Corporate Eye

Should Brand Marketers Worry about Gmail Tabs?

email marketing messageHundreds of millions of people around the world use Google’s email application, Gmail, to send and receive email messages each day. At the same time, brand marketers around the world are trying to connect with consumers through email marketing.

As a result, it’s safe to say that a large number of Gmail users receive email marketing messages, and until now, those marketing messages appeared in each user’s Gmail inbox mixed in with all of the other messages they got. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, and brand marketers who rely on email marketing are worried about it.

In simplest terms, the problem is this—Google launched Gmail tabs, which automatically categorizes users’ incoming email messages into separate tabs within the Gmail dashboard. The default tabs are:

  • Primary: Messages from friends and family, as well as any other messages that don’t appear in other tabs.
  • Promotions: Deals, offers, and other promotional emails.
  • Social: Messages from social networks, media-sharing sites, online dating services, gaming platforms, and other social websites.
  • Updates: Notifications such as confirmations, receipts, bills, and statements.
  • Forums: Messages from online groups, discussion boards, and mailing lists.

Users can choose which tabs they want to use and new message counts will appear in the header area of each tab making it easy for users to see when they have new messages in tabs they’re not currently viewing.

The goal of Gmail tabs is to streamline the process of reading your email messages by enabling you to see your most important messages first with less important messages categorized for viewing later. It’s a great idea for people who like to stay very organized and aren’t afraid that they’ll miss something important if all of their messages aren’t visible through a single view. However, the news isn’t as good for brand marketers.

The introduction of the Promotions tab in Gmail means that messages Google identifies as promotional in any way will go directly into that tab. It’s easier for users to delete them there, and it’s easier for users to forget to look for them there. This is particularly problematic for email marketers who send short-term deals and offers with quick expiration dates. Brand marketers have a reason to be worried. Open, click-through, and conversion rates are likely to drop among Gmail users if there is widespread adoption of Gmail tabs.

Of course, you can remind your Gmail audience to move your messages to the Primary tab so they don’t get lost in the Promotions Tab in the future (once a message is moved to the Primary tab, all similar messages should go to that tab in the future). However, the introduction of Gmail tabs creates an additional step that tired email users will have to take to receive information from your brand. Each additional step equates to lower response rates for brands.

The most important thing brand marketers can do is to make sure their email marketing messages and offers are better than ever. To motivate a consumer to move your brand email messages from the Promotions tab to the Primary tab in Gmail, you’ll need to up your game and send irresistible content that is worthy of appearing alongside of their most important messages in the Primary tab.

In other words, what can you do to make your email marketing messages Primary tab-worthy?

Image: Ilker

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.