Gmail Priority Inbox: the Death Knell for Email as Lead Generation?

This month, Google released a new feature called Priority Inbox, designed to help Gmail users better cope with email overload by automatically determining which emails are most important to the recipient. For example, messages sent from people that you typically respond to immediately will receive special attention and preferential placement, as will emails sent to you exclusively and not to others.

It’s a simple yet brilliant idea that could have broad consequences for email marketers. If (as is likely) the concept catches on and extends in one form or another to other email clients, notably Microsoft Outlook, Priority Inbox could sound the beginning of the end for email as a lead generation tool.

And that’s not a bad thing.

One, because the effectiveness of email as a tool for acquiring net new sales leads is already as bad as it’s ever been. Remarkably, the cost to rent email lists even from reputable publishers hasn’t changed much in recent years, even while open, click-through, and lead rates have plummeted. As a result, ROI from rented lists has nose-dived, and email programs to those lists are now a dodgy proposition in all but the most ideal circumstances.

Two, acquisition is not what email does best. The ideal role for email in the marketing realm lies in its power to nurture, educate, cultivate, and maintain awareness amongst recipients who already have a familiarity with, and an affinity for, your brand. In other words, the very people for whom Priority Inbox will not be a barrier, because your message has relevance and value to the recipient.

Priority Inbox simply serves to cement and accelerate the recent trends towards inbound marketing and lead management. Acquisition will increasingly rely on inbound tools like search, content syndication, and social media, and email will be the tool by which marketers move those raw prospects through the sales funnel.

Disclaimer: Google is a Spear Marketing Group client.

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