Google is gearing itself up to seize the hidden holy grail of ad targeting: task lists. A fresh emphasis on ‘Reminders’ in its new email app, Inbox, is a clear indicator of the huge potential ready to be exploited. There are a lot of hurdles, but capturing and utilizing your task list is an opportunity to rival search that has remained completely untapped. And Google is perfectly placed to exploit it, within their ecosystem of mobile friendly convenience applications.

Google’s famous search box is such an effective window into your brain at a critical moment in time that it is worth billions of dollars a year- $50 billion actually.

When you search for something you are open to solutions that can come through adverts – far more so than when you are browsing a website. That is why Search is still Google’s most lucrative platform. But it is rapidly losing its dominance in terms of overall ad spending because of the rise of mobile apps. It is a very significant trend that has had analysts wondering this year how Google will respond.

What does all this mean? Well first, consider this. The concise language we use to write down tasks is perhaps even more effective than search for targeted behavioral advertising. Just picture it. Your grocery list neatly entered each week. Or that flight you need to book to New York on Monday. There are companies out there drooling over the idea of their adverts being able to target the sort of information found on our task lists.

The real challenge though is in persuading enough of us to enter our task lists into Google’s servers and making their task manager the dominant one. We generally avoid digital task managers, despite the fact they reduce our stress by turning a daunting workload into a series of manageable steps. That is because they are often just another software program that takes effort and discipline to update. So how can Google get enough of us to start entering our tasks into their servers?

Integrating your task management into the key apps at the center of your life can break down that effort barrier very effectively. Email is a prime candidate because our inbox still plays host to a constant flow of key information and updates about our lives and tasks (despite claims that “email is dead” thanks to the rise of instant messaging). And, as with Twitter or Facebook, the next step to monetization can only come when they achieve mass adoption of their own digital task system.

Enter Inbox. It takes your email client – where you already spend most of your day – and makes it easy to capture the tasks flowing through it. Sure, Reminders have been around on Google Now and Google Keep for over a year. But Inbox is an attempt to truly integrate Reminders into your daily life.

Reminders are simple but also pretty sophisticated. They have powerful auto-complete abilities, and you can even tell Google’s servers exactly when you want assistance (perhaps from ads) by snoozing a Reminder so that it appears at a specific time or location. Reminder notifications appear through Google Now as well, which opens up interactions within the growing wearables market, and even Google’s new in-car system.

This is more than just prediction through algorithms and keywords. Google are getting you do the work for them by getting you to tell them what you want to do, when and where. The more task data you enter for them, the more useful any future Google-directed advert will be to you. And of course, the more likely you will click on it.

Inbox also already scans your emails for purchase receipts, travel and event bookings thanks to early partnerships with companies in various service industries.

But how is this fantastic set of new data going to be actually monetized? I mean, sure, Inbox has a lot of white space, but your not going to open your email one day and BAM! it’s full of pulsing banners ads showing you the latest grocery deals at your favorite supermarket. No, to make Inbox a beloved product it’s going to have to be a masterpiece in subtle advertising, probably resembling the Highlights emails you currently get as a card-like block in Inbox, which also appear in Google Now.

But the beauty of it is that we’ll actually want the adverts. That’s  because rather than being intrusive screen hoggers as most mobile ads are, Google is building the capability to help you actually get tasks done, when you need to do them, with incredibly accurate targeting.

Whether they ever achieve the widespread uptake of digital task management needed for this groundbreaking opportunity to work, rests largely on the success of one app: Inbox.

As Larry Page said in December: “We really need to say, “Well, if you’re on mobile, maybe it’s easier to call someplace, or it’s easier to visit the place, or it’s easier to have help with those things.” So maybe the ads should look a little different or work differently.” In other words, Google’s vision for the ads of the future is to make them actually useful – even to the extent that they mean you don’t have to search for nearby grocery stores because you already have a list of nearby stores and their opening hours in on your wrist or on your car dashboard.

If you’re wondering, “Great, but what does this mean for ActiveInbox and our task based approach to emails inside Gmail?”, read this.


This was written by Andy Mitchell