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The Impact of Outlook’s Focused Inbox for Email Marketers

SHAMITA JAYAKUMAR - JUN 14, 2017

Part of email marketing is knowing what happens to your email after you push send. Your email service provider provides information about who’s opening your email or clicking links, and when these events happen. Sending an email at the right time with the right content becomes a little easier when you have this data. Recently, Microsoft Outlook made some changes that could impact how your readers interact with the emails you send. Focused Inbox is a new tab system currently in use for the Outlook app on iPhone and Android operating systems, but is now actively being rolled out to Outlook.com and Office 365 users.

Is Focused Inbox the greatest thing since sliced bread, a marketer’s nightmare, or another blip in the annals of email marketing?

In this post, we’ll look at what Outlook is changing and how, if at all, it will impact your email marketing strategy.

What changes is Outlook making?

Focused Inbox is an update to a previous tool called Clutter. But where Clutter moved emails to different folders, Focused Inbox utilizes tabs, making it easier for users to access all their email.

This new feature gives Outlook email users some flexibility on how mail comes into their inboxes. Email is sorted by importance and those emails deemed essential are sent to the Focused tab. The rest of the emails go to the Other tab but are still available in the inbox. The ranking is done by assessing how often emails from different people or companies are interacted with and also the type of content that’s included. So an email from a friend will go to the Focused tab, but also a newsletter that’s read and interacted with every month will too. The priority placed on emails is done by how a user interacts with them, not just the type of email. Outlook users can control which emails go to the Focus Inbox tab by marking an email “Move to Focused” or “Move to Other.”

Outlook is also adding a @mention feature, which works a bit like tagging people on social media. A user will just need to type @ then add a person to share the email with and as long as they are a contact, they’ll be included in the email. This is still a new feature and probably doesn’t have much marketing value yet. But stay tuned, it may down the line. The one thing to note about this feature is that the inbox preview will show a @mention at the top of the email, not the beginning text of the email as it normally would.

How will this impact marketing emails?

Outlook takes information about how a subscriber interacts with different emails to decide if an email is a priority or not. Different subscribers could see the same emails end up in different tabs, depending on how they interact with the emails. It’s important to know that this is based on a reader’s interaction with an email, so the more targeted the messages are that you’re sending, the more likely it is to be on the Focused Inbox tab.

A few years ago Gmail introduced Priority Inbox with five tabs to sort email coming to the inbox. This is very similar to the change Outlook email is introducing now. Much like what happened when Gmail made this change, marketers may feel compelled to get their readers to move their email to the Focused tab, but this is probably not necessary. Many people found it irritating to be told what to do with emails in their own inbox and either ignored the instructions or marked the emails as spam.

To avoid mailing your readers too often, or annoying them with inbox instructions, it’s best to keep emailing as you always have. Send the same content as you normally would, and most likely there is no need to send a one-off email with directions on how to get your email in the Focused tab. Keep sending your subscribers what you promised them when they signed up and they should continue to be engaged.

Wrap up

Focused Inbox is just a way to help email subscribers organize their chaotic inboxes. For marketers, it shouldn’t mean too much of a change to your current email marketing strategy. Keep sending the content your subscribers signed up for,  and if they’ve been reading and enjoying your emails, they’ll still be able to do that, and your business will still see the benefit.

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