Google introduced Priority Inbox this week, a new feature designed to solve the problem of overloaded inboxes by prioritising the most important and relevant messages.
This new option, currently in beta, splits the user's inbox into three sections, with the 'important and unread' section at the top. Various signals, including who is emailed most frequently, and which emails users tend to open.
This new feature will present new challenges for email marketers as they seek to ensure that their emails get the attention of Gmail users. I've been asking some email marketing experts about the implications of this new feature...
How will Priority Inbox affect brands and email marketers?
Philip Storey, eCircle:
I think it further enforces the need for brands to engage their prospects and customers by conversing with them, rather than just mass marketing at them, because users are now even more empowered to disregard emails from companies.
Email marketers shouldn't see this as a negative. If anything, it should help them to build more constructive business cases for creating CRM programmes through email, and protect them a little more from a potentially bullish CEO that demands you mail an entire database a generic message. This is definitely a positive move for email.
Margaret Farmakis, Return Path:
What does this mean for email marketers? First, getting email delivered to the inbox is still a top priority. After all, users can't create filters or mark messages they can't see. Getting blocked or bulked at Gmail will have long-term implications for how future mail will get delivered.
Second, marketers must stand out in the inbox and provide relevancy and value for their Gmail subscribers. Marketers will need to focus on optimizing their messaging to drive subscribers to read and reply to messages; activities that will positively impact how they are filtered in the future.
Marc Munier, Pure360:
Essentially it is a bar raiser as opposed to a game changer, if you are delivering engaging email marketing campaigns which elicit decent opens and clicks you're probably not going to see a significant change.
The priority inbox will make it particularly hard to reactivate lapsed Gmail subscribers, once they disengage you're essentially out of the picture.
This makes it even more important to start off your relationship with your subscribers on the right foot, sending welcome emails is the first and most effective strategy brands should employ to maintain engagement and so maintain their position in the priority inbox.
Elliot Ross, e-Dialog:
Preparing for Gmail’s priority inbox is actually an exercise in being a better email marketer. Smarter inboxes like this are becoming more common, and most of the major webmail players have made noises about this recently, so it’s something that’s not going away.
Granted, it does raise the bar in terms of relevance and optimisation, but the only real losers here are ‘batch and blast’ marketers sending one message to everyone they can find in the hope that it’ll convert someone – and getting those guys out of the picture is good for everyone, right?
How can brands ensure that their emails are seen in this priority folder?
A sly way to get prioritised could be an email competition, where you just mail all Gmail subscribers and ask them to reply with an answer to a question to win a prize. That equals more opens, more replies and will probably help you get prioritised. But that's cheating.
Simply, you must be relevant. It's very unlikely that many email marketing messages are going to be marked as 'priority' emails. Even the official Gmail video announcing the service visualises this. Therefore, for Gmail users at least, marketers no longer have the power to appear at the top of the pile of unread emails just by sending at the optimal time of day. Timing of emails may not be quite as important, and open rates will most probably drop for a lot of senders. However, if you have relevant, useful conversations with your audience, then this will help you to become 'prioritised' by users deciding that they want to hear what you have to say each time you contact them.
Marketers with a large portion of Gmail subscribers on their files can test adding copy and links into the pre-header of the message, encouraging Gmail subscribers to "Mark this email as important" or "Always mark email from [brand name] as important."
Lastly, Priority Inbox tracks activity. For email marketers this means when subscribers read and reply to their messages. Email needs to work harder to become as interactive and enticing to subscribers as possible. Brands should include links for subscribers to "tell us what you think" or "submit a review/comment" in e-newsletters. Including links to view videos or take a real-time survey creates a dynamic email experience for subscribers; one that is customised based on their interests, preferences and behaviours.
Other strategies would be to deliver time sensitive campaigns, Gmail already recognises dates so one would imagine that "get back to us before 1st of September" would make it an important message, also if they miss the offer because it was in "everything else" they are likely to hit the "more important" button and so get you back where you belong.
I believe delivery to the priority inbox will be a badge of honour for email marketers before too long as it indicates the highest level of engagement.
The key to getting into the priority inbox is relevance. A good way to get relevant keywords into an email is to include lots of html web text and avoid trapping your text as all-image builds. It also means you should pay attention to your copy as its now being scrutinized more than ever. I’m sure a side effect of this will be to add ‘important’ to every email. That won’t get you very far.
The chances are the user won’t send many emails to your sending address, but having them add it to their address book will help mark it out as a trusted source. Perhaps you could get them to use the send address for feedback – it means investing in a response management team to handle replies and not using firstname.lastname@example.org. Your ESP should be able to help with this."