All is Fair in Love, War and Email Marketing
When Google announced plans in 2014 to develop a more visual email interface, I was eager to see what the email giant could create. In the world of email marketing, we’ve watched more and more users turn to mobile devices. In this year's first quarter, mobile revenue jumped 12 percent, and now accounts for 22 percent of all email-generated revenue.
Gmail’s Grid View — which would present emails in a Pinterest-like, image-centric way — seemed perfect. Users were flocking to their mobile devices, and Google was leveraging this industry trend to inform its engineering future. In order to maximize the portability and connectivity of a mobile world, Google armed itself with a modernized approach to the traditional inbox. I was impressed by how attuned Google seemed to its users, and I wasn't disappointed by the grid’s exciting visual appeal.
With this attention to user preferences, I was surprised to hear that Gmail’s Grid View had failed so quickly. In just a year, Gmail is already reverting back to traditional subject lines without a visual component. More than surprised, though, I wondered how marketers would adjust their strategies to reflect these somewhat turbulent changes. As big players like Google continue to adapt their systems and services, marketers have to engage email subscribers in new ways too.
Email marketers have many options. Responsive design can optimize viewing as users move across devices. Or marketers can improve their mobile path to purchase, helping consumers convert when away from the desktop. I cycled through these solutions and explored the larger industry whose problems they solved. I started to think of some of today’s more popular mobile apps — Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. Tinder?
Among the industry’s most successful mobile apps, I saw interesting parallels between Gmail and Tinder, the location-based dating app. While the two perpetrate unique forms of communication and interaction, their similarities stem from the audiences they serve and the world they serve in. Perhaps this connection feels atypical, but as sites like Google alter the relationship between brands and subscribers, marketers have to be open to anomalous solutions. In analyzing why Tinder works, we can begin to see marketing opportunities. Consider the following:
1. First impressions matter: When it comes to relationships, most of our choices are made instinctively and quickly. Anyone who has seen a dating profile knows how important a first impression can be. The same can be said for consumers building relationships with brands.
Gmail Grid View was great because it offered marketers a more visual and stimulating first impression. Users are attracted to images, and marketers could take advantage of this for their email campaigns to drive engagement. However, as Gmail revamps its interface, marketers must be more intentional about the content they’re distributing.
With Gmail reverting back to traditional email options, marketers have to reassess their email subject lines. Like a Tinder picture and bio, subject lines are the first impression that will either convince a subscriber to engage or delete. Subject lines are burdened with a great deal of pressure, but that doesn’t mean they have to be complicated. Rather, marketers should rely on proven engagement methods. For example, lists, unique language or exclusive information can intrigue subscribers to click. Triggered messages, which respond to subscriber actions in real time, are also great for piquing interest.
2. Relationships move fast: Tinder has revolutionized the pace of romance. The app introduced users to the "swipe right, swipe left" model, giving love-seekers the ability to sift through a large number of potential matches in minutes.
This style of quick and simple relationship building is similar to how email users interact on mobile devices. It’s fast, which mirrors how erratically consumers use their devices. It’s simple, which links with mobile’s accessibility and flexibility. And it’s fun, which is something that many users expect when they turn to their phones. Programmers have now started incorporating these strengths into their email apps.
We see this trend with Gmail’s Unsubscriber. The feature allows consumers to swipe left or right when deciding whether to keep an email subscription. Swipe left to unsubscribe, swipe right to preserve a mailing list or newsletter. Unsubsciber helps users declutter their inboxes in a way that feels and looks familiar to other popular apps. Like Tinder, it’s also simple and easy to do.
3. Users control the experience: One of any app’s biggest strengths is the degree to which users can control their individual experience. Features such as push notifications allow users to determine when and how they receive messages, matches or updates from apps like Tinder. Gmail users can do the same with Custom Snooze.
Custom Snooze helps Gmail users modify their inbox to their schedules. Our lives are unique, and our email experience should be too. While at first this personalization may pose a challenge to marketers, it can actually help them. If a subscriber hears from a brand before he or she is ready to convert, chances are good that email will end up in the trash. However, in giving subscribers control over when interactions happen, Custom Snooze can ensure that emails reach their inboxes at the most ideal time. This increases the likelihood of consumer action.
While users largely control their own experiences, marketers cannot be complacent in the interaction. Outside of Gmail’s own tools, marketers can use A/B testing to improve email frequency strategies, or preference centers to track previous click and open rates. This data can improve future marketing decisions.
No relationship is perfect. From Tinder romance to Gmail subscribers, this is a reality that marketers have to accept. However, acceptance doesn't mean marketers can approach email campaigns without a strategy. There’s a great deal marketers can do to more effectively engage subscribers. Marketers have to pay attention to the entire customer life cycle and create content that adjusts to every position along the purchasing path. Post-purchase surveys or personalized product suggestions are great ways to stay involved even when purchases aren't being made.
As we can see from the removal of Gmail’s Grid View, the world of email is changing — and it will continue to change. Think back to your first email account. I bet it looks different than the one you have now. This type of change is becoming routine, and it gives marketers opportunities to leverage trends and more effectively reach inboxes. By paying attention to crazes like Tinder, marketers can predict, react to and mimic the ways that consumers relate to the world around them.
Some trends will work and some won’t, but marketers have a responsibility to be aware of all of them. All is fair in love, war and email marketing, and marketers should use the information and resources available to them to improve subscriber relations.
Brad van der Woerd is the director of intelligence and deliverability at Yesmail.
Related story: Tips to Improve the Mobile Email Experience