Study: Spam, Saturation Plague E-Mail Marketing

  |  May 15, 2002   |  Comments

E-mail marketing could be reaching the breaking point, with spam now comprising the majority of most users' inboxes, according to Executive Summary Consulting, Inc. and Quris.

A new survey lends further credence to the belief that email marketing efforts are being blunted by record levels of spam and inbox oversaturation, according to research from Executive Summary Consulting, Inc. and Quris.

Based on a survey of more than 1,200 email users, the study found that spam makes up the largest share of most users' mailboxes. For those who use email primarily at home, unwanted email marketing messages comprise about 37 percent of users' mailboxes -- more than personal correspondence (26 percent) or permission-based mailings (24 percent).

For users of email at both home and work, spam tops even job-related mail by 3 percent, making up 28 percent of users' average inboxes.

Saturation, too, plays a major role in turning consumers off email as a communication channel. Seventy percent of respondents said they felt they received more email this year than last, with 74 percent of that figure saying that increases in spam volume are a major factor.

Additionally, two-thirds of the respondents said they feel they get "too much" email. About 51 percent of those say they are likely to "occasionally" respond to marketing mailings, or 7 percent less than the sample total. As a result, consumers who feel inundated by email are less likely to respond to messages -- even if they've opted-in.

Stamping out unwanted email isn't necessarily the cure-all for both situations, either. According to the study, respondents deleted 39 percent of their permission email without reading it -- a testament, perhaps, to untargeted offers or too-frequent mailings that induce consumer "burnout."

While challenges loom, email marketing remains a major opportunity for marketers, since consumers -- for the present, at least -- continue to accept and act on advertising messages, according to the study.

About 62 percent of the survey's respondents said they would be "curious" or "eager" to read permission-based email messages, while mail from an unrecognized marketer would elicit such responses only 13 percent of the time. Instead, 52 percent of the survey's respondents said they'd delete mail from unknown senders without reading, while an additional 21 percent said they would consider opening the email, but would likely be annoyed.

The study also indicated that marketers who had maintained opt-in email practices the longest were likely to have the most responsive customers. For email users who have maintained opt-in relationships with companies for more than 3 years, 61 percent said they believe mailings sometimes affected their purchasing decisions, 13 percent greater than those with shorter relationships.

Additionally, most consumers don't view opt-in email as part of "the saturation problem," with most respondents pointing to increasing amounts of personal email and spam as being nearly two and three times more responsible for cluttering up their inboxes.

The research comes as marketers are scrambling to deal with the problem of too much mail -- especially unwanted mail -- competing for users' attention. Groups including the Direct Marketing Association have released guidelines for "best practices" for marketers, in an effort to make email more effective, while a host of industry players -- including DoubleClick , Microsoft and Omnicom's RappCollins -- have signed on to test a new TRUSTe seal for email. The program aims to boost response rates by guaranteeing that email messages are sent from legitimate marketers rather than spammers.

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