Do Gmail promotion cards improve email performance?

Long story short: gmail promotion cards did not have statistically significant positive impact on our Black Friday email campaign.

My first year being on the retailer’s side of Black Friday was 2019. It was a harrowing experience due to lack of experience and being new to my job. We hectically threw together our Black Friday campaigns around 3 weeks before Thanksgiving: copy writing, design, QA, pre-testing, and identifying segments for the biggest revenue week of the year all done as quickly as possible. This is not an experience I recommend. In 2019 I knew about Promotion Cards but since we had a very short timeline to work on the emails and I didn’t have time to test the Promotion Cards. In 2020, we started planning in early October. Unfortunately I forgot about Promotion Cards until the Black Friday week. Remembering that I wanted to test the cards in 2019 I scrambled to incorporate them into a handful of our early campaigns sent on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week to see if the cards would be able to measurably increase sales conversion rates for our biggest email sends running from Black Friday to Cyber Monday.

I tested the promo cards on 4 different emails with volume around 4 million people. I looked primarily at 2 metrics: open rates and send-to-purchase conversion. I know open rate is a vanity metric — call me vain! Promotion Card’s best performance garnered +5% better open rates (stat sig) but send-to-purchase conversions were -1.2% worse than control (not stat sig). The Promotion Cards lagged in both metrics in other campaigns as well and could not achieve statistical significance for purchase conversion in any test. Since I couldn’t get stat sig on the sales I decided to take the easy road: no Promotion Cards for the remainder of Black Friday 2020 campaigns.

What are Promotion Cards?

Several years ago Gmail came up with the “Promotions” tab to automatically separate out marketing emails from people’s inboxes and into a separate folder. Marketers freaked out because the Promotions tab, essetially, is a Spam-lite inbox. All the marketing riffraff ends up lost in the outer limits email equivalent of the axe-murderer-creepy cluttered basement or the spider-filled attic. The Promotions tab on Mobile devices is especially challenging because the tab lies within a menu drawer.

I find out about new GMail features from the Product Managers that work at Google. Both at Flipboard and Calm, the Gmail account management team has reached out to test new features: I was able to use promotion cards and AMP for email as part of the Gmail beta programs. Is it an exclusive club? I don’t know. But it does feel kind of cool to test new features in the world’s most popular email service before most people.

In this case I think the kindly folks at Gmail came up with Promotion Cards annotation to give emails extra visibility on mobile clients to make up for banishing marketing emails into the Promotions tab. You can see a Promotion Card in action below.

As you can see above, Gmail added a bold “Promotions” section at the top of the Primary Inbox. That space contains a couple of teasers for the Promotions Tab (buybuy Baby, Carter’s, etc.).

Observations: increased open rate in 3 tests, decreased in 1. The case where promo code loss may be due to poor subject line choice.

Observation: less clicks

Observation: sales inconclusive.

Result: slight edge to promo cards but it will not change your business. Take it or leave it.