The Gmail inbox controversy continues.

Back in early June, I blogged about a change in the Gmail inbox that you are probably all very aware of by now – the separation of your inbox into three categories:  primary, social, and promotions.

The NY Times just caught up with the story, and has revealed that we’re not the only ones that are upset.  Big and small retail all over the world wide web is up in arms, and justifiable so.  (Read the article here.)

While according to reports from email service providers, there has only been a 1% decrease in open rates.  However, the article points out an even more serious effect this email segregation has had on online sales.  While people may be still opening  promotional emails, they are also doing it much, much later than they used to.  I know this from first hand experience myself.  Promotional Email now means Non-Important Email to me.  So I don’t click that tab until I have nothing better to do, when I used to do it right away.

And the article states that I’m not the only one.

But for an industry like ours . . . which fights for the same customers, there’s another monster issue with the lumping together of promotional emails.

Because now . . . your show’s discount email is going to be right next to all the other show discount emails in that promotional folder that your customer only checks once a day . . . maybe.  In the new Gmail format, why sure, open rates may stay the same, but we’re all going to face a different competitive environment as the promotional email tab acts like a discount bin at a record store.

And then there’s the theory that whenever a customer is faced with too much choice, they choose nothing.

Let’s hope The Times and Big Retail continue to complain about how Google delivers messaging, because even with all the social networking and other alternative communication methods we’ve derived in the last ten years, nothing, nothing trumps email.

In fact, I leave you with this tip that I learned from someone many, many years ago:

If you can have only one marketing goal each year . . . only one . . . make it to double the size of your email list.

And then tell your customers to make sure they drag your emails to their PRIMARY TAB.  (And that reminds me, if you’re an email subscriber to the blog, make sure to click it, and drag it out of Promotions and into Primary . . . just until I get Google to make a tab that says, PRODUCERS.)

How are you, as a consumer, interacting with the new Google tabs?  Let me (and everyone else) know below!


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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  • Scott says:

    “Promotional Email now means Non-Important Email to me. So I don’t click that tab until I have nothing better to do, when I used to do it right away.”

    While troubling from a marketing perspective, it is preferred from a consumer perspective. During my work day, I don’t want to concern myself with promotions/etc. I’d rather miss out on the occasional promotion but have it segregated from the thinks that matter most to me – personal and work correspondence.

  • Merez says:

    I actually don’t like it for the opposite reason. As a consumer, I flag all emails from vendors that I get too often or are consistently irrelevant and auto forward them to a “Z-Offers” tag. I’ve already separated spam and copious offers out of my Inbox and the Google solution interrupts that with, for me, a less eloquent option.

    I still keep the offers I really want to interact with in my Inbox but the less relevant sit in the folder which I check maybe once a month.

    It makes me wonder if, in the long run, this is Google’s solution to make the consumer more likely to look at promos.

  • Scott says:

    Merez: You can go in the opposite direction. By dragging/dropping a Promotion onto your Inbox, that vendor should then always go to your inbox. But by default, they start out in Promotions. Great for my needs.

  • Malini says:

    I had a strong system in place for my subscriptions. Then once a day I would do a quick search through each of the sub-labels, deleting what I didn’t need at the moment or knew I wouldn’t be able to use within the week.

    The new tabs are annoying even though I did everything suggested. I actually forget to check it because everything is jumbled together (not you, Ken. You have your own label).

    And I have seen a dip in those opening my emails. The numbers have fallen by about 30%. That means I have to do extra work promoting.

  • Janet says:

    I disabled the tabs after trying them for a week. I can categorize my own mail, thank you, google.

  • If your email is getting into the promotional folder, get a different service to send it out. I started noticing that a certain percentage of promotional emails were winding up in my main inbox while everyone else’s were going into the promotions folder. Then a few weeks later I was happy to see that the emails I send to my list of 20,000 authors and author wannabes were going to my main folder. Some autoresponder services have figured out how to get around Google. I can think of two. (One is an independent guy who is too small for Google to catch onto, the other is a well-known service used by lots of internet marketers. Ironically, the all-inclusive email and direct mail combo provider used by most of the big players has not figured out how to get past the partitions.)

  • Inez says:

    I had to drag several of Ken’s emails to my primary box several times before it picked up that I wanted them there. As for the others, there are a few companies whose promotions I am periodically interested in, but where I could skim subject lines before to see if I got something I could use, I now have to deliberately go to the promotions tab to scan for applicable promotions. It’s also irritating on the Social tab. Some of what they label social and promotional is business related for me. If they were hell bent on doing this, they could have added a business tab for people in various fields to collect their support organization info into.

  • Hi Ken,

    I usually read your blog every day. A connection was made in my mind today when I was agreeing with you in my mind about the Gmail debacle – I hate what they did. Anyway, I was musing about your last week’s blogs and then I got an email from Mark Travis, a director who has moved the one man or woman autobiographical show into it’s own category. Well, you know what they say, best to start young – so since you’re pretty young I think you should get together with Mark and write your autobiography. What you’re doing is just as interesting as the characters in your shows.

  • Cheryl M. Palmour says:

    I don’t like the change either. I am going to move you to my primary email as well as some others I like.

  • Gmail isn’t the only email service, so let’s not get our panties in a bunch.

    Google has gotten to the top of the heap by trying to HELP it’s users. Compare and contrast them with most any other company or industry. Let’s do “Broadway”.

