Promoting Meaningful Communication with Gmail Promotions Update

Gmail has changed the email experience for their subscribers’ once again. This time around though, marketers aren’t calling it email marketing armageddon (looking at you Promotions tab naysayers circa 2013). Gmail has announced that they are giving marketers the ability to add images and annotations to messages that get placed in the Promotions tab. Annotations are bits of information that show a user specific information about a promotion relating to it’s expiration date, discount amount and promo code they can use before the message is ever opened. With this new set of marketing tools, brands are brewing up ways to capitalize on adding newly announced features to their promotional campaigns.

Last month Jordan Grossman, Product Manager from Google partnered with Litmus to unveil the Promotions annotations and how adding a promotions information will be used inside Gmail’s inbox, alongside other changes. As part of this update, Gmail provided more detail on how they will be bundling promotional mail. This includes groupings such as Top Deal and Expiring Soon. Though there has been a fair amount of discussion around the bundles and how they will work, most of the hype has been focused on the actual annotations, and not without cause. One of the world’s largest inboxes will begin delivering information usually reserved for the content of an email to the subscriber as they scroll through their inbox looking for emails to open.

Let’s break down these new customizable annotations, how to practically use them, and examples of how they will be displayed. We are going to be using my own mock brand of Andrew’s Outdoor Shop.

Adding Brand Logo:

The first visual feature you can add is your brand’s logo. The default for Gmail is to show the first letter of the sender’s From name with a randomly generated background color, which at best is fairly boring and at worst off-brand for a sender. Though a subscriber can see the From name right next to that icon, brands can use this annotation to capitalize on human beings’ reliance on visual processing as a way to digest information. The human brain processes images 60,00 times faster than text, so something as easy as adding a logo can give the user the basic information they need and move their attention to the more enticing areas of this new inbox format.

Adding Offer Details:

Adding key offer details to the inbox can be a real game changer for marketers. A brand can add annotations that show promotional information before a subscriber opens the email. Gmail has three specific promotional blocks:

  • Offer Description: This section is used to show what the value of the offer that they are receiving. For Andrew’s Outdoor Shop (AOS), the description is for $25 off. Gmail also highlights this offer prominently inside of a green rectangle.
  • Offer Code: This section is showing users how they can activate these savings. For AOS, we can see that when a subscriber uses the code “GiaStorm” they will get the $25 discount.
  • Start and End Dates: For this annotations, the start and end dates of a promotion can be set and translates to what subscribers see as the “Expires in…” content. This content dynamically updates in the inbox so each day the user sees it the “Expires in…” timeline gets shorter and shorter provoking a sense of urgency.

This kind of annotation is great because now content that may have been taking up valuable space in the subject line now has its own area to display and marketers can fill subject lines with more engaging content then promotional information and dates.

Adding Promotional Image:

The last piece that can be annotated can help savvy marketers ramp of the visual impact of their messages within the inbox. This promotional image is another chance for a brand to visually communicate why a subscriber should open an email. In the AOS example, we see there are people bundled up and begrudgingly bearing the cold weather. Catering to the fact that humans are such visual creatures, this space can be used to create urgency, excitement, or in this case empathy for the subscribers that are receiving this message. When it comes to implementation, you can use any size image you would like, but Gmail will crop it to fit, so the best size of image to use is 1076 x 276.

Now that you have all the details, what are the big picture goals Gmail is trying to accomplish through these updates? From my perspective, this is a shift to focus on value and subscriber experience. With the annotations, subscribers will be able to see the value a brand is offering up front rather than being lured into a message that may or may not be suited to their interests. This value is not just one-sided though. Adding the expiration date and discount information will give subscribers multiple chances to engage when a message is grouped into one of the bundles.

The visual aspects of this update are what will deliver the improved experience. In today’s digital world, any person with a dial-up connection and an original iMac can deliver information, but subscribers aren’t just looking for raw information anymore. Subscribers want to be communicated with in a way that it elicits a positive emotional response. In a past blog post, How Can Emotions Influence Email Readers?  our data showed that subscribers have positive reactions to emails that make them feel a sense of joy and anticipation. Adding these visual elements can create those feelings of joy and anticipation, as well as urgency, empathy, or even courage depending on your industry. Utilizing the power of these updates is your brand’s chance to make an impression on a subscriber, not just share information.

Practical Implementation:
In the Litmus webinar from December, it was shown that there are two ways of adding annotations, JSON or HTML. Adding the JSON to an email is fairly straightforward and you can see the markup on Gmail’s developer site. Some ESP’s do not support JSON at the moment though, so the HTML that is a more universally supported method. Using a combination of <div> and <meta> tags to create what is called microdata, we can get this information to display in the promotions tab.

How to Add Logo:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>

<meta itemprop=”logo” content=”https://YourDomain/YourLogo.jpg”>


How to Add Discount Offer Info:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>

<meta itemprop=”description” content=”The Discount Description”>

<meta itemprop=”discountCode” content=”DiscountCode”>

<meta itemprop=”availabilityStarts” content=”YYYY-MM-DDTHH:MM:SS+0000″>

<meta itemprop=”availabilityEnds” content=”YYYY-MM-DDTHH:MM:SS+0000″>


How to Add Promotional Image:

<div itemscope itemtype=””>

<meta itemprop=”image” content=”https://YourDomian/YourPromo.jpg”>


Some important notes for microdata annotating. If you are utilizing all of these snippets, you will need to keep them in their separate <div> tags. The item types specified in the <div> tag tell Gmail how to interpret the data and without them, it is just a clump of dead code. Also, the only place that you will need to update content is in the content=”” attribute. All the other bits help Gmail distinguish how blocks will get populated in each section of this new inbox display.

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