Gmail’s New Inbox: Marketing Dream or Nightmare?

April 28, 2016

Google’s Gmail email system just made organization a lot easier for its users and things a little harder for email marketers. Gmail’s official blog posted about the inbox changes late in May 2013, and have been gradually rolling out the new design since, with most users’ inboxes adopting the new features in July. Incoming emails are now automatically sorted into five organizational tabs:

Primary: conversations, starred messages, contacts' emails
Social: updates and alerts from social media platforms
Promotions: deals, offers, newsletters, marketing 
Updates: auto-generated receipts, bills, confirmations
Forums: online groups/communities updates, mailing lists 

See Google's new inbox demonstration here.

With the new system (also formatted for mobile), clicking on a tab brings up a separate inbox housing specific types of emails. Users also have the option of reverting back to the former design by turning off tabs in their settings.

While most users like their newly de-cluttered inboxes, marketers are worried that this new sequestering will hurt the email advertising business. By separating their emails from the Primary tab, users are possibly less likely to see or click these messages.

In fact, MailChimp’s Matthew Grove reported that after the tab system was introduced, email “opens” on both weekdays and weekends fell about 1% in the six weeks since the announcement. One percentage point may not seem like much, but with more than 425 million active users and 12.5 billion emails sent in the past year and a half (through MailChimp, alone), that 1% has marketers sweating.

Like all redesigns, it takes time to work around the new set up (i.e., Facebook’s similar grouping of all “liked” pages updates into a single link); however, there are definite pros to the new system and cons that are easily surmountable.


1. The specific Promotions tab allows marketing emails to be seen as opposed to being buried or overlooked in a crowded inbox where promotional material is often considered unfavorable. With their own tab, these emails are given space and a sense of importance; users are notified with a highlighted number when they have new emails waiting for them in their tabs, making viewers more inclined to click through to specifically see these new messages.

2. Users who enjoy getting coupons or deals and use their email accounts primarily to receive promotions will appreciate having everything in one place, organized and easily accessible for perusal. If they find an email from a company or service they are particularly interested in, they have the option to drag any email from one tab into another so that any future emails they receive from that company/service will automatically surpass the Promotions tab, for example, and show up in Primary.

3. For marketers advertising through Google, one function is especially helpful: With the new system, these advertisements now show up in the Promotions tab resembling emails. This gives advertisers the ability to add more content and pictures to their previous text-only ads that were once placed inconspicuously and easily overlooked above the messages. Now, they are conveniently inserted right into the inbox.


1. With the new system, competition is grouped into one place and all vying for users’ attention. To avoid being swept under the rug, the best chance of being seen is all in the subject line. Subject lines needs to be quick, clever and grab readers’ attention even if they’re just glancing over their messages.

2. For those clicking through and reading every email, long and wordy messages are turn-offs even to interested viewers and especially for those quickly clicking down the list. It’s even more important now with this new system in place to keep ads short, relevant and to-the-point while still being visually appealing and engaging to the reader.

The new system makes it easier for marketers to reach an audience that is already interested and seeks out promotional material from their email inboxes. It also presents new challenges in gaining new viewers, but said obstacles are easily overcome, and in doing so, help to further evolve and streamline email marketing.