The Great Gmail Freak-out of 2013: An Open Letter To Email Marketers

Jul 24

It's A Flourish! Not much of a secret message, I know, but I can't be brilliant all the time.

Dear Email Marketers,

I wanted to share my experience from the last few days
with you. It went something like this:

“Oh look,” sez me, “Gmail has changed it up again; there are tabs on my inbox! Let’s see, here’s my main inbox tab, and here’s a ‘social updates’ tab for notifications of new Social Media stalkers — I think I like that!

“And what’s this one… Promotions? Oh, here’s a coupon from the craft store, great. A sales flyer, a newsletter, and, wait, what’s this?”

That’s when I saw it: a baker’s dozen of emails from various Marketers. Combined, they looked something like this:

Gmail Tabs: It's Like The Sharknado of Email Marketing, a viral unnatural disaster that's going to kill us all with bad CGI!

Seriously? I mean… SERIOUSLY?

For the love of MailChimp, take a deep breath and count to ten!  Remember who you are, remember the lessons you’ve been drilling into your audience for however long you’ve had an audience.

Need a reminder of what you’ve been teaching
all this time?  Sure thing!

Another Flourish, Another Non-Impressive Secret Message. The others are better, tho.

  • Content & Permission Marketing are more than just “opt ins” … they’re also about creating value in your marketing materials as well as your offers.
  • Provide content and offers that people want, and they will LOOK for them. Create value, and people will seek it out and pass it along.
  • Don’t rely on external services (like Google search, or Gmail) to deliver eyeballs to your offers.  Rely on content and offers that rock, channels that are in your control, clients that love you, and evangelical fans that will spread the word.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.  Flourish. You'd think I'd have something more interesting to say.

That’s good, solid advice you’ve been dishing out.  If you’ve really followed it, a silly automated “Promotions” tab isn’t really going to hurt your sales very much, now is it?

But here you all are, freaking out because, OMG, your promotional emails may be treated like *gasp* promotional emails.  The Horror!

Gmail, as the devil, plus bonus tagline from Sharknado. How much more awesome can one illustration contain?

But what do I think about Gmail’s new tabbed interface, you ask? Isn’t it just bloody awful, you nudge? Well, as consumer? I like it.  As a marketer, if you’ve really mastered permission & content marketing?  I think you should like it, too. Here’s why:

In the past, I’ve  missed out
on a lot of your promotional offers.

Y our email was buried under Facebook Pokes, coupons from office supply stores, updates from Twitter, political diatribes from Uncle Herbert, support tickets from clients and web hosts and vendors, and I just missed it. Or maybe I saw the email, opened it, wasn’t able to take action right that instant, and it got buried all over again.

With one big inbox, if I want a coupon from a store I frequent, I have to search my email for it. If I suddenly remember that I didn’t see your expected monthly promotional awesome, I have to search for that, too – and it isn’t always as simple to find it as you might think. (trust me, because I do this searching-my-email-for-your-stuff thing a lot.)

But now?
I can just glance at the tabs.

The most recent senders are shown on the tab itself. Cool, huh?  And to see more, I can click onto that Promotions tab, and find your stuff SO much more easily than before. It’s no longer lost in a whirl wind of other stuff. Yes, I repurposed an image from an old post. The original had cows in it.  I don't remember if it had a secret message.

And when I DO find your email on the promo tab? I’m more likely to be in a receptive mood, which means more likely to open it, and more likely to follow your call to action.

Yes, your promo email will be jumbled in with every one else’s promo emails, and competing for attention there. But in an unfiltered email box, it’s competing with other promo emails, Social Media proddings, Aunt Gertrude’s gallstone updates,  forum replies,  ads for Viagra, and messages from the King of Nigeria.

Just like spam filters (which also sometimes interfere with your marketing mail delivery) this is a mild inconvenience to you, with some potential benefits to you, and major benefits for your consumers.

It’s just another layer of
Permission Marketing

With the new Gmail interface, I can not only require that you have permission to email me, but I can control just how front and center your emails are in my world – without having to set up and maintain filters.

(Which, lets be honest, I’m NEVER going to do. For gawd’s sake, I often have 20,000 unread mails in my inbox, and you think I’m going to mess with filters? Google invented these tabs for me!)

I get it,
I do.

