Keep tabs on your email with Gmail’s new tabbed Inbox

Tabbed gmail inbox example

You would think, because I work in email marketing, that I would dislike Gmail’s new tabbed Inbox, which automatically categorizes then routes incoming email into separate tabs. Quite the contrary — I love it. In fact, it’s helping my inbox management more than any other system I’ve tried.

Email is the communication method we love to hate. Somehow I made it all the way to graduate school before email was invented (in the olden days we “called” people on “phones”.) Then just as email was taking off, I was hired by a strange new place that was selling books on the Internet…in 1997! Suddenly email was more than a way to compare notes on a class assignment or communicate with a friend; as a customer service rep in the brand-new field of ecommerce, it was my job.

Despite the many options To Do list that availed themselves over the years, I never found a system that worked for me as well as just keeping active messages in my Inbox until I dealt with them. My seemingly never-ending quest for “Inbox zero” became, after a while, “Inbox 34”, then later “Inbox 74” and finally, if it was at or around one hundred, I felt like I was on top of things. Truth is, I wasn’t. At one hundred communications needing some form of action from me,  I had reached my Dunbar’s number of email. It’s simply not possible to feel productive when greeted by 100+ items that need your attention every day.

A long-time Gmail user, for a while I relied on a system of stars and labels to try and make sense of my increasing number of incoming email. Gold star was highest in importance, blue star meant it’s related to a pitch or an article, green label for my son’s stuff, aqua for my daughter’s, etc. My Inbox was no less crowded, but now it looked like a melting scoop of peppermint stick ice cream. The stars/label method just seemed to make things even more cluttered. Sorting messages into appropriate folders helped, but between labeling, starring, and archiving, I spent far too much time on the logistics of what to do with the email instead of spending it on actually addressing what the email was about.

Now that I’m working in the wonderful world of email marketing (I’m a consultant with MailChimp), I’m more email-immersed than ever. Like most folks, in addition to my daily grind email, I also receive newsletters for products I like, interesting folks and businesses I frequent.

Email as a communication method shows no signs of slowing down. That’s why I’m excited about Gmail’s new tabbed Inbox. I currently have it enabled for three categories: Primary (my most important stuff, from friends, family, and work) Social (Twitter notifications and the like) and Promotions. Here’s where you would think that someone who works in email marketing might freak out a bit. Routing my precious marketing messages into a separate folder where they might languish unopened for hours or maybe even days?! Or worse — they might be deleted without being read – the horror!

I admit that I blitz through my promotions tab a couple times a day, mass deleting scores of unwanted newsletters and, well…I’m LOVING it. My “Social” tab fills up, I scan the subject lines, then send them to ye olde virtual trashcan. Best, my “Primary” Inbox now hovers around 30 messages — still not zero but much closer.

To an email marketing professional, this self-professed mass deletion should be pretty disconcerting. But really, effective email marketing means reaching people who want to receive and read your newsletters, not people who are overwhelmed and see your message as a further distraction/intrusion. The Promotions tab allows me to read and save newsletters I truly want, while giving me an easy way to dispose of the ones I don’t. I’ll be curious to see what this change does to open rates and click-through rates; my prediction is that while open rates will drop, click-through and purchase rates for the messages that are opened will actually increase.


Email itself is getting smarter as demonstrated by Google’s recent roll-out of actionable subject lines. Now it’s possible to confirm reservations, renew subscriptions, even confirm email sign-ups right from your inbox (no need to even open the message!) Pretty efficient.

So yes, email is evolving and therefore so is the way we are using it to do our jobs. If it helps me (and others) get closer to the elusive Inbox Zero, I’m all for it.

ShopMonkey connects MailChimp and eBay

Storefront windows and a marmoset in a top hat

The lastest app to join the simian Social Glu family is ShopMonkey, which connects eBay and MailChimp. So if eBay is where you sell your wares and you’ve been wanting to add email newsletters to your marketing mix, check it out!

