Is Priority Inbox a Priority?

I’m in Captiva Island, FL at the Media Post Email Insider Summit. I’ve been able to attend some great panels and meet with colleagues from all over.  Yesterday,  I had  the opportunity to moderate a panel session on the new inbox engagement trends that have become prevalent in the market. To make the experience even better, I had three wonderful industry insiders joining me on the panel: Joel Book, Principal of eMarketing Education for Exact Target, Josh Glantz, VP of Online Marketing  for Publishers Clearing House, and Marc Haseltine, Email and Alternative Marketing for National Geographic.

We focused our discussion on some of the most talked about ISP changes, and noted that there are clear benefits of these changes for subscribers (more control of their inbox), and the ISPs (keeping subscribers in their environment longer), but the benefits to marketers, if any. weren’t as clear.  The discussion centered around the three most prominent service providers:

  • Gmail’s Priority Inbox and Smart Labels
  • Yahoo’s Inbox Applications (such as Inbox Organizer from Other Inbox)
  • Hotmail’s Active Inbox and Sweep

Not surprisingly, Google’s Priority Inbox took center stage:

The question of the day was: How important is this, really, for email marketers?

With the interactive nature of the previous sessions from the day, the tone was aptly set in a quote by Urban Daddy CEO Lance Broumand from an earlier session – “If you are worried about Gmail’s Priority Inbox, you have bigger priorities.”

Josh Glantz expanded on this thought by explaining that the very focused segmentation and content strategy at Publisher’s Clearing House was a key reason why they haven’t seen a dip in response due to these new inbox developments.  By carving out message streams that are highly relevant to their subscriber base, they’ve developed a very loyal following.  In fact, they’ve found that filtering applications like Priority Inbox and Inbox Organizer can actually be beneficial to the readership of their email, as it helps separate their mailstreams (which subscribers are anticipating) from other inbox noise.

Marc Haseltine, from National Geographic, echoed this sentiment, and stressed the importance of program fundamentals like clarity during the acquisition process, providing preference options, sending targeted content, and having good list hygiene.  He noted that marketers lacking solid practices in these areas are those at most risk for having their email lumped into the “bulk” folder, far from subscriber’s viewership.

Offering a different perspective, Joel Book from Exact Target, challenged marketers to re-examine their analytics and use the data to inform the mail strategy with subscribers in order to drive engagement and allow the new ISP tools to work to marketers’ benefit.  Having a formal strategy to address (and remove) non-responders from your file was a top recommendation for mitigating risk.  The other top-of-mind strategy was to be aware of how mobile viewership may be influencing the inbox experience and optimizing accordingly.

Throughout the fast-paced discussion, the topic of relevance kept rising to the forefront.  The key advice from all three panelists was to be proactive: make sure your foundation is laid properly. Those good practices will reap rewards not only in the traditional ways, but also to leverage these new inbox technologies to your advantage.  If you are aware of vulnerabilities within your current practices, now is the time to address them!

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