one of the top email services used globally, with over 425 million active users as of June 2012, these changes have important implications for brands.

Some of the new features include:

• Organisational Tabs. Users are now given 3 main tabs: Primary, Social and Promotions. Each tab now auto-filters your mail based on whether it comes from an individual user, a social site such as Google+, LinkedIn or Pinterest, or Promotions which is likely to house campaign emails from brands. The user does have the option to create more tabs or turn this feature off completely.

What does this mean for brands?

First and foremost, we need to assess how customers will begin using these tabs. Though messages are now filtered, there is a bright new call out for new messages, even in the promotions tab. This could in turn help brands, though it is still important to make sure you’re standing out in the inbox by optimising subject lines and pre-header text. Though past adoption of new features hasn't vastly changed much, as we continue to see this feature rolled out usage and metrics will need to be monitored across the board to see how this impacts engagement levels.

In the meantime, besides paying close attention to subject lines, marketers need to be sure that their “From” name clearly identifies their brand as the sender. Each tab lists new senders by name until the tab is opened, so a clear sender name is important.

To help with the transition, brands could consider sending an email explaining this change in Gmail organisation, providing direction on how customers can ‘star’ their messages and move them to the Main tab in order to view them more urgently. Additionally, they should be aware that time sensitive offers may need to be redeveloped, as tab adopters might set aside specific times of the day to read, making flash sales less relevant.

This may also be a good time to beef up those “Facebook Like” and other social campaigns. Find your users on Facebook where you can amplify your messages in their feeds, and get them on Twitter, Pinterest or in your SMS campaigns if you are concerned about them missing your offers on Gmail.

• Quick Actions. This feature creates a call-to-action button that can be clicked directly from the subject line of the email, without the user needing to open the email at all. Common uses for this tool include RSVP-ing to events, tracking orders, reviewing past service, and redeeming offers. These actions can be developed by the sender, or, in cases where the Gmail parsers understand the content, are created automatically.

What does this mean for brands?

To make use of this feature, senders need to register with Google directly. To be eligible, emails must be authenticated via DKIM or SPF, come from a static email address and follow general email guidelines. Google has asked that these be used in transaction and not promotional emails at this time.

Some positives:

This feature helps email marketers bypass some of the traditional steps in the conversion process by skipping the open and going right to the call to action (CTA). Gmail will see these clicks as a form of engagement, which we know helps your messages get in to the inbox. The better the levels of engagement, the better the inbox placement.

Some negatives:

Because users are not clicking to read the content of the email, the open and click will not register as an open or click in some email systems. However, you can code this link so that you can view referral traffic via your analytics provider. You may see an increase in traffic based on adding this type of “quick action” button.

It’s interesting that Google is rolling out features like the quick action button to help brands and customers alike. As with any new email technique or tool, brands should employ a rigorous testing procedure for this feature to assess whether it resonates with your user base.

Remember, Gmail is making changes to help the end user and as brands, we should be doing the same. That might mean specifically speaking to Gmail users differently, using different tools or giving the end user more ways or chances to interact with your brand - as long as the consumer asks for it. We’ll be keeping a close eye on Gmail engagement and transaction rates and will be reporting back as soon as there is impactful data to discuss.

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