The new Gmail inbox, rolling out in waves as we speak, is generating a communal sigh of relief from consumers, but is creating challenges for marketers who predict a sharp drop off in open rates.
Why are marketers and fundraisers so concerned? The new inbox creates content tabs and automatically categorizes emails based on the sender. There are 5 main tabs, with the “primary” one automatically set to “messages from friends and family, as well as any other messages that don’t appear in other tabs.” What this means for most of us, is that there is a high possibility that our outreach will end up in one of the “other” tabs, primarily either the “promotions” or the “social tab.”
Bacn—an industry term first coined in 2007—has finally found an actual implementation model in Gmail’s new inbox. Unlike SPAM, Bacn is self-inflicted—a consumer signed up to hear from someone—so it’s something they want to read, just not right now. With Gmail’s new layout, Bacn emails are potentially “demoted” to a non-primary viewing window and require the end user to actively navigate to that tab to view the email. This theoretically allows users to better slog through the volume of email available and zero in on what’s most relevant and important.
Based on this, it’s no wonder that many marketers are worried. What will happen with open rates? What will happen with response times if consumers start to shift viewing habits and “reserve” a time to read content on other tabs? What does this mean for email timing?
As with other evolutions in media consumption (let’s recall the unease over mobile), there are certainly adjustments marketers, fundraisers and program and event managers will have to make. Below are 5 ways to proactively start managing the impact of the Gmail tabs rollout:
- Understand the potential impact to you and your organization. Work with your email vendor or CRM system to understand what percent of your usable file has a Gmail address. Understand how “active” that segment is—Are they the majority of your openers? Donors? Activists? This will allow you to get a real understanding of the potential impact to you if constituents do in fact change their email reading habits.
- If you’re not already, buckle down on measurement like your life depends on it. Start tracking open rates by ISP and email provider. In order to know what to do, you need to understand whether anything is changing. Are you seeing lower open rates or the same open rates but with a difference in response timing? Because it’s so new, the jury is still out on whether there is a discernable shift in behavior (some report yes, others no), so make sure you start to build your own benchmark for Gmail performance, if you haven’t already.
- Be proactive: reach out to your Gmail segment specifically around this change. Ask your constituents to move your emails into their primary tab if they are not seeing them there already. This is simple to do. Provide instructional information or point them to the info Google has provided on how to do this.
- If you haven’t already, commit to good content and constituent cultivation. If you are still only communicating fundraising requests, consider how this impacts your email categorization. Providing timely, compelling information in addition to your “ask”—whether the ask is to donate, join, participate or advocate—makes you more relevant to your constituent regardless of what tab your email ends up in. If constituents are seeking out and expecting to hear from you, they will go looking if they haven’t heard from you in a while. If the expectation is you are just going to ask for something yet again, they will be glad to banish your messages to a less prominent tab. Make sure you have a robust and useful welcome series in place. Provide regular updates on the impact of their donation and success stories. Provide opportunities to engage and reach out so they feel like a part of your organization.
- Given that up to 70% of emails are now opened on a mobile device, we cannot ignore mobile in this discussion. Not much has changed (yet) for users accessing Gmail on a non-Android-powered platform as long as they are not using the Gmail app. For those on an Android-powered platform or using the app, tabs are starting to rollout. Since Android only comprises about a quarter of the market reading emails on a mobile-powered device, this might be a welcome reprieve from figuring out what to do right away. However, it is important to consider the difference between opens and actual actions (especially giving) on a mobile compared to a PC. Constituents sometimes delay the actual action until they are in a more comfortable environment—their computer—where points 1-4 come into play again.
As tabs continue to rollout, those of us in the industry who’ve been through these potentially revolutionary changes before know that the key is to focus on the fundamental chore of what makes our constituents loyal—relevance.
By focusing on constituent relationships and ensuring that the effectiveness of our efforts is continuously tracked, measured, evaluated and evolved, our industry can leverage this change to build even deeper donor relationships. What better vote of confidence than someone moving your email to their primary tab?