You LIKED that in the past, I would see your mass mailed “Tori, I need your help!” subject line when I opened my email program. You knew it would catch my attention, because it looked like it was personal.  To stop it from showing up there without unsubscribing, I had to take a lot of complex actions with filters and labels and such, and I had to have and execute a plan. That’s a lot of trouble I’m not going to go to.

But now, with my tabbed inbox? I’ll KNOW that plea for attention wasn’t sent to me personally, because Google auto sorted it into my promotions tab.  And it’s automated.  Sure, if I find your stuff repeatedly compelling, I can shift you into my Primary tab – but it’s not in your control, and you might lose some moolah because of it. I feel your pain.

But Permission Marketing is about advertising distribution being in the consumer’s control, not the marketer’s control.  And Content Marketing? It’s a way to encourage customers to give you permission.  Gmail just put another layer of permission into the mix. They just made your valuable content that much more valuable to your marketing plan.

Tell me again how
this is so bad?Freaking out in my email inbox does not qualify as "Quality Content". Shocking, I know, but true!

Wait, never mind, you already told me, in triplicate.  You’ve sent out emails and SM posts and blog articles about how bad Gmail’s tabbed in box is for me, for you, and for the world. Yes, some of you have said that this is bad for everyone.

And almost all of you are begging me to opt out of the tabs, so that your emails reach me the way YOU want them to…. Wow. Holy Smokes, Batman, way to miss the point!

Should you send your list
a note about the GMail change?

Sure, why not?  But instead of sending me a freaked out mailing about how this is going to wreck YOUR business, with a desperate call to action designed to protect YOUR interests… why not make it a positive note, showing me how this change may benefit ME?

Show me how it can make it easier to find awesome content, both yours, and other people’s.  Give me a mini tutorial that shows me how to customize the tabs for MY benefit, not yours.

Isn’t that more in the spirit of Permission & Content Marketing? Wouldn’t that be offering me something of value to me, rather than to you?

Bottom Line:
Will This Affect Open Rates?

M aybe. If you have a small carefully targeted list of fans, probably not. If you have a really huge list, with lots of barely-curious people on it, your open rates will probably suffer.

But if you already practice the quality content and permission based marketing you give so much lip service to, it shouldn’t affect your actual sales rate very much, should it?  In fact, may help you convert some sales (me, for instance). Only the stats will tell, over time.

But even if your rates do drop,
I have faith you’ll survive.

After all, you made it through the Popup Blocker Apocalypse.  You survived the Double-Opt-In Debacle , the FTC Affiliate Holocaust and the Anti-Spam Annihilation. You even survived Panda.

I think you’ll survive a few tabbed inboxes, don’t you?

Love Always,

Tori Deaux

The Final Flourish! YES! But what does it all mean? Don't expect an answer. Except maybe "42"

I’m including this image from a few weeks ago, because I’m in the mood for it and because it represents Gmail eating all my starred emails.  The line style and the colors don’t really fit with this post, and the message doesn’t fit because Gmail has an an easy option to include starred emails in my primary box. But I’m including it anyway because I’m feeling contrary.This is me, eating stars. Just like the way Gmail DIDN'T eat my starred emails. Crisis averted.

P.P.S. Did you know that moving starred emails to your primary inbox tab was an option?  None of the emails begging me to opt out of tabs told me it was an option!

P.P.P.S. In the comments, share a tip about the new Gmail interface, and I’ll give you a gold star (one that Google didn’t eat)

P.P.P.P.S. Also, this entire post and most of the graphics were done under the influence of a migraine, so if things are wonky that’s why.  Double stars for pointing out typos.

Update: Over at MailChimp, they’re reporting on the change to open rates:   How Gmail’s New Inbox Is Affecting Open Rates So far, it’s definitely not at the Armageddon level.  But the comments are full of marketer freak-outs, so wade in carefully!


  1. It took me two times through, but I figured out the secret messages. 🙂

  2. Oh. My. Gawd! Woman, you are one smart cookie. And words can not express how much I love this entire post — especially the graphics.

    • Also – I’m now replying with a link to this post in response to every social media or email message telling me to FIX MY INBOX NOW. 😉

      • Fabulous idea, Tea. I’m pretty sure “paranoia” is not designed to be a component of a good business model or email marketing strategy. Sheesh.
        I’m getting bombarded with panic-stricken notifications and ardent pleas to “fix” this problem right away (with loads of expletives included). If you ask me, that’s very telling behavior. And I’m sorry to say I’m hearing from certain individuals I never thought would react this way.

