Gmail’s “New Inbox” Heightens Urgency to Adopt Real-Time Email Technology


The email marketing industry is all abuzz over the announcement of Gmail’s “New Inbox”.  According to Gmail Product Manager Itamar Gilad, “the new inbox groups your mail into categories which appear as different tabs. You simply choose which categories you want and voilà! Your inbox is organized in a way that lets you see what’s new at a glance and decide which emails you want to read when.”

Based on this promotional video, it appears that those tabs will include “Primary” (personal emails), “Social” (Facebook and Twitter notifications), “Promotional” (marketing), and “Updates” (transactional messages, e.g., order confirmations).

Gilad’s post states that “The new inbox is rolling out gradually” and “If the new inbox isn’t quite your style, you can simply switch off all optional tabs to go back to classic view, or switch to any of your other favorite inbox types.”

There are conflicting messages in Gilad’s “New Inbox” post. Specifically, the big question is whether users will in fact “choose which categories” they want and tag messages, or if the tabs and sorting will be done for them, with the option to then “switch off” the new tabs.

The New Inbox X Factor

Marketers should keep in mind that this isn’t the first time Gmail has rolled out a “sorting” feature. “Priority Inbox” was rolled out 3 years ago, which classified some messages as more important than others. I can’t find data to back it up, but my sense is that most “regular folks” opted to not use Priority.

The big X factor around yesterday’s announcement will be whether users actually adopt the “New Inbox” or say “No thanks, keep me on Classic”.  People who use email have their own, age-old systems for organizing and managing it, and in general the human condition is resistant to change. But, we’ll have to wait and see.

What Happens if the “New Inbox” Takes Hold?

If the New Inbox does, in fact, become widely adopted, marketers would be right to be concerned about declining Gmail open rates. But, at the same time, opens in the “Promotions” folder will likely be more engaged, higher intent opens.

The other thing to consider is that opens in the Promotions folder will likely occur well after marketers click the “send” button. “One day only” sales might expire by the time a recipient views the email. Inventory might no longer be available. The urgency around adopting agile, real-time email technology will heighten in order to ensure that messages are relevant at the moment of open, as opposed to the moment of send.

The inbox will continue to evolve. The tough question marketers have to ask themselves is whether they’re up to the challenge of evolving with it.