Report: Consumers Are Savvier Spam Defenders Than Previously Thought

  |  March 28, 2007   |  Comments

The Email Sender and Provider Coalition survey shows a need for more tools for e-mail recipients to defend against spam and fraud.

According to a survey conducted by the Email Sender and Provider Coalition (ESPC), e-mail recipients are brutal in-box editors when it comes to deleting potential spam. They're also willing to take a greater role in stopping spam and fraudulent messages than some may have thought.

The survey, conducted in December 2006 by marketing research firm Ipsos for the ESPC, found that 73 percent of respondents have used e-mail for six or more years and over 80 percent check their e-mail at least once per day. It also found that the majority of respondents will report a message as spam based only on the information available in the subject line and sender's address, according to Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Email Sender and Provider Coalition.

"We found that four out of five folks are deleting or reporting messages as spam before even opening them," said Hughes. "Consumers are tyrannical; they are brutal editors of their inbox. If your from and subject line is not showing who you are and the message is legit, you will never even be previewed."

The proclivity of users towards deleting messages from unrecognized sources puts the onus on legitimate e-mail marketers to provide very specific information in both the from and subject fields, said Dave Lewis, VP market development StrongMail systems, and co-chair of the receiver relations committee for the ESPC.

"If you've got a brand that the consumer knows, you'd best make sure that the brand is highly visible in the send address and subject line so you don't end up in the spam button," said Lewis.

And while e-mail consumers were found to be using the "report as spam" button in large numbers, 80 percent also said they would also be interested in having a "report as fraud" button. Also, ninety percent said they would like to have an "unsubscribe" button directly in their e-mail clients.

The interest in having a greater level of feedback regarding spam and fraud directly from consumers should be a wake up call for ISPs and e-mail client providers that have previously provided a paternalistic approach to protecting users, said Lewis.

Those companies "have used a variety of tools like content filters, and blunt ones for black lists, as proxies for the consumers' voice," he said. "What this survey is suggesting is that consumers are quite willing and able to experience their own voice. That's a compelling thing. Putting those tools in their hands changes the nature of this whole debate. It changes the role that the recipient has in this."

The ESPC originally assumed that large numbers of recipients were using the "report as spam" button to unsubscribe to legitimate marketers. However, that was the case for only 20 percent of messages studied, said Hughes. Regardless, he believes the survey is a call for greater tools to be made to consumers.

"We kind of needed a kick in the pants to get moving forward....How do we create these feedback loops, differentiate between when a consumer is afraid because they see a fraudulent message, or frustrated because they don't want those messages anymore?" he continued.

The ESPC surveyed a random sample of 2,252 Internet users from U.S. based ISPs, including AOL, MSN Hotmail, Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, Google's Gmail, Netscape and CompuServe, in order to gauge consumers’ behaviors and views toward spam, unsubscribe features and anti-spam technologies. The ESPC is composed of over 75 members including Acxiom Digital, Experian's CheetahMail and Constant Contact.

Separately, last week the Direct Marketing Association released a report titled "Actionable Insights into E-Mail Marketing," which found that many marketers are still avoiding the use of e-mail altogether. The report found that although three in four e-mail campaigns are aimed at customer retention, one in four is used to acquire customers. It also found that service providers rank deliverability as the most challenging aspect of e-mail marketing, while marketers see segmentation and targeting, integration with other channels, and list-building as more challenging than deliverability.

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Matthew G. Nelson

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