      • Tori Deaux /

        Melanie, I’ve been *really* surprised at some of the big names sending these pleas. It’s revealing to see who really believes in Content/Permission based marketing, and who has just been riding its popularity.

      • Well, there ya go, Tori! My sentiments, exactly.

        When I was growing up we called this syndrome “talking out of both sides of your mouth”. And let me just say it’s not cool.

  3. Amen – couldn’t agree more. I was going to write a post to the same effect, but I guess I’ll just have to link to this one instead. 🙂

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have no idea why this has been made such a big deal. I for one love the new tabs. So much easier than stars and colors and folders. I am sharing this and my even send it back to those who have sent me panicked emails just to maybe give them some peace. Have an amazing day and I hope your migraine leaves quickly.


  5. Way to bloomin Go!!! Just love this article and it is absolutely perfect, I can share this now instead of writing my own to tell everyone that they should get out of their own way, stop running scared of GMails pretty neat new tabbed inbox that for moi is perfecto and keeps everything nicely organised for me too.

    I can’t believe how many of the so called “Top marketers and successful business owners” have been sending out their – Oh you simply must drag and drop me into your primary box or you wont see anything I send you ever again, emails…….. Love love LOVE that you have taken everything and put it into brilliant perspective …

    Mahoosive thanks to Tea for sharing this with everyone – way to go is all I can say an THANK YOU for your brilliance 🙂

    • Martin Flink /

      What Carol said ^^ =D

      Awesome Article Tori!
      Almost needed a change of underwear due to laughter overload! =D

      I can feel a share or two coming up!
      Keep it up, I’ll be back for more… =D

  6. What Tea said! 🙂

    Brilliant post, Tori — love, love, love it!!

  7. Outside of them moving a NeededVeryQuickly E-mail to my ‘Social’ folder WITHOUT ASKING, I can now see why this actually might not be the huge PITA I was thinking it was.

    Thank you. 🙂 :>

    Hope your head feels better soonest! 🙂 :>

  8. Tori how long will you milk #Sharknado? That’s not a complaint – I freakin love it! And if I hadn’t had the nudge the mouse over messages would have totally passed me by.

    Since I don’t even read my gmail in gmail I had no idea about this. I love how you reinforce that it’s about the prospect. The quickest way to get me to ignore or unsubscribe is an email about how to make the pitch-er’s (emailer?) life easy.

    Typo (for my gold star) is at the end of the first paragraph after “In the past, I’ve missed out
    on a lot of your promotional offers.” Should be again not gain.

    P.S. For the love of Delete buttons – 20,000 emails?

    • I’m so glad to have good company. Since so many people have already sent freak out emails and informational emails, I think I’ll just enjoy my new inbox organization and send out my newsletter at the regular time.
      Great post. Love the graphics.

  9. Entertaining reading Tori and lots of lively graphics. Thank you for putting this together and pouring oil on troubled waters.

    Coming on top of MailChimp’s explanation of tabs, this was perfect follow up for me.

    Tabs? I think I like them.

  10. Stacey Shanks /

    Wow, Tea was right! A must read. I’ve been getting a slew of histarical emails with a ton of exclamation points and all caps. I emailed Tea to ask about it, thus this blog was posted. Thanks for the calming effect! It makes so much sense.

  11. Debbie Horovitch /

    It seems to me most of the hundreds of email lists I’ve opted into (to observe), marketers really struggle to know what to write about > what content “bait” to put out there that will encourage “nibbles” from the right kind of fish… And since there’s a lot of experts suggesting daily emails are recommended, there’s a slippery slope of 1-hour blogging and 2-hours/month email funnel setup, writing about OUR business struggles is the McContent of content marketing and completely misses the point of life > serving others, bringing them value, respecting & appreciating their knowledge of themselves and what they need.

    My gmail inbox is a little more difficult to navigate, at least this week, but not everyone in my sphere uses gmail, so I presume at least 60% of my audience is not experiencing this upgrade and would only see my negative posts as passive, troubled by technology (I am challenged by coding, not consumer technology).

    My view on this new format of gmail is that Google is demonstrating their ongoing commitment to provide the best tools for everyone. There will always be improvements and adaptations, it is our job as IM or offline consultants to educate our clients why embracing Google compliance in online activities will reveal a cornucopia of Google authority boosts and cost efficiencies.

