Search engine titan Google Inc. is dealing another harsh blow to digital marketing campaigns that include email marketing as a key promotional strategy. Only a year after the release of Gmail tabs, a new app called Inbox may disrupt email marketing plans even more severely.
Marketers were hit hard last July when Gmail began filtering email messages automatically into tabs based on the sender. Almost all emails from e-retailers were sorted into the default “promotions” tab. Most mobile Gmail users don’t receive new email notifications when promotions arrive, and barely glance through the tab before selecting every message and hitting delete.
According to InternetRetailer.com, Groupon was hit especially hard by the Gmail tab update. The digital coupon agency reported that more shoppers were deleting its emails without even opening them, leading to a $2.6 million net loss in 2013’s third fiscal quarter.
Groupon adapted by shifting away from email marketing, focusing more on its mobile app and website. Consumers can now view deals before signing into Groupon, a feature that allows the company to rely less on emails to promote deals.
“Email marketing is going to be the lifeblood of any business — everyone should be using Email marketing to some extent,” explains Charles Major, CEO of Washinton, DC based marketing agency Mogul Local. “With Google’s recent change, it makes it tougher for companies to get in their consumer’s inbox, so businesses need to start getting creative. SMS marketing is becoming more popular, for example. However, businesses should use a combination of marketing strategies at this point, not just one or the other, because it’s getting harder and harder to reach target prospects.”
Groupon may have shifted its focus just in time. Google’s new Inbox app will follow closely in the footsteps of the 2013 Gmail update. Inbox, at its most basic, is an email organizing tool. Unfortunately for marketers, the app allows users to group email messages in the same way that Gmail’s tabs already do, but with a few added features.
Consumers will now be able to use the Bundles feature to group emails and set preferences for when the emails will be received. For instance, a consumer could decide that they only want to receive promotional emails on Fridays, clearing up their inbox for the rest of the week.
Chad White, lead research analyst at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, told InternetRetailer.com that “Bundles likely means that marginally engaged subscribers will become even less engaged, while engaged subscribers will become more engaged,” which actually may not be such a bad thing. Savvy email marketers will be able to reach people that can actually convert into leads and cut the dead weight loose.
Another new feature called Highlights may also force marketers to shift their focus. The feature uses Google search functions to include more relevant information right in the email, even if the sender didn’t include it. For instance, an email about a package delivery may also include the delivery status. This may scuttle open rates as a relevant metric, since consumers are essentially bypassing the landing page to get the information.
The upside is that marketers should have more time to adapt to Inbox than they did to the Gmail promotions update. The Inbox app is currently invite only and is being offered as a separate app, rather than an automatic update to the existing Gmail app. Still, marketers may have to get smarter to stay ahead of Google in the near future.