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.