Like Craftmonkey and Instachimp, ShopMonkey is super easy to set up and get started. Once you’ve connected your accounts, ShopMonkey will pre-load with items from your eBay store, allowing you to select the items you want to feature and drag them into your choice of simple templates. You can then send and track your campaigns from within ShopMonkey, keeping you more closely connected with your customers.

Read more about it over on the MailChimp site, and feel free to let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Etsy guest post: Using Newsletters to Grow your Business

seattle sunset with word "grow"

I was recently invited to contribute a guest post on the Etsy blog about using newsletters to grow your Etsy business. Boy, was I amazed at the number of comments that post got! 150+ and still counting. It’s quite a thrill as a writer to see that your post has resonated with people, as well as a testament to the amazing community Etsy has built up over the years. It’s really quite impressive!

As part of my research for the post, I came across a shop called Ellen Dee Designs run out of Austin by a lovely woman named Lani, who does a great job with all of their branding (including newsletters!) I was happy to feature her newsletter as an inspiring example in the post.

Since building Craftmonkey almost two years ago, I’ve been lucky to meet and work with so many talented people making a living doing what they love. The older I get, the more the old tropes of life being short etc. etc. resonate with me. I’m grateful to be working with a company and people I respect (honestly how cute are these guys?) and living in part of the world that I love. In a couple months, I’ll be speaking at a big crafty event here in Seattle, so look for a post with details about that coming up soon.

Happy almost-summer to everyone! I hope it’s filled with people, places and things that make you very happy.

Blinding myself with data science

big data week

I know I’ve used that title someplace before, but I just can’t help it! These days, I’m thinking a lot about data science, big data, and how small businesses can use it to benefit their business. I’m working a bunch with John Foreman, MailChimp’s Chief Data Scientist, and in fact am heading to Atlanta in less than a week for Big Data Week Atlanta, a part of the global Big Data Week initiative.

John’s personal blog Analytics Made Skeezy explains some of analytics concepts via the tale of some sordid characters, organized crime and rampant drug use. It’s business fiction at its finest! He also provides a helpful overview of what you should know about data science featuring cameos from Jesus and Michael Jackson.

A cool thing that MailChimp is doing with their data is the Email Genome project. The work they’re doing related to this project involves everything from helping marketers craft better messages to busting bad guys, two things of which I’m quite fond.

If you happen to be in Atlanta and want to learn more about using big data, check out the week-long schedule of events (including John’s talk at MailChimp headquarters). At the very least, stop by the Happy Hour Friday night, grab a monkey hat and a pint and have a chat with some of the best minds in the big data business.

Seattle City Walk #1: Discovery Park

Hiking in Discovery ParkWe ended up going with Plan B for our first hike from City Walks: Seattle since the ferries were on a wonky schedule. Instead of Bloedel, we went to…Discovery Park! Despite it being huge and only fifteen minutes away from where we live, we had never been before so we were excited for a new adventure.

By the way, I should mention that these are not in any order other than what we end up doing that day. Flexibility is key for urban adventurers, especially younger ones (and if there are ferries involved, apparently).

My kids each packed huge backpacks filled with stuff, so they would be “ready for anything”. Of course we ended up leaving them in the car, but I was glad my daughter had brought a pen (for grocery list making on the way home) and that my son had thought to pack extra bottles of water. A girl gets thirsty going up hills!

We parked in the South Lot and walked through a lovely meadow, down South Beach Trail and eventually, to the beach. The hike, which was about three miles, was only moderately difficult in places, even with a five-year old and only on the way back up the bluff (going to the beach is all downhill.) As a bonus: on the way back, we stopped for a short rest at a little wooden picnic platform and watched an enormous pileated woodpecker looking for his lunch. We also spied a massive eagle roosting in a tree near the entrance of the park, a marine biologist counting seals, a handful of robins and two cute bunnies hopping in the field. In all, this was a great hike that included sweeping views of Puget Sound, lots of stairs for exercise and some good wildlife viewing.

Here’s our photoset, which includes some excellent shots from my son using the camera he received on for his birthday this summer. Look at what this kid can do — nice job, buddy!

