Good News About E-Mail?

I recently set out to answer the question: What is the current state of email? We’ve all been bombarded with an endless stream of articles bemoaning the effects of spam and how it’s going to kill the email golden goose. I’ve even written numerous columns talking about this very issue and have suggested ways to deal with it. So you can appreciate my surprise when I came across three recent statistics.

First, in a July 2003 Harris Poll survey, people were asked how many emails they receive each day. The results:

Pieces of E-Mail Recipients (%)
1-5 27
6-10 20
11-20 16
21-30 7
31-50 10
51-100 9
101+ 7
Not sure/refused 4

If we are to believe these numbers, and I have no reason not to, a whopping 70 percent of the population gets 30 or fewer email messages a day — or just a little over 2 per hour. Does this mean we professionals “in the business” are in the minority, and most people aren’t overwhelmed? Or are the people in this survey not representative of email recipients?

Second, an August 2003 DoubleClick study looked at the company’s clients’ email results:

  • CTRs rose 10 percent over last year, jumping from 7.5 percent to 8.3 percent.

  • Although open rates were predicted to fall, they actually increased slightly.
  • Bounce rates fell, instead of increasing as many expected.
  • Average order size, purchases per 1,000 email messages sent, and revenue generated from sending email were about the same as last year. This also flies in the face of what some industry pundits expected.

Does this mean despite all the spam problems and associated delivery issues, DoubleClick’s marketing clients have figured out how to make email work better?

Finally, according to the Direct Marketing Association, legitimate marketers raked in $2 billion in sales from unsolicited emailings and $5.7 billion from opt-in emailings.

Does this mean unsolicited commercial email is here to stay? That we should all abandon best practices and email everyone in sight without any regard to permission? Of course not! Though consumers are getting better at recognizing spam and many email marketers are adapting better practices, we still need to be vigilant.

Following Best Practices

In our company, we’ve sustained excellent growth over the last year. Aside from some scattered nuisances, we’ve practiced what I’ve preached, and it’s working. It seems to be working for plenty of other companies as well.

What exactly does all this mean? And what should we do about it? Here’s what I think:

  • Increasingly more marketers have discovered that by being smart about their email marketing and following best practices, they can make email work. As an industry, we need to keep finding innovative ways to market by email and make them available to our readers and business associates.

  • Companies sending spam, using illegal practices with total indifference to those who receive their messages, need to be identified and prosecuted.
  • Although most people get fewer email messages than originally thought, we need to do everything in our power to keep it that way. We must continue to email intelligently and not abuse the system.
  • Something DoubleClick does really well, and I’ve preached about, is develop really good face-to-face relationships with ISPs to get its clients’ mail delivered. I have no doubt this single action is a major reason why the company’s clients are enjoying the kind of success they are. Establish those personal relationships with ISPs the way DoubleClick has. Nothing else may be as important as we move forward.

The Demise of SPEWS

The news that blackhole list keeper Spam Prevention Early Warning System (SPEWS) is out of business is another shot in the arm for legitimate email marketers that have been trounced on by SPEWS. I’m told the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as well as hordes of ISPs, used the SPEWS database. What does that mean now the organization is gone?

  • Does it mean the pendulum is finally starting to swing the other way?

  • Is this merely a short-term reprieve to be obliterated by some other company that creates a do-not-email list along the same lines as the Do Not Call Registry?
  • Is it the beginning of a new era in email where outrageous vigilante groups will think twice about their activities because they run the risk of being sued, losing, and closing down?

Although I believe this is a short-lived period during which more of our email will be delivered, I also believe we’re starting to turn the corner. The SPEWS downfall coupled with the stats mentioned earlier lead me to the cautious conclusion we’ve reached the middle of the woods and we’re starting to make our way out of it. But we’re not there yet.

For those of us who have survived and prospered in this tough email climate, take a moment to savor what you’ve accomplished. But don’t rest on your laurels. Though the majority of spam will eventually go away, we can’t relax yet. We need to keep pushing the envelope to ensure we continue to be successful, ethical marketers.

Keep up the good work by employing sound marketing principles.

And keep reading.

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