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How design drives revenue at Google (and how it can for you too)
I will qualify the title by saying I have no information from Google or anyone who works there and what follows is just my imagination at work.
This is my personal inbox.
Comcast is advertising to me but it sure looks like they eMailed me. Did I sign up for Google Play eMail? How do they know I like hip-hop?
In the near future, when Google dominates the eMail marketing channel, a designer should get credit for the $billions in incremental revenue. When this happens, the lesson is IF you can increase the value of your users by getting them to change their behavior, THEN turn to your design team to make it happen.
On May 29th, 2013 Google introduced “Tabs” in the gMail inbox. Maybe this was user-centric design, but what if the actual goal of the design was to shift the eMail advertising landscape in Google’s favor?
What if the design challenge was not “how do we make a better inbox?” but, “How do we drive revenue via gMail?” What if the design was intended to change the way we feel about the inbox by making a piece of it less personal and more, well, promotional? What if the entire design brief was make ads in the inbox successful? (Not the display ads on the side — ads in the feed of eMail that look and act like eMail but are inserted by Google.)
I think this is the case and I think tabs was the first step in Google’s path to eMail marking dominance — a path that depends on design for success.
When Tabs launched, Google reminded us that our crowded and disorganized inboxes were full of messages that, “compete for our attention and make it harder to focus on the things we need to get done.” Google described the new inbox design as “An inbox that puts you back in control” by separating, “messages from friends, social notifications, deals and offers, confirmations and receipts, and more.”
I adopted tabs right away and love it. I love that my promotions are in one place and rather than unsubscribe because they clutter my “inbox,” I go to them when I have time and intention. This behavior contributes to the challenges with open rates, but I bet unsubscribes have decreased. Bottom line, the design change has fundamentally altered the way I engage with promotional eMail — I let promotions pile up, and then I browse them or search my promotions tab for something interesting or a product that I need and click the top results (or the ad at the top that looks just like an eMail). Sort of like when I search the web… I am not complaining about being tricked, I want to congratulate the design team on changing my behavior and making me a more valuable user for Google.
The changes to image cacheing mean I was NOT the only one who changed behavior…On December 12th, Google changed how images are served via gMail and announced that Google would be caching all images…as a security benefit to gMail users and a protection from, “unknown senders who might try to use images to compromise the security of your computer or mobile device.”
This change diminished the data that eMail marketers can leverage to make eMail marketing so effective (lots of discussion and opinions varied on how drastic the impact would be) — and positions Google to bring advertising in the inbox to parity or better with eMail marketing. This architecture change is not cheap to deliver and without confirmation that the new inbox design was successful and will drive the desired increase in user value (to Google) — i don’t think Google would do it.
Google offers me the ability to get into the inbox without sending an eMail and target people based on much more relevant and recent data. They can dominate eMail marketing as a customer acquisition channel without ever sending an eMail. I wonder what the price difference will be for ad placement in the top of the promotional tab vs. the top of the primary tab? I bet that is where the real money (and engagement) is, but like any challenge with a big reward, the solution to that one seems a lot harder to figure out. Maybe just let brands that i have categorized as “Primary” advertise in the Primary tab? Maybe only let brands promote an actual eMail and, for a price, it sticks at the top of my primary tab? We’ll see.
Congrats to the design team on showing the direct connection between design and the bottom line and for making Google’s gMail monetization strategy possible. If you want to bring your talent to a start-up you know where to find us.