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Last month, Gmail rolled out a new redesign for its popular web client. As you might expect, this launched the usual brigade of pundits moaning that the end is nigh for email marketers.

After test-driving the redesign for a few weeks (which is longer than a lot of these people gave it), here’s what I found:

The redesigned Gmail isn’t so much as a speed bump on the email highway. On the contrary: It could even help email marketers in the long run.

One thing to remember about most Gmail changes: They take effect only if the user turns them on. In this latest redesign, we’ll see the changes only if they click the settings icon and choose “Try the new Gmail.” They also can opt to “go back to classic Gmail.”

So, what changed?

Not much. That was my first impression when I switched on the redesigned web client, and I still feel that way. I would even say that the new look is more of a series of tweaks than a wholesale redesign.

The new look in the inbox is not as dramatically different as it was when Gmail introduced the Tabs feature a few years back. I think it looks better – the interface is better organized and the overall look is smoother and less cluttered. I found it easier to use, and I suspect many consumer users will, too.

5 things to like about the redesigned email client

  1. Google added functions to the inbox.

Earlier versions of Gmail focused almost exclusively on the inbox. In this version, it adds the user’s Google Calendar, Google Keep (notes) and Tasks functions in the rail at the right of the inbox. This keeps the user in the inbox instead of switching out to access these functions and increases seamlessness among mobile devices, web apps and the like. 

  1. Gmail added more color.

Except for a few pops of spot color (the arrow icon indicating importance, for example), the old Gmail inbox was relatively monochromatic. The new version adds colors via icons for functions like Calendar, the note-taking Google Keep function and Tasks.

  1. Gmail has more functionality in the inbox.

You can now view some features in the inbox without opening the email, such as images and attachments. Will this affect open rates if your customers can download receipts or other files without opening the email? (See image below.) That’s something you’ll have to track. A compelling preheader could persuade your reader to open the email to see what else is in the email, too.

  1. Gmail moves the “snooze” function into the web client.

 The snooze function lets consumers remove an email from the inbox for a set amount of time, like hitting the snooze button on an alarm clock. The email reappears when the time limit is up.

This is one of the changes that freaked out marketers the most. I don’t know why, because it was in the mobile client before this.

Email marketers might not like the idea of giving consumers a reason not to jump on their emails. But, snooze is a function aimed at consumers who are interested in an email but aren’t ready to deal with it. Snoozing is better than deleting or ignoring a message because it’s a positive action that shows intent.

As a marketer, I would like to be able to detect and track clicks on the snooze icon on an individual email the way we can track opens and inbox spam complaints. This would be amazing to know.

The broader implications will take some analyzing. Maybe subscribers would click the snooze function on emails that they wanted to save or read later, so it could be another sticky component.

  1. The search function is more robust.

This is a major timesaver for people who use Gmail as their life organizer or are content to let messages pile up in their inboxes. Gmail has replaced the old global search function with a dropdown box with more options, including sender, recipient, subject line, message keywords, folder specification, date ranges and message size.

What’s missing? Better folder and labels

Dear Gmail: The new colors are nice and the snooze function might make emails more sticky. Now, would you please fix the folders and labeling capabilities? If I click “archive,” on an email, but I forget to label it, where exactly does it go and how do I retrieve it?

Lesson for marketers: Don’t stress; be optimistic

We’ve seen this over and over in the 14 years since Gmail launched. Whenever Google tinkers with Gmail, whether it’s introducing major changes like Gmail Tabs or Gmail Inbox or tweaks like this latest revamping, marketers behave as if email as we know it is about to end.

When the changes roll out, they almost always turn out to be positive for the consumer. That, in turn, rebounds on the marketer because they make the inbox more valuable for consumers. If they find Gmail easier and more intuitive to navigate, they’ll use it more often, and that means they’ll see more email messages.

Remember, dear marketer, that Google does not design the inbox for you. Gmail is designed for the users. This is true for all the major email clients – Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, and the others. Any design changes are based on what makes the inbox stickier for users based on research and feedback.

I’m not a Google fanboy, but my advice to marketers is to stand back and realize that Google knows what it’s doing with Gmail. It’s Google’s world, and we live and do email in it, and it’s nice to be here.

If marketers would take the time they spend agonizing over Gmail and spend it on creating more sophisticated email programs – segmentation, triggered messaging, personalization and automation, they would be much closer to realizing the potential of First Person Marketing.

Now, that’s something to think about!

 

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