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The Impact of Outlook’s Focused Inbox for Email Marketers…

Article first published June 2017, updated June 2019

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’ll 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.

Outlook Email – Focused Inbox - Tabs

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 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’re 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.

Outlook Focused Inbox – Managing Emails – Mention Feature

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’ll 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 ignored them.

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’s 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.

Why staying up to date matters

Since it first developed over four decades ago, email has been one of the most valuable and effective forms of communication in the world. The only constant with email has been change. This infographic demonstrates just how fast email has developed.

This infographic demonstrates just how fast email has developed.

Source: Digital Doughnut

From the days when a mass email campaign meant sending to a few hundred people, all the way to the modern day where there are a few hundred email builders out on the market, it’s easy to see the amazing span of growth.

Inbox email marketing has changed right along with it. When we’re talking about Outlook email marketing or an Outlook Focused Inbox within the context of email evolution, we’re talking about changing clients. Why should you keep up to date on the changes to email and, more specifically, to the email clients you use?

The main reason is that understanding how the industry changes make it easier for you to adapt. For email marketers, adapting to change quickly is key for staying relevant. Marketers, in general, run the risk of being too promotional or too pushy if they don’t know where and how to reach their customers. Being able to adapt quickly makes it easier for marketers to stay relevant. More importantly, it makes it easier for them to engage customers in the right way.

Why adaptive marketers are better marketers

Going back to the Focused Inbox and its use of tabs for organizational purposes, we can see the goal of modern email clients. Email companies are looking to become more efficient. There are more emails being sent than ever before, so clients must think of better ways to help their customers keep organized and focused.

The goal for marketers is an easy one. They want to better serve their customers or, in this case, their subscribers. Keeping them engaged means delivering the relevant, impactful content they want. The more control you have over your inbox and your mailing list, the better grasp you’ll have over the needs of your readers.

The goal for marketers is an easy one. They want to better serve their customers or, in this case, their subscribers.

Source: Campaign Monitor

The growth of email systems means more than being able to see how your campaigns are doing. It means being able to structure them well before you ever click send. If you keep up with the changes to email clients, you can find more inventive ways to use it and better ways to engage your subscribers.

Remember, better engagement = more ROI.

Marketers should always keep the bottom line in mind. When you’re engaging your subscribers more effectively, your campaigns will be more profitable. Better engagement can translate into more leads and higher sales.

Even if your emails are just focused on informing your readers rather than directly offering them a product, remember, you’re still promoting your brand with each email you send. You’ll be able to increase the chance of interaction and optimize your content to provide a return on investment.

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.

Want to see just how much email clients have changed? Check out our report from a decade ago to note the evolution between email clients then and now.


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