    I’m much more relaxed and confident in my business value to clients > I know that the services I offer do, and will, fully embrace ALL the cost-efficiency & effectiveness improvements Google is constantly striving to roll-out & improve upon.

    Why would I ever complain, or suggest to clients, that Google is not exploding value all over humanity, when Google is probably the number one reason I’m experiencing success in my career (since 2003 I’ve worked for & at search engines) and now in my business.

    Now if Outlook, or Yahoo mail were my main email provider (Outlook seemed B2B dominant around 2009), and they made a major change that was truly a #fail, I would have no problem sharing my displeasure… But Outlook and Yahoo mail are both services I use only occasionally, where as Google is my preferred/required business tool provider.

    I even bought a Chromebook 2 weeks ago, so I can do client G+ Hangouts on Air from the road and it is the best piece of equipment I have bought! For the price ($279) it just can’t be beat.

    Thanks Google! I owe you :$

  12. Fantastic post – loved reading it .. I am really liking the new Gmail layout …. great great post!

  13. Marie A /

    You’ve neatly summed up (with illustrations–bonus points!) my thoughts exactly. I love the tabs and mostly read the promotions emails anyway.

    The first time I got one of those emails I thought, Don’t panic! When the barrage started, I thought, OMG, it’s tabs! Not a Venusian death ray. Get a grip.

    Yay for you!

  14. Tori Deaux /

    Thanks, everyone, for the appreciation and for passing this along – I knew I couldn’t be the only one seeing the problem with the tab-freakouts!

    And if you’re wondering about the comments re secret messages, just hover over the graphics 🙂

    @Mantha & @Tea — what a great idea to reply to those freakouts with a link to this!

    @Julia thanks for the mention of Mailchimp’s info on it… I think I’ll add a link to it!

    @Marie A Venusian Death Ray! I may have to draw that for the sequel…

    @Danny – glad I could save you the trouble of writing this yourself 😉

    @Nicole Sharknado has temporarily replaced both the “COW!” battle cry from “Twister” and “I want a chupacabra for Christmas” in my personal mythology, so you can expect it to hang around for a while. Thanks for finding the typo, and here’re your stars!

    Also… one added benefit to the new Gmail interface? It now only shows 127 unread emails! Woot! Intervention no longer needed 😉

  15. This post, and many of the comments, added so much levity to my day that I’m actually typing this as my entire body hovers over the desk (I keep bumping into my desktop monitor with my knees as I adjust to weightlessness from over laughing)…

    And since I haven’t yet cooked up enough panic, in spite of the onslaught of emails I got about gmail’s innovative (isn’t that what we don’t pay them for?) shakeup – I hadn’t yet sent anything out to my list.

    @Maria A “Venusian death ray. Get a grip.” Probably don’t really want to grip a Venusian death ray… 🙂 AND, you added to the helium levity, for sure!

    @Jen – I’m taking your idea a little short and will most likely use it to postpone my gmail email without worrying, once again, that postponing is any problem. So thank you for that!

    And a quick side note: @Tori – love this way of commenting in one response and plan to put that into action on my blog!

    For all of it! Up, up, up and away! (oops there my toes go, touching the ceiling. Really, you should try this sometime. Gives a whole new perspective… looking down on my desktop (the non-virtual one).

  16. Tori — I was sooooo happy to see this post. I couldn’t stop smiling — I’ve been thinking the same thing ever since I started to get the sea of panicked emails.

    And I’ve noticed today that the tone of the emails has calmed down. Methinks your message has been heard!

  17. I got my first “I’m no longer in your Inbox, here’s how to fix it” email today and I promptly unsubscribed from her list and left feedback, too, telling her it irritated me to be told how to use my inbox and “fix” something that wasn’t broken in the first place. And that if she had a problem being marked as promotion (considering she’s promoting her knowledge and services as a Life Coach) then that was her problem, not mine or gmail’s!

    I love the new tabs, they are amazing and actually HELP keep me productive because I’m not clicking over to my gmail tab every time the (1) pops up and it’s a Groupon offer or Newsletter and not a direct email.

  18. I must live a very sheltered life. I have not heard one person mention this except for right here. So, honestly, I’m scratching my head at why you’re all making such a fuss. No one else is.

