How Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox Changes Startups’ Mobile Marketing Strategies


Two years ago, mobile users represented 10% of all traffic to web-first products. Last year, that figure grew to 25%. This year, I’ve seen ranges of 35 to 50%. By mid-next year, I’m certain I will see 75% mobile usage consistently for web-first businesses.

This trend can be explained through device sales to say nothing of mobile app distribution and simpler product experiences. In 2012, phones outsold PCs 5:1. Next year, that ratio will widen to 8:1.

As a result, customer engagement techniques must change radically. To succeed, startups’ marketing and engineering teams must collaborate much more closely because unlike web and email, mobile marketing channels are built directly into the product via SDKs and push notifications.

State of the Art Means 50% Reduction in Conversion

Today, lifecycle emails are the state-of-the-art in customer engagement. Immediately after a user signs up, they receive an email. A few days after creating an account, they receive another email. A week later, email; then a month later, email; if they haven’t logged in, email.

But there are two big problems: filtering and experience. GMail’s new filters and tabbed interface relegate lifecycle emails to a third-class citizen and decrease open rates by more than 25%.

If a mobile user clicks on an emailed link, the phone most often loads the mobile web site rather than the app, reducing conversions by 30%. Over time, this problem will be solved as more applications support filtering protocols on iOS and intents on Android, which enable deep linking in mobile apps.

But, combining these two effects results in a 48% reduction in engagement/conversion.

Navigating to the New World

Given these headwinds in mobile email, push notifications present a good alternative when used well. Urban Airship claims a better than 2x improvement in retention when using push notifications. Without the aggressive filtering present in email and direct app support, push seems to be an effective channel for reengagement.

Retargeting, a technique for bringing users back to an application with ads, hasn’t reached maturity on mobile yet. Supporting filtering protocols and intents is critical for its success. When the technology becomes viable, it will be one of the best channels for mobile marketers.

Marketers will combine internal app data with third party data to find the right users at the right time and land them at the right place in their app. It’s better for the user and better for the marketer. But it will require partnership with engineering to succeed.

Because the most effective marketing techniques in mobile require deep integration into the application, startup marketing and engineering teams will collaborate more as mobile usage patterns approach 75% or more in the next two years.

*Reposted from Tomasz’s personal blog, which you can read here.