Primary, Social and Promotions, oh my!  Since Gmail released their new inbox structure, there’s been a mix of panic and glee.  Panic from email marketers and glee from users.  The Gmail tabs panic reminded me that while I’m a huge fan of change – most folks struggle with change.  I guess if everyone embraced change as I do then we wouldn’t be hosting events on change management with NTEN in San Francisco, Atlanta and Austin (yes… that was a plug for our fabulous, can’t miss events.  Check them out!)

Back to Primary, Social and Promotions. There’s a lot to learn from Gmail’s tabs.

First, the new inbox structure helps to dispel the myth that email is dead or dying.  If email was dead then why would a popular email provider re-configure their structure?  The easy answer is: Email continues to be a primary communication mechanism and consumers need a better way to manage communications.  That’s where tabs come into play.  From a consumer perspective tabs help us manage the large volume of emails we receive.

Since Gmail launched the tabs, a number of companies have sent emails with subject line like, Don’t let tabs get between us or Don’t miss a deal.  These messages ask users to move the email from the Promotions to the Primary tab.  I’ve been wondering about the need to move messages into the Primary tab; it seems like a reactionary move.  Are we rushing to judgment? Should we give tabs a chance and embrace Promotions?

You’re probably thinking why should I embrace tabs?  And, don’t I want my messages in the Primary tab? I’m not sure there’s enough evidence to say an email must be in the Primary tab to get read. I don’t think we should assume consumers won’t look at the Promotions tab. I check my Promotions tab daily; I don’t want to miss an Ann Taylor Secret Sale.

Whether or not your email is opened has more to do with how engaged supporters or consumers are with your organization or brand – and less to do about where your email ends up in their inbox.  If I’m interested in you, if I like you, if I want to be engaged with you then I’ll read your email.  My last thought goes back to change.  In my mind the launch of Gmail tabs is very telling about our culture.  We don’t adapt to change well. I can’t help think of Darwin – adapt or face extinction.  Let’s adapt!

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Subject lines remain important.  They catch our attention. Use subject lines to help your message standout from the commercial promotions.  Nonprofits could benefit from the buying mood supporters will be in when they click on the Promotions tab.
  • Focus on your content. I’m often asked “how many emails should we send a month?”  My response is always the same; don’t focus on the number of emails focus on your content.  What do you need to say?  What is your message? What’s your purpose? And finally, is the call to action clear.  Let’s focus on creating great messages for supporters.
  • Multi-channel engagement is important.  To my point about if I’m an engaged supporter then I’m more inclined to read your emails.  Don’t just rely on email.
  • We mustn’t forget about mobile.  All the research I’ve done over the past couple weeks tells me that more and more individuals read email on their smart phone vs. desktops.  Most smart phone users read emails through the phone mailbox vs. an email provider app.  In the case of mobile, tabs seem like moot point.
  • My colleague Scott who wrote a great post last week, made another point I’d like to share.  Check out your house file.  How many supporters are Gmail users?  Not only would it be good to know, but it would help put things in perspective when building your communication plan.
  • And that brings me to my last point, just like I don’t think you need a social strategy or a mobile strategy; I don’t think you need a tab strategy – what you need is a supporter strategy.  There’s always going to be something new popping up, focus on supporters and on your message.  Let these two elements drive your strategy instead of letting the channel or technology dictate your plan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

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