Lawyers: Your Email Marketing Channel (Might) be Dead

In May, Google started rolling out a new interface for gmail  that organized email into five different buckets, accessed via tabs  – including one marked “promotional”.   The promotional category includes all email focused on deals, offers and almost everything sent en masse from email service providers.  This new interface is being rolled out to Gmail’s 126 million US subscribers.

Gmail Tabs

Make now doubt about it – email – the super low cost, high ROI channel, is now less effective.  (The cynic in me suggests that Google’s move is part user experience and part an attempt to shift yet more ad dollars to different channels, like . . . . PPC.)

So far, email marketing companies have predictably downplayed the impact of the changes to email campaigns.  Constant Contact SEO Gail Goodman acknowledged “small decreases in open rates among Gmail users.”  MailChimp published an early study indicating a drop in click through rates of 7-8%.  Note that this was conducted at the end of July – at that point it is unclear (I think) how widespread the rollout of the new interface was – so these numbers may be extremely optimistic.

It will be interesting to see how users adapt to the new interface over time – will they forgo the “promotions” tab altogether, or flock there when in a “purchasey” mood – as some email marketers have suggested.  Hard to say – my personal suspicion is that we are seeing the beginning of a huge decline in the volume of marketing emails and a very heavy push towards high quality.  I simply can’t imagine ever opening a second mailbox at the end of the driveway that was stuffed with nothing but the weekly circulars from the local grocery stores.

What to Do?

If your firm has an active email list here are some ways you may be able to earn yourself into the primary tab – or at least minimize the impact of being shunted into a bucket with  Hawaiian timeshares, housecleaning services and adult dating sites.

  1. Focus on engaging subject lines.
  2. Abandon the canned, mass email content from legal email marketers that is recycled among all of their other clients.
  3. Segment your users (and your email content, subject lines) so you are speaking as closely to each customer’s interests as possible.
  4. Abandon the volume perspective – because email is so cheap to send, it encourages quantity instead of quality.  Reverse that mindset and don’t send anything if you don’t have anything interesting to send.
  5. If all else fails – ask users directly to be moved into their “primary” tab.