Chances are many of you have already seen the new Gmail changes that began rolling out to users -- the most significant of which is the "Promotions" tab designed to store all brand-focused email. But what some early adopters missed was the way Gmail has subtly changed its typical advertising model, which previously used text-based ads that looked like an extension of its "search" functionality displayed around the edges of a user's Gmail inbox. I can't help but think that most users ignored those ads.
That may explain why Gmail has now introduced what we'll call the "ad email" for the purposes of this article. Sneakily designed to replicate the format of a traditional email, Gmail's new ads now appear within the actual "Promotions" box, and they can be forwarded to other users just like an email.
These new "ad emails" could require the email marketing industry to undergo a perception shift as the inbox make-up begins to change. Imagine if you were to embark on an email marketing campaign and your emails were placed with Google as ads rather than sent the conventional way. How would your approach change? Let's take a look at five ways I predict "ad emails" could change the way your email marketing department goes about its campaign strategy.
The single focus on deliverability strategies becomes irrelevant
Reputation, white-listing, spam scores…throw that thinking out the window -- now. While a significant portion of email best practices have always been about making sure your email simply appears in the inbox (I'd even go so far as to say 50 percent of email best practices are focused solely on getting into the inbox), having Google place an ad email in the inbox for you could free up brands to spend more resource on great creative that will capture the attention of consumers.
Hand coding your email might not be the only way to code
Traditional best practices have always called for the hand coding of emails because of the different ways email clients and web browsers read HTML code. Generated code using Dreamweaver, though significantly easier to create, frequently creates orphaned code or misplaced tags that will break your HTML in one environment, but not in another. As Gmail is allowing you to guarantee where your email will go, you can optimize and test your code in a single environment -- significantly reducing the normal effort required in testing your code -- regardless of whether it's generated or hand code.
Email marketing becomes the go-to channel for marketers across the department
With Gmail's new "ad email," the lines between the email department and the advertising department will likely blur. Unlike their former promoted ads, Gmail's "ad email" looks and feels like a regular email. For all intents and purposes, it is a regular email. So while the media buy department used to be in charge of Gmail display or banner ads and the direct response department used to handle branded emails, the distinction between the two may not be as clear. There's a high likelihood that the banner ad department will come into what was an email-only space -- so prepare now by opening a dialogue between both departments that will help ease the transition.
Marketers are divided into those that CAN-SPAM and those that don't
I want to be clear: I am not encouraging brands to spam users. But the specific rules about unsubscribe placement and how easy it is to unsubscribe won't be as clear anymore when it comes to ad emails. For a long time, email marketers have been the only ones who have been held to standards as high as CAN-SPAM. If branded emails are guaranteed to arrive in the "Promotions" inbox (and "ad emails" don't even require an opt-in from users), then you can spend less time worrying about CAN-SPAM and more about creating emails that offer users more value.
I will say this -- there's one best practice that isn't going away any time soon: subject lines. In fact, they will now be more important than ever as the "Promotions" inbox becomes more competitive, whether your email is an ad or a regular email.
Gmail's "ad emails" may seem like competition for the regular email, but they could actually represent new opportunities to reach consumers beyond the typical Gmail banner ad or Google Adwords campaign. It'll be interesting to see how brands take advantage of them over the next few months to engage consumers and to present additional creative, unique campaigns to their target audiences.
Dela Quist is CEO of Alchemy Worx.
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