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Email marketing: Gmail not the only one making changes

Thomas Senne
Senior Director of Global Deliverability

This article was co-written by Omar Pahati, Senior Deliverability Lead at Responsys.

The past few months have been filled with headline after headline about major changes at Gmail. It seems the gaze of the email world has been squarely on Google. It’s important not to forget about other receivers when charting your communication plan. Today, we’re going to talk about Hotmail/Outlook, which is most likely the biggest domain in your email file.

Gmail isn’t the only ISP that’s sorting promotional mail automatically these days. Microsoft’s revamped webmail service Outlook.com has been doing this for a while too. Microsoft has been aggressive with several attempts at giving control back to the user. The most notable of these is the "sweep" functionality that allowed users to relegate marketing messages to a faraway folder, most likely to never be seen from again.


Now, Microsoft looks to extend the functionality to the desktop in its latest release of the Mail app for Windows 8/8.1. Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft includes the touch-optimized Mail app as the default email reader in Windows.  Most new PCs feature the Mail app as the first icon displayed in the “Metro” environment.  As the default, Mail enjoys huge potential to be used by pretty much anyone who signs into their PC using a Microsoft account.

The Mail app can pull in mail not just from Outlook.com (Hotmail, Windows Live Mail), but also from Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, and Exchange email accounts. When paired with Windows tablets, such as the Surface, Mail works extremely well. Keep this in mind when collecting data on what client your customer base is using to view your messages.

Mail resembles the web-based Outlook.com interface in design and function. The app borrows from Outlook.com an automatic filter that moves promotional mail into a separate area. In the Mail app, unlike Outlook.com, this feature is turned on by default. That’s right; the filtering is turned on by default. Think about this when constructing welcome messages.

For Outlook.com accounts only, promotional mail is filtered to a category called Newsletters. Messages related to social networking are filtered to Social updates. These messages will no longer show up in the Inbox. Instead they’re displayed only when clicking on the category itself on the left column.

Microsoft seems to be doing an excellent job of accurately sorting the messages. In my own inbox, the Newsletters category is filled with familiar brands that I’ve joined, and no personal messages whatsoever. Marketers with great consistency of branding and very descriptive and relevant yet succinct subject lines will do best in this environment.

Automatic sorting is easily edited by the user. All they have to do to re-route messages is to drag them from Newsletters into the Inbox. Mail will then ask the user if they want all future messages to land in the personal Inbox instead. Optionally, the end-user can disable automatic sorting altogether in the app’s settings.

We expect most users to leave their settings untouched except for brands that they truly love. It’s as important as ever for email marketers to focus on building great relationships with customers, to build engagement and relevancy so that their campaigns continue to drive results no matter where they land in the Inbox. The future is here, the catch-all Inbox is dying an accelerated death. The necessity of relevant content and a realistic message cadence, coupled with high engagement could not be more important.

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