Is Google’s Tabs A Chimera?

We’ve all heard the phrase “parents eating their young,” but never the reverse. Now weDCA_Shag have an inchoate example, Google GOOG +0.04%, who wants you to “Meet the new inbox.” The tech giant’s popular Gmail software has attracted more than 425 million users worldwide, and now it has introduced “new customizable tabs [that] put you back in control so that you can see what’s new at a glance and decide which emails you want to read and when.”

Gmail’s four new tabs enable this attractive solution: Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates. Guess which one is not seeing much traffic? Yes, you got it, it’s the Promotions tab over brimming with tasteless offers from hair removal to hiring a crematorium DJ. Just the very word (Promotions) can lead you to hit the escape. Ironically, in Google’s case, it happens to be the tab in which a big share of their business model lives along with many angry and disgruntled marketers.

The promotions tab is nothing more than a brick wall to those businesses that wish to employ tactful email marketing in order to reach potential customers. Not only is the immediacy of an email rendered fruitless, but potentially worse, an enticing message could be lost in a wash of frivolous promotional messages.

Even worse though, it might be automatically archived with no hope for it to ever resurface from the dark abyss of the email waste bin. This will negatively impact customer perceptions and diminish sales revenue in a dynamic landscape that is already shifting away from the draw of email as the king of immediate-response marketing. That environment has already become exacerbated by targeted customers’ slow action on promotional emails, the hazard of them abandoning their shopping carts, and a tougher scale of competition from which to differentiate.

The thinking behind the new inbox is exceptional as it means less email in the junk box, more engagement for customers with emails they wish to receive (theoretically under their promotions tab), but I wonder how it’s being received internally. Is it viewed as a major breakthrough or a major cause of protestation? There’s nothing wrong with selling – trust me! But using the word ‘Promotions’ as an umbrella term under which a host of negatively perceived emails may fall is doing less good – and more bad – for the email interface initiative (and marketers, too) than was originally intended. And while Google overachieved in the conception of its new inbox, it remarkably underperformed in its execution.

Google’s rapacious energy for growth is well known and its munificence for creating new innovative solutions is abundant. However, a simple little tab has some major implications for Google’s revenue model and its reputation. Could this be the loose fitting part in the machine that not only slows it down, but ultimately drives itself to total failure? What should Google do (since losing its CMO, Gary Briggs, to Facebook FB -0.32%) without sullying the brand? Should it stand by its generous offer to separate your desired emails from the manning horde of flash and trash, or instead purloin and reframe? Google has too many new ideas to enumerate, but the widening sense of depredation over the new tabs could be a chimera.

The big question is whether Google weathers this brewing storm or charters a new course altogether. Google is well versed in dealing with failures that it removes with alacrity when they’re not popular, but what about when it is? Do they back track and ditch the new inbox or face the potentially baleful consequences?

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Author: Dean Crutchfield

In an award-winning career spanning two decades, Dean Crutchfield has created, built and re-invigorated some of the world's most iconic brands.

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