Inbox challenges and dull email in the tabbed inbox
Getting to the inbox is becoming a greater and greater challenge for many marketers. According to Return Path, 22% of opt in mail doesn’t make it to the inbox.
The challenge to marketers is that a lot of opt in mail isn’t important to the recipient. Sure, they’re happy enough to get it if they notice it, but if it’s not there then they don’t care. They’ll buy from an email ad, but it might not be something they’ll seek out. Recipient behaviour tells the ISPs that the mail isn’t all that important, and a lot of it is just background noise so the ISP not delivering it to the inbox doesn’t matter.
Email marketing is like the Girl Scout of the Internet. If the Girl Scout shows up at your doorstep, you’re probably going to buy those 3 boxes of thin mints. But if she doesn’t, that’s OK. If you really want the cookies, you’ll find the co-worker who is taking orders for his daughter. Or you’ll find the table outside the local coffee shop. The Girl Scout showing up on your doorstep makes it more convenient, but she’s not critical to get your fix. Of course, the bonus of the Girl Scout on the doorstep is that a lot of people who won’t go find the cookies will buy when she’s on the doorstep.
A lot of email marketing triggers purchases that recipients would make anyway. They think they might want a particular product, and when they get that coupon or discount or even just a reminder they make the purchase. The email triggers the purchase of a product the buyer intends to purchase anyway. Some email marketing trigger purchases of things the recipient didn’t know existed, but is so enticing after one email they can’t live without. Some email marketing triggers an impulse purchase. In most of these categories, if mail doesn’t show up in the inbox, the recipient really doesn’t miss it.
Many marketers, despite loud protests that all their mail is important and wanted, know this. That’s why so many marketers are having conniptions about the new Gmail tabbed inbox. They’re losing access to the impulse.
From the data I’ve seen, tabs are effecting email marketing programs. Some programs are seeing more revenue, some are seeing less. I think it really remains to be seen what the long term effects are. For many recipients the new tabbed inbox is a new way to interact with their email. Change is hard, and there is a period of adaptation whenever an interface changes. We really don’t know what the long term effect of tabs on sales will be. Sales may go back to previous levels, sales may increase over previous levels, sales may decrease from current levels or sales may stay at their current levels. The full effect isn’t going to be obvious for a while.
It does mean, though, that email marketers need to step up their game. Email marketing in the age of a tabbed inbox might be less about the impulse purchase and more about cultivation and long term branding.