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.

Poker Space: Tech Stars Demo Day After-Party

In my last post I mentioned that it’s been a busy time for tech in Seattle lately (although, when isn’t it?) Another recent event I had the pleasure of attending was the Tech Stars Demo Day After-Party, put together by the always enthusiastic Red Russak of StartupSeattle and the unflappable Bob Crimmins of Startup Poker 2.0. I attended as a sponsor, helping rep the good folks of Mandrill by MailChimp.

Because the event had a casino theme, we thought it would be fun to sponsor the poker chips and tables. It was super cool to see the Mandrill face on all of the chips and to watch people enjoying themselves at the packed poker tables. My colleague Kaitlin who works on the Mandrill team flew in from Atlanta for the event and seriously kicked so much poker butt it was amazing.

There’s a recap of the event along with some great photos over on the StartupSeattle blog and their Facebook page*, but I thought I’d add my perspective as a attendee. I met a ton of great folks from brand new starter-uppers to rock stars – in fact I lost my voice by the end of the evening from talking to so many people! But by far the most notable part of the evening was how engaged everyone was. As someone who attends a fair share of events, I’m always disheartened to see people standing alone, staring into their phone. No one comes to a networking event just to tweet that they are at a networking event. The Tech Stars After-Party was a lively, fun and I’m even going to say raucous event, where everyone was playing games, chatting, and enjoying themselves IRL so much that there was nary a cell-phone-as-shield in sight.

It’s a sign of a successful event when people are more engaged with each other than their mobile device. Sure the Twitter hashtag chatter for the event might have been a little light, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m hopeful the future holds more events that put an emphasis on “life” rather than “social”. Now what to do with all these leftover poker chips…

* Updating to add another recap from Startup Poker 2.0 — thanks Bob!

Down (but not out) with Daily Deals

As a consumer, I have a love/hate relationship with social couponing sites. I enjoy doing stuff and I like saving money, so when they first hit the scene a few years ago, I happily purchased a half-off meal here, a housecleaning there.

But as time went by, I noticed expiration windows were getting shorter, and in the firehose of work/kids/school/activities that is most people’s lives, who remembers that they need to hustle out to that gourmet spice shop to select their artisanal salt trio? The allure of hot rock massages cools off quickly when there’s never any time to schedule or redeem them.

Now if the coupon expires, instead of just losing the money altogether (which used to be the case until customers started complaining), you’re left with the dollar value of the coupon. This forces you to either lose the money or spend it to purchase stuff you probably didn’t want in the first place, like organic rose water or toe brightening polish. Yay…not really.

My favorite story about a daily deal gone bad is from my friend Angie. An adventuresome woman, she had purchased what was billed as a “wine and cheese rafting trip” for herself and her husband. They ended up in a van deep in the woods with a toothless, mumbling guy and his partner, a seven-foot man with a hunting knife strapped to his belt. Eventually, they arrived at a small inflatable raft with a styrofoam cooler stocked with a half-eaten block of cheese and some Triscuits. The wine, it seems, was meant to be purchased at the gas station where they all met up (given the circumstance, they had opted not to.) The men kept glancing nervously at each other as they floated down the river, occasionally pointing at a tree or a crow or a stick. Angie kept envisioning these being the last moments of her life, ending a la Girl with the Dragon Tattoo style because, like that killer’s victims, she and her husband were simply too polite to say anything (“Excuse me, fellows, are you planning on beheading us then leaving our bodies in the river? Because if so, we’d prefer that not to happen.”).

Potentially murderous woodsman aside, there are many other reasons why daily deals can suck for consumers. I’ve noticed how surly businesses can be when you mention you have a coupon. For example, I called to schedule a car cleaning I bought in March (well within the expiration date for the coupon) and the man said they couldn’t schedule me until August! Seriously, six months out to vacuum my Prius? Suffice to say, when the appointment time finally rolled around, I wasn’t even in the state. So much for that money. And a handyman service I purchased just never called me back. Maybe his handywife decided he was needed at home.

Because I’ve written on this subject, I also know that sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and their ilk are not really that great for most businesses. For example, the stats show places like restaurants get very little repeat business from social coupons, instead appealing not to people looking for a new favorite place to become a regular but to deal-hunting cheapskates who rarely even leave good tips for their servers. Sometimes a Groupon deal will sell so many that it leaves a small business scrambling to fulfill orders that are making them very little (if any) profit, especially once the deal site takes their cut. Small wonder that daily deal services are struggling and people (like myself) seem increasingly ambivalent about using them. (For in-depth statistics on this topic, see MailChimp’s recent Daily Deal Study).

Despite the angst they’ve caused me, I still receive two to three deals offers a day. I should really take Amy Ellis’ advice and turn off the radio. But maybe not until I’ve tried that new Hawaiian restaurant downtown, and say this resort on Orcas Island looks nice…

Need help with your newsletters?

My friend and colleague Amy Ellis was recently interviewed for a new podcast called Creative Little Beasts. The podcast is the latest project from Danielle Maveal (a.k.a @daniellexo), the former seller education lead for Etsy. Amy’s podcast episode is called “Email Marketing for Misfits“, and it’s a great way to learn more about email marketing for what Danielle calls “creative small business owners”.

As a follow-up to the podcast,  Amy is going to be reviewing one lucky person’s newsletter, which is super cool because she’s an expert at email marketing! If you’d like a chance to have your newsletter reviewed for free, drop a link to it on Creative Little Beasts’ Facebook page.

Amy and I are currently at the School House Craft conference in Seattle, where we are meeting crafters, handing out MailChimp stuff, talking about Craftmonkey and learning from lots of awesome, crafty presenters. Tomorrow Amy is presenting and leading a workshop on “Getting Crafty with Email Marketing”, which should totally rock. She’s very kindly made the slides available here, so if you’d like to check it out you can do so! We’ll also be giving away an original painting from Seattle artist Matthew Porter (shown below – monkey with a robot!) during the presentation.

If you’re in Seattle, you can still buy tickets to the conference at the door so feel free to come on by. Hope to see you there!