Gmail “Canned Response” Says a Lot About Google

Google has unveiled a new feature for Gmail, and it speaks volumes about the company’s strategies and strengths.

Gmail Canned Response came into the world this week. The Labs option lets you set up custom automated replies for e-mails based on any filter — sender name, keyword in the body, etc. Here’s how Google explains it:

If you’re sick of typing out the same reply every time someone emails you with a common question, now you can compose your reply once and save the message text with the “Canned responses” button. Later, you can open that same message and send it again and again.

Consistent Connections

These are the same guys, of course, who brought us Google Goggles earlier this month (the “no more embarrassing drunken e-mails” option…remember?). And here’s the thing: In and of itself, neither the Goggles feature nor the new Canned Response feature is that spectacular. Goggles makes you perform a few math problems before sending a message. Cute, novel, and fun to talk about — but not necessarily something you’d actually use with any regularity. Canned Response attaches a response to a filter. Handy, sure — but nothing that hasn’t been offered in standalone mail clients for years.

The Message

So what’s the message, then? Google is great at marketing. That’s what these two features really demonstrate. Neither has an inherently high or unique value, but both grabbed a lot of attention and got people talking. Sure, Outlook has filter-controlled auto-responses — but it doesn’t sell it to me with an attention-grabbing example like this one (from Google’s Canned Response announcement):

Hello, you’ve reached Chad’s mailbox. Thanks for your email about the latest Labs feature: Canned Responses, or email for the truly lazy. I’m on paternity leave so I won’t be able to respond personally. Instead, I hope you’ll enjoy this automated message.

And with Goggles, there’s no doubt the humor-oriented sell caused its potential for success (at least, as defined by the huge amount of coverage and discussion it received following its launch):

Sometimes I send messages I shouldn’t send. Like the time I told that girl I had a crush on her over text message. Or the time I sent that late night email to my ex-girlfriend that we should get back together. Gmail can’t always prevent you from sending messages you might later regret, but today we’re launching a new Labs feature I wrote called Mail Goggles which may help.

Playing to Its Strengths

Now, certainly, Google doesn’t always hit home runs. (Just see Chrome or the new iGoogle for examples.) But when it uses its strength — its ability to identify its audience and sell straight to them — it gains a distinct advantage: having, at least initially, our attention and intrigue. That’s often the toughest part of the equation. No matter how good a product is, if people don’t notice it, it’s not going anywhere. Regardless of what you think of its offerings, when Google puts its game face on, it definitely knows how to make us notice. It’s a strength other companies — and even Google itself — would be wise to remember.