So I’m going to guess you’ve heard about the new Gmail Promotions tab.
Not least because a bunch of smart content marketers have probably emailed you in the last week with some very … concerned messages about you getting their emails.
In a nutshell, Gmail has decided they’re better than you are at organizing your mailbox, so they’re sorting your messages into five categories that they’ve come up with — one of which is called Promotions.
For now, I’ll gloss over the irony that the most powerful and successful direct marketer on the planet seems to be on the warpath against marketers.
Frankly, you probably have a much more pressing question. Is this change going to completely tank your email marketing?
And the answer is … that depends.
It depends mostly on how good your email marketing was in the first place. Some marketers strongly believe this change is a good thing (Taylor Lindstrom articulated this point of view nicely the other day on Men with Pens).
If your readers are engaged, they’re not going to stop thinking you’re a good egg just because your email is in a different tab now. And putting your email newsletters (and blog posts) into a special tab might allow your readers to devote more attention to them.
But the fact is, since the rollout of the new tabs, email companies are reporting a drop in open rates. Not a drastic drop, but a percent point or two can make a very material change to your bottom line.
So don’t panic … but do be smart about getting your messages in front of your best customers and prospects.
Here are seven ways you can make sure your business doesn’t get whacked by the Promotions tab. And if you’ve come up with a strategy of your own, I hope you’ll share it with us in the comments!
1. Create anticipated content
This is the big one, of course.
Going back to the cookie concept principle — the content that you send your audience every day needs to deserve their attention.
It needs to be useful. It needs to be interesting. It needs to be so good that they’re looking around for it if they don’t immediately see it in their Primary in-box.
The Promotions tab is going to make it very clear if your audience has tuned you out, either because you stopped making a commitment to first-rate content, or because your promotion-to-usefulness ratio got out of balance.
We “train” our audiences to open our emails by putting really good stuff in there.
2. Focus on your most engaged customers
Every business has customers who are insane, crazed fans … and customers who tried something once but aren’t really all that connected.
(Except telecom companies. All of their customers hate them. If you’re not a telecom company, keep reading.)
You need to be giving more love to your rabid fans. Instead of appealing to the generic, lukewarm “mushy middle” of your audience — go for the ones who think you’re amazing. Feed the outliers. The most crazy-committed.
Instead of trying to write for everyone with a pulse, write for a narrow, well-defined, and passionate segment of your audience. And knock their socks off.
Whether your business is fountain pens or fitness or frog wrestling — there’s a sliver of your market that you serve incredibly well. Focus on that sliver, and make them even crazier about you.
3. Write a numbered series
Want to make sure people are looking forward to the messages in your autoresponder sequence?
Put numbers on them.
If they got messages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 … they’re going to email you wondering what happened to message 5.
Obviously, this trick works about 962% better if you have a solid handle on points 1 and 2 above.
4. Make your blog subscription available via email
At first glance, it’s sort of a bummer that our blog posts, and not just our email newsletter and free marketing course, get sent into the Promotions tab. They’re sent via a bulk email provider … which means Gmail thinks that Promotions is the right spot for them. (That’s true today. It may not be true forever. Google does like to change things up.)
That also means that when our amazing, smart subscribers don’t see their Copyblogger post in the morning … they go looking for it. They start clicking around these tab things to see if they can figure out where it went.
And when they find the blog post, they also see our email newsletter — which we try hard to make sure is incredibly useful. (Heck, we put a whole dang marketing course in there.)
Your audience doesn’t think of your blog posts and your email newsletter or autoresponder as two different things. They’re all just “good stuff from this publisher.”
Getting your blog posts into their in-box along with your newsletter and promotional material is a great way to make yourself a familiar and valued face.
5. Create more time-sensitive offers
Want to make sure that your audience makes your emails a priority?
Make sure you’re sending time-sensitive offers to them. (Really good offers, for stuff they want, that’s relevant to why they signed up for your material in the first place.)
If you send out juicy deals with an expiration date attached, your audience learns that they don’t want to miss out on the good stuff. They’ll do what makes sense for them to see your material more regularly — whether that’s moving you to their “Primary” in-box, or keeping a close eye on that Promotions tab.
6. Provide blog and social media “cover” for important emails
Those rabid fans we talked about? They love hearing from you in their favorite social media channel, too.
And since you’re already there anyway, make sure to give a shout-out to your best folks about important emails that are coming to their in-box.
Don’t do this for every message. That’s just lame. But if you have a tight time-sensitive offer, or just something really interesting you want to make sure they see, use your social media accounts to remind your subscribers to check those in-boxes.
(And remember, don’t always point them to promotions. Point them to interesting “pure content,” too.)
7. And yes, educate people about changes to their email box
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting people know how to move your messages to their Primary in-box.
As content publishers, we’re actually pretty savvy about how email works, and how to make Gmail work the way we want it to. You don’t want to assume that all of your subscribers are as savvy about Gmail as you are. And letting people know what to do next is always wise.
This is especially important for new email subscribers, whether to your blog or your email list. The opt-in confirmation message will typically come to the Promotions tab for Gmail users, not their Primary email box. And Gmail may handle as many as half of your subscribers’ email addresses. (Remember, it’s not just folks with a gmail.com address.)
Make sure you’re getting our emails!
If you want your Copyblogger blog posts and Internet Marketing for Smart People messages to go into your Primary in-box, you can just drag a message from the Promotions tab into the Primary tab, then click “yes” when it asks if you want to do that for all of our messages.
And if you don’t have tabs yet — my account doesn’t, as it happens — you’ll know what to do when they arrive.
Kristi Hines is one of the many smart marketers who outlined other options for handling your Gmail tabs, including turning them off completely, so check her post out if you want to learn more about that.
Flickr Creative Commons image by Joel Kramer