Okay, if you’re an email marketer, you’ve probably already heard about how Gmail’s new Priority Inbox feature is basically the best thing to happen to the internet since the Double Rainbow. But what are the implications of such a subjective measure of attention-worthiness for email marketers? How can email marketers factor this new feature into their email campaign planning?
Overall, this new feature speaks to a broader emerging trend that focuses less on following the technical rules of email deliverability best practices (although they’re still important), and on the nebulous concept of subscriber engagement, which is far more difficult to predict prior to sending out your campaign.
1) Segment your list by email domain
Unless you were incorporating certain design features in your email that weren’t widely supported, you probably didn’t need to care too much about which email services your subscribers use until now, (unless it was Lotus Notes – shudder). In the near term, however, it’ll be important for you to figure out what proportion of your subscriber list is affected by the introduction of the Priority Inbox – Gmail’s a major email provider, but by no means the only game in town, so it’s a good first step to get a handle on how many subscribers have access to this kind of behavioral filtering.
2) Go to plan B for non-responders
Once you’ve separated out your Gmail users, sort them into 2 groups – Responsive and Unresponsive; the threshold you set that determines which bucket they should go into will depend on your lists’ past performance. Those responsive subscribers should be ok to continue communicating with via email – their past history of responding to your messages means your campaigns have a decent chance of being prioritized, or of the user themselves electing to prioritize you as a sender.
You’ll need a plan B for the Unresponder group, since unless you can persuade them to change their behavior with your email, it’ll now be a waste of time trying to reach them this way. Consider running an incentive campaign to attempt to reenergize them about your emails, or simply use a tool like Flowtown, or MailChimp’s socialPRO features to find a viable alternative channel with which to interact with them.
Now might also be the time to conduct a full poll of your mailing list, to figure out how your subscribers – Gmail and non-Gmail users alike – prefer to remain engaged with you. You may actually find that a significant number opt to shift their interactions with you over to social media platforms instead – pruning your email list (and therefore bringing down the cost), and boosting the activity of your social media audiences.
3) Start eliciting genuine responses
Heresy alert: opens and clicks are not the be-all and end-all of email engagement. Email was always intended to be a conversational medium, but how many marketers out there do you see sending emails from addresses like “[email protected]”, or “[email protected]”? In a time when brands are rushing to show how well they’re listening, I find these little signs to be deeply ironic. Gmail’s Priority Inbox places emphasis on senders who’ve engaged with the subscriber in a genuine conversation – meaning that whatever message the subscriber received was compelling enough to get them to actually reply with a message of their own.
Al Iverson over at the excellent ExactTarget blog took the words right out of my mouth on this one:
Consider allowing subscribers to reply to your email messages. Active email interaction — two-way email exchanges — are likely to help boost your chances at receiving priority treatment.
What a novel concept! After all, it’s supposed to be your company email address, right? Such solicited replies could take the form of anything – collect competition entries, responses to a short questionnaire, ask for testimonials from customers, etc. Basically, anything to get your subscribers to click that ‘Reply’ button will pay huge dividends when it comes time to send your next campaign.
4) Create a Gmail-only call to action
Sometimes, all you need to do is ask. Show your subscribers that you’re paying attention by including a small note asking them to prioritize your message – the message functions in much the same way that you already probably ask them to add you to their address book – here’s my take:
“Hey, we noticed you’re using Gmail – if you want to make sure you continue getting our emails, simply click the “+” sign above this message to tell Google our messages are important to you!”
5) Realize that others will follow suit (if they haven’t already)
This great post on MailChimp’s blog is a nice reminder that although today’s email technology is pretty mature, there are still big changes happening to the landscape – so consider Gmail’s Priority Inbox a practice run for a larger shift by all the major email providers towards filtration by engagement, rather than an arbitrary checklist of features that might mean your email isn’t spam.
That’s my take – what other to-do’s do you guys see as a result of the new Priority Inbox? Let me know in the comments.