  19. Tori Deaux /

    @Ariane I’ve been smiling at the image of you levitating all day.

    @Lori I haven’t received a single email on the topic today – maybe it’s burnt itself out? We can hope!

    @Scraps, I am really liking the tabs too, and it’s pretty good at sorting. I’ve only had to train it on a very few things.

  20. @Tori – smiles for smiles, Grl….

    And, how do i get my avatar up here and not the rear end of a lobster – or whatever that green envelope with red claws is…

  21. This is a great post. As a user I first of all removed the tabs and then missed them so I have them back. I commented on two newsletter sites that users were, in the main going to like the new inbox design, because they seemed to think that users would simply turn them off or drag them to their primary inbox (and that it was a question of educating users on what to do). I posted this link on both sites because I think it is important for marketers to understand that many users will like the tabs (I don’t think they believe this) and that they need to be looking at this more creatively and from the point of view of the subscriber. I had no idea though that the panicked emails were already being sent to subscribers.

  22. Tori Deaux /

    @Ariane – the avatars are generated through Just sign up and associate the email address you used here, and your smiling face will replace the “rear end of a lobster” (LOL) not only here, but on most blogs and many web services.

    @Nicky Thanks for posting the link – You’re right, I don’t think many of the marketing folks knew we’d like and use the tabs, or that some of us would actually read MORE of their mailings this way

  23. Love this post. Am a first time reader and found you via a Google search on the topic to find people like me who thought all this freaking out was a tad bit outlandish 😀

  24. I like your style Tori! I have terrible open rates on my emails (probably because I’m too sporadic with email) so I doubt this will have much of an effect on me.

    What surprises me is that no one came up with a $27 course to teach me how to solve this problem 8=)

    Now GMail has to create another tab for Sharknado emails…

    • Funny! My thoughts exactly, until I saw something in my inbox yesterday (Aug 1st) announcing a brand new plugin that would fix this promotions tab problem in gmail once and for all. I sort of forgot to click through to look at the sales page – sorry I can’t pass along the juicy details & pricing 🙂 I suspect there will be more coming too.

      I’m with the rest of you, I actually enjoy the tabs & was completely repelled by the outcry. I had been on a blog posting hiatus & came out just to post one about this crazy topic.

  25. Ha ha – what a great post. Personally I haven’t seen all the ‘doom and gloom’ emails, but I did write a post linking to Kristi Hines article, which was informative and measured.
    But now I can come out and confess that I like the new tabs! 🙂

  26. Tori Deaux /

    @Martin: The management is not responsible for excessive dry-cleaning bills!

    @Salma & @Caroline Glad you both found me, and Caroline, maybe we need a InboxFan coming-out party or something?

    @Bill – I am so TOTALLY going to request a Sharknado tab from Gmail. Top priority, above my planned “learn to turn off tabs and make marketers happy” course, only $399.73 (or $27 if you act now!)

  27. Thank you for bringing the voice of reason to all of this! I received one of the end of the world posts. After listening to it I pulled up my gmail to take a look. OH! I like this!
    One note – this person commented on was what about places using gmail as a host for their email? Well, I actually have mine set up to utilize the email program on my Mac. The concern was what will happen to all those sorted emails, maybe they won’t show up. Perhaps they should have tried it first? From what I can see they simply all come right into my inbox as usual. In fact, had I not seen all the marketing hoopla about tabs I never would have realized they existed because I typically don’t use the online web-bbased access.
    Thanks for your post and bringing the voice of reason to the discussion!

  28. Tori, you’ve said everything i’ve been thinking, as I go through my various email accounts and see these “woe is me” emails. It is funny how the big fry are so afraid of being lost among the little fry. As if being “lost” in a promotions tab would make me forget them forever. I like the tabs. I think most people will find it easier to navigate and find the content they want to read.

    Thanks for saying it all better than I could have.

  29. I’ve actually started to unsubscribe to many of the lists that sent the “OMG it’s the end of the world cuz Gmail started tabbing things…” emails.

    I LOVE the new tabs. I check them all, and it makes it SO much easier to keep on top of things!

  30. Napoleon /

    Gold stars for me? Typo! I believe you mean FTC not FFC. Anyway, thank you for including this information it was very helpful.

    • Tori Deaux /

      Nice catch Napoleon… Here are your stars, much appreciated! Stars! For Napoleon