Google is rolling out a field trial for Gmail users to test out a "Grid View" for promotional email. The Grid View offers a Pinterest-style viewing option in the Promotions Tab that effectively eliminates subject lines when activated.
Google presents the Grid View as a better way for users to find "deals and offers" they want to know about. But not every email in the Promotions Tab is a deal or offer. For example, thousands of subscribers get our email marketing tips by email and many find them in the Promotions Tab. So what's really happening here? It appears this is another step in Google's plan to monetize the Gmail inbox. It all started when Google rolled out Tabs, which created a clear distinction between promotional, social, and personal/business email. By separating marketing emails into the Promotions Tab, Google was able to test inbox ads masked as emails without causing too much of an uproar. But very few people get excited about ads showing up in their inboxes, especially when those ads look like emails. Sounds a lot like spam, doesn't it? And if you read my post about buying email lists, you&aposd know that sending spam is illegal and punishable by up to $16,000 per email. But what if promotional emails display visually? Could this make inbox advertising feel less invasive? Is it possible that sending spam could become an acceptable practice in the form of inbox advertising? Google seems to be testing these questions with the introduction of "Grid View". If it sticks, this will create a further separation between standard email and promotional email. And if promotional emails look more like banner ads than standard emails, Gmail users might not be as upset about advertisers invading their inboxes. Where is this all going? For now, the change is likely to make little impact on email marketing. The feature is optional, only available to standard Gmail users, and requires testers to turn it on in the Promotions Tab. There's also no sign that Yahoo, Hotmail, or AOL are jumping on board and there's no guarantee that the feature will stick. But if we look at the bigger picture... It looks like Google is learning from Facebook's monetization strategy. Think about it. Much like Gmail is evolving to show users "what they want", the Facebook newsfeed evolved to display content tailored to specific users. Through that evolution, it became harder and harder for companies to reach their Facebook fans. Today, you can expect to pay to reach most of your Facebook audience. Is this where Google hopes to take promotional email? Is it possible that one day we will have to pay Google and other ISPs to reach our email audiences? Is pay-to-deliver the future of email marketing? What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know!