Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Nishad Ramachandran in which he talks about email marketing and the shifting sands with the introduction of Gmail’s easy unsubscribe button. Nishad is VP Digital Experience at Hansa Cequity. He has over 2 decades of experience across traditional advertising, direct & digital marketing, social media and CRM.

For the smart digital marketer, email marketing has always been a secret weapon. Done well, email marketing can fly under the competitive radar and drive handsome responses, which could be amongst the highest for any kind of marketing.

Yet, email marketing is a multi-headed hydra.

There is a need for marketers to understand, experiment with and master the finer aspects of email marketing in order to achieve proficiency. They need to learn to manage email lists, create relevant segments, learn the nuances of opt-in marketing, legal and ethical issues around spam and to manage email service providers. To understand the complexities of email clients like Outlook and Apple Mail and web-based services like Gmail and Yahoo Mail, issues with HTML mails, proliferation of mobile devices, apps, and the science of measurement —of opens and clicks.

As if these were not enough, there exist a bevy of other issues too. With the new legislation around opt-in marketing, we are already seeing restrictions for using SMS and tele-calling with DND, Europe has taken the lead in regulating online cookies, email too is on the regulator’s radar with FTC’s CAN SPAM Act of 2014 that set guidelines for commercial messages.

And then the curveballs, like the one Google threw last year. Tinkering with the way people receive, read and manage their Gmail accounts on introducing the priority inbox, an automated prioritization service that placed all incoming mails into individual tabs named primary, social and promotion.

We swallowed hard, took the change chest on and survived. If open rates are a metric to go by, we now know that the tabbed inbox has made little or no impact on Gmail open rates. In some cases, promotional mails mostly from brands and services are seeing higher open rates post the change.

Exactly a year after the last change, comes another fundamental one. A change which could have a far more profound impact on email marketing. Unsubscribing made easy, as Google points out, puts the power to unsubscribe from unwanted mails in the hands of the people.

Although this doesn’t seem like a big change on the face of it, as all promotional emails have had an unsubscribe link at the bottom of mails. We have seen people seek out the feature and get themselves off lists that they don’t want to be on. But what’s new here is the importance Google is giving to the unsubscribe button.

The new easy unsubscribe button will now feature prominently on TOP of every message that Google flags as promotional.

Nishad Ramachandran Hansa Cequity


So what should marketers do when email providers like Gmail are creating barriers for them to reach out to their customers easily? For one, it will drive them to become more selective on the mails they send out.

Many marketers feel that they have the right to send regular mails out to people who join their list. In most cases, these mails have little or no relevance to the person receiving it. I recently purchased a specialized sports drink from an online retailer, now I receive regular emails from them about deals on laptops, jewellery and home furnishing.

This is exactly the behavior that Google wants to end. While I went ahead and unsubscribed from the retailers list, not too many people know of or care enough to unsubscribe from lists they don’t want to be a part of. A prominent and easy unsubscribe button could force a change in behavior driving more people to unsubscribe from mails they don’t want to receive. Annoying emails, writes Mashable.

We do a lot of work with email—sending close to a billion messages a year. In our work with emails, we have seen that the key to driving success is customer intelligence. Treat email not as a medium for mass communication; but as a way to engage with people one-to-one. It works best when a marketer knows every single member on a list intimately and engages with everyone on the basis of this knowledge.

By using technology to manage millions of customers in a database and creating tags for mapping individual behaviour, a marketer is able to create highly relevant and engaging emails that people will want to receive. Like some of the automatically triggered emails I receive from Amazon. If I have searched for a product on the site and have not completed a purchase, I get reminded by Amazon about the product I looked for. Or the ones SkyScanner sends you to let you know that prices of air tickets you purchased have come down. How useful!

Email—going beyond the email box. With new services from Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and even Gmail, an email address can trigger more than just an email. With Facebook Custom Audience feature, you can match email ids of people on a list and run one-to-one campaigns at them on Facebook. Google Sponsored Promotions lets you do the same on Gmail, ever noticed a yellow sponsored ad on the Gmail promoted tab?

For the lazy marketer, who thinks of email as a cheap way of sending posters out using email, the unsubscribe button is something to be feared. For others, Time Magazine has some thoughts to chew over. Now that it’s easier to unsubscribe, marketers can assume that the people who remain subscribed are more of a core group that find the messages relevant and appealing.

Image credit: digitalmined.com