Ready, set, goal: Getting a jump on the new year

giftiesThe new year is almost upon us and with that comes the obligatory goal-setting. I had a head start this year by attending Camp Mighty back in November, which encourages participants to come up with a Life List of one hundred goals to accomplish over the course of their lifetime. My list is not quite at one hundred yet, but I have made progress on a couple that I thought I would share here. You can read people’s goals, follow along with their progress and even create your own over on the Go Mighty website.

As part of the Camp Mighty experience, each attendee received a gift that was hand-selected for them by  Brittany Reiff from Wantist based on their Life Lists. I was very impressed with that effort (their were well over one hundred attendees!) and thought it was a lovely, thoughtful way to kick off the conference.  But what really blew me away was when I met Brittany later in the weekend and thanked her, she TOTALLY remembered what she had chosen for me: a journal for exploring your city, a sunprint kit a deck of cards called City Walks Seattle: 50 Adventures on Foot. She said “With your son, right?” and my heart blew up and then melted because yes, with my quirky nine-year old son, who loves nature, got a camera for his birthday so we can do photowalks together, is into mushrooms and salamanders and birds, and is always up for an outdoor adventure of any kind. That guy.

So today, our family is taking our first hike chosen from the deck. After we have breakfast at the amazing Luna Park Cafe, we’ll be getting on the ferry and heading over to Bainbridge Island, where we’ll check out the Bloedel Reserve, a place we’ve never been to in all our off-again-on-again years in Seattle.

Oh, and I also started writing a book, which is also on my Life List. But that, as they say, is another story.

Big love for small business


With the holidays upon us, I’ve been thinking a lot about small businesses. Well, I do that often anyway, but even more so now that I’m spending more of my monies to buy nice things for the people I love. I thought I’d highlight a few of the companies and events on my mind in recent days for one reason or another.

Urban Craft Uprising: This is a huge holiday craft show run by the amazing crafty legend Kristen Rask. With over 100 vendors from all over the country showing, this show is a great place to buy unique, handmade items. And MailChimp is a sponsor this year, which means I’ll be there hanging out and meeting everybody. Funny story — I met Kristen one day while I was visiting her shop Schmancy and she commented on my brand new debit card from another business on my list…Umpqua Bank!

Umpqua Bank: Can you love a bank? I think I just might love mine. This PNW-based bank is turning the traditional banking industry on its ear by providing personalized friendly service, hosting art shows by local artists in their branches, giving away free coffee, tea, chocolate and in the summer, ice cream! They also give back to their community in amazing ways, from partnering on local events to holding yoga classes, to providing grants to non-profits. My favorite thing about them? The day that someone dropped off a pound of coffee and a drink tumbler in a gift bag at my door. Other banks take note – you don’t have to be evil!

Warby Parker: So they aren’t necessarily a small business, but are another business that is getting it right by the customers. Just today, I received my first five “try-on” pairs of glasses and was so excited by the way they were packaged, I did a little dance of joy as I opened them. The concept: Choose five frames from the website, they send them to you to try on, you pick the one(s) you like and then send ’em back to be customized for your lenses. The cost? A fraction of what you would pay at an optometrist. Traditionally, the mark-up on eyeglass frames is crazy and as a long-time glasses wearer, I for one am very glad the folks at Warby Parker decided to provide a fashionable, low-cost alternative. Plus, for every pair you buy, they give a pair to someone in need. So buy a lot! I’m getting myself two pairs for my birthday :)

Delicious Failure: Restaurant owners Genevieve and Mirko Spinella ran their small pasta bar for three years but in the end, just couldn’t make it. They recently had to close their business due to the bad economy. However! They’re now trying to turn the experience into a positive by publishing a cookbook with all their recipes called “Delicious Failure”. Their cookbook project is up on Kickstarter and they need some help in funding this goal. I’ve known these guys (virtually) for a long time and know how good-hearted they are. If you can help them at all, please do!

That’s it for now. Just thought I’d share some love for some good businesses and people out there in the spirit of the holidays. Have any favorites or good stories? Share them below!

Image of Schmancy storefront by Leff via Flickr