Why I fell in love with Gmail’s inbox tabs (and why your clients will, too)

I don’t know about you, but my inbox is out of control. Overflowing. Drunk and disorderly.

What used to be a harmonized, controlled, coordinated garden of readin’ has become, quite frankly, a mess. No longer do I confidently navigate to a folder knowing my precious chain of emails will have been carefully filed away. Nope, now it’s straight to the search box. And if that doesn’t work, ‘sort by name’, followed by a desperate CTRL-F, and if all else fails, a long, slow, maddening scroll through thousands of emails.

I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m receiving more emails than ever before or that I’m lazier than ever before – whatever it is, my inbox is punch drunk. I honestly don’t remember the last time I created a folder to plonk ‘must-keep’ emails in.

I for one welcome our new inbox overlord ...
“I for one welcome our new mailbox overlords …”

Actually, I have a couple of theories on why inboxes have become the bulging behemoths we see today. Once upon a time, email was our prime – actually, our only – digital communication tool. Therefore we spent a lot of time in it. And, much like our compulsion to weed the garden and mow the lawns, we quite liked to have our home looking clean and presentable, with everything in its right place.

Nowadays we consume communications – both personal and impersonal – via a number of channels: texts, status updates, tweets, pokes, pluses and more. Email is now ‘just another channel’. Our attention is elsewhere. In fact, our attention is no longer focused; it’s flitting.

Meanwhile, electronic direct marketing has exploded, with businesses using ever more intelligent mail management solutions – such as Responsys – to manage lifecycle communications.

Plus of course there’s been an explosion in the number of reasons we need to provide our email as proof of our humanity. I’m speaking of course of apps, newsletters, forum memberships, and so on. 15 years ago I could tell you without drawing breath how many companies send me solicited emails. Nowadays? I get emails from apps that I didn’t even realized I’d downloaded.

Which brings us to the new Gmail tabbed mail feature…

Marketers worldwide are wringing their hands about the new tabbed mailboxes Google recently introduced. There have been furtive campaigns undertaken to urge consumers to please move such-and-such company’s emails out of the promotions box and into the inbox please because our emails aren’t really promotions even though we want you to buy from us thank you very much here’s 10% off your next purchase.

I contend that the tabbed mailboxes are a boon for content marketers, not a bust. Sure your precious eDMs are automatically consigned to the promotions box [or perhaps the Updates or Social tab, depending on how Google is interpreting your message], but is this really a bad thing?

The user is still alerted to the presence of our email. But rather than the old days [ok, last month] of the user being disappointed or even annoyed by the intrusion of our important message, these emails arrive saying, “It’s ok – I don’t want to distract you – I know where I belong and I’ll wait patiently here knowing you know I’m here when you’re ready to read me.” Or similar…

Sure, there’s potential for anything in the promotions tab to be deleted with extreme prejudice. But now that these emails aren’t cluttering up the main inbox – making it difficult to see the important, personal emails – there’s a might fine chance they’ll be treated more politely.

No, I for one welcome our new mailbox overlords – as a consumer and as a marketer. I most certainly will not be a party to sending out desperate emails asking to be moved to the inbox – that’s a welcome invitation to being marked as spam if ever I saw one.

As for the state of my inbox? Well, so far my Gmail account is back to its manageable, tidy, adorable seven or eight emails of the early 2000s. My work Outlook inbox? 1,734 emails and counting. Sigh.

+Alistair Nestor

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