I receive Trello updates in Gmail. Recently, Gmail adds an Open Card in Trello button in the conversations list:
How does that work? Is it triggered by a URL in the message?
Is this functionality unique to Trello?
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No, it's not unique to Trello. It's a feature that Gmail has that certain apps have taken advantage of to tell Gmail things about it to give you a shortcut without having to open the message.
For instance, Google Calendar invitations have an "RSVP" button in the conversation subject. If Gmail recognizes that there's a package tracking number in the message, it adds a "Track" button. An Open Table reservation confirmation results in a "View reservation" button.
They're called "Quick Actions". The apps generating the message need to format the message in a particular way.