Last year, when Gmail rolled out a new way of organizing email via tabs, it certainly grabbed the attention of marketers. Whether you were a marketer that loved or hated the tabs feature, most could agree that of the three tabs primarily used, (Primary, Social and Promotions) Promotions was the least desirable place for a brand’s emails to land.

It appears that we now have reason to celebrate Gmail’s separation of promotional emails onto the Promotions tab.  Yesterday, Google posted an announcement on its blog that it is testing a visually stunning way to show emails right from the inbox via a Pinterest-like grid view. Gmail users can sign up for the field trial here.

Why is this so exciting? Typically, email imagery is only seen if a subscriber opens the email—leaning heavily on commercial emailers to write grabby subject lines and pre-headers that can stand out in a crowded inbox. This new functionality would essentially provide a much more appealing catch for marketers to get the attention of their customers. Plus, images and infinite scrolling make it easier for recipients to see what interests them faster.

Of course, this is a big win for marketers and subscribers alike—assuming this rolls out to the masses at some point. There are a couple strong reasons why Gmail will want to do this.  The first is that ad revenue is on the table for Google.  Notice the “Ad” label on the example below.

Ad example of Gmail visual tiling

Advertisements in this view blend in with emails in the inbox, which could make this a compelling place for brands to advertise, because consumers won’t as easily recognize that they are clicking on display ads. (The average click through rate of display ads is abysmal at .19% vs. DEG’s clients’ 2.25-4% CTR for promotional emails.) This has the potential to bring in a lot of revenue for Google.

The other compelling reason for Gmail to do this is to get more brands on Google+. In order for a brand’s logo to show up in the inbox like below, the brand has to have a verified Google+ page. It is unclear if this is the beginning of a convergence of Google+ and email on a deeper level. The idea of a true social and email integration is exciting if this in in Google’s plans.

How brands can use the more visual Gmail tile format


If you’re a brand marketer and want to begin developing your emails to work well in this new format, you can view the details on the Gmail Developers site. If you need a justification for the additional time and investment it will require to present your emails in this new format, consider the dramatic increase in email opens you will have as a result. Even a 5% improvement in open rates in Gmail, which I don’t think will be unreasonable if this rolls out to all Gmail users, can expose more consumers to your emails, thus increasing conversions. By doing some early testing in this format, you can work through mistakes and learn how to optimize what your subscribers will see well before it gets rolled out to the masses.

Want to continue to the conversation? I’d love to know your thoughts. Send me a tweet @aprildmullen.

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