    Crazy confusing promotions. Higher than high prices on the best seats in the house. Cramped seating. Costly concessions. Deceiving pricing (at the TKTS Booth).

    Maybe the only similarity would be the annoying and intrusive marketing data mining. But at least with Google, they offer delightful services in exchange, often for the wonderful price of “free”. Buying theater tickets has turned into a gauntlet rivaled only by the TSA screenings at the airports.

    While I may be exaggerating a tad, the purchasing of theater tickets should be as frictionless as possible.

    As for Google helping its users in dealing with spam, that should be the least of Broadway’s problems.

    • I could not agree with you more. There are so many other reasons than an email gone astray that Broadway (and producers) needs to worry about…namely content and accessibility. Whether it’s glitzy emails, aggressive pricing promotions, a celebrity star, or movie-name clout to lean on, if the production is vapid or uninteresting, then it doesn’t matter how you try and sell it. Poop in a gold box is still poop.

  • Norma Kramer says:

    I HATE the new categorization ! I am going to disable it ! It feels WAY too much like Big Brother !!!

  • Okay, Ken, I nod and shake my head often while reading your blog but rarely write a response, yet something you said (“nothing, nothing trumps email”) was so off base that I had to correct you…gently, of course.

    As you have stated many times and know to be true, the 5 W’s are what truly make a show not only worth marketing but make it worth producing in the first place. So I do not need expound much further on the need for a great or even good show to begin with before a single email, brochure, flyer, or postcard is sent to a prospective audience.

    As for marketing, emails may be more relevant, useful, and cost-effective than standard post mail, but they are still the digital equivalent of the junk mail that’s in your mailbox and thrown in the trash as soon as you walk inside your front door. That’s why Google addressed a consumer need and came up with the Promotions tab. That’s why I and many like me setup our own systems and filters to keep unwanted spams and promotions from reaching our precious inbox.

    In fact, just as people are beginning to abandon home phones for cell phones and cable boxes for internet content like Hulu and Netflix, people like me are shifting away from emails in favor of a more immediate and interactive communication. While my work and professional life still utilizes emails, in my personal life I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, HeyTell, texting and other similar apps to stay in touch and get my news.

    Between my circle of friends and apps that coordinate my circles of interests, there’s no room for emails, which are near if not at the bottom of my list of ways I find out about what’s new and what’s interesting. You see, whether it’s a theater or ticketing service that emails me because I bought a ticket or TheaterMania or Broadway Genius, I unsubscribe almost immediately because it crowds my inbox and provides irrelevant or uninteresting information to me.

    Word of mouth and interactive promotions are the current future of marketing, not emails. Once agencies, producers, advertisers, and PR firms can find a worthy production and figure out how to generate genuine buzz around a show and a way to engage and interact with their audience, then you have the makings of revenue juggernaut. Passive and annoying emails just aren’t going to do it.

    So again, I’m back to the essence of marketing: the product. No matter how you dress it up, crap is still crap and is hard to sell. Patti LuPone’s presence couldn’t save THE ANARCHIST. Kathie Lee Gifford’s media muscle and personality couldn’t save SACANDALOUS. Simply doubling your email list won’t make up for a badly produced or acted or priced show. Yes, there will always be shows like SCOTTSBORO BOYS and the RAGTIME revival that may fall through the cracks and not live up to their deserved potential, but more often than not the right material and buzz will yield critical and financial gems like ONCE (recouped in 6 months), THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (less than 7 months), BOOK OF MORMON (8 months), NEXT TO NORMAL (one year), and AVENUE Q (10 months). It wasn’t catchy emails or marketing (or any Hollywood stars) that made these shows a hit. What made them successful and award-winning were the music and story and strong word of mouth…which will always, always trump an email.

  • Barry Reszel says:

    One thing that might make you feel better, Ken. As a gmail user who has all my email accounts feeding into Outlook, I do not get the separation you’re talking about in this entry. They are all still lumped together. I suspect many, many of your subscribers use Outlook (or similar) to manage e-mail.

  • Fran says:

    Hi Ken,

    Good news! Gmail delivered to smart phones doesn’t have the labels. We get it all. Maybe you should partner with the wireless carriers to get smartphones in every one’s hands and show tickets in their wallets!

  • adam807 says:

    I couldn’t disagree with you more on this. I’ve already been doing this by manually creating filters ever since I got my first smartphone (a Palm Centro!). I don’t want marketing emails popping up in my inbox when I’m out and about, or trying to work. If they’re separated, it means when I look at them it’s because I WANT to look at them. That separate folder is for newsletters (including this one!) that I want (as opposed to unsubscribing from) but I want them when it’s convenient and not creating clutter. In the inbox, I’m more likely to just swipe away.

    You may notice that I’m commenting on this a couple of days late. That’s because it’s in my Mailing Lists folder at work, which I’m using my Friday afternoon downtime to give my full attention to.

    Emailing me telling me how you want me to treat your email is a sure way to make me unsubscribe forever. It feels desperate and, frankly, kinda rude.

  • Elisa Christina Clayton says:

    For some, “Peg” provides a viable — workaround solution — to the constraints imposed by Gmail promotional folders.

  • Dan says:

    Elisa, Hadn’t ever heard of Peg before. Looks interesting. How would it keep emails out of promotional folders, though?

    (And really, someone thought “” was good nomenclature? Google “” to see what others are saying about the service. Wow.)

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