Who Says It's Spam? - eMarketer

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Who Says It's Spam?

Who decides what is spam and what isn't? The consumer perhaps?

January 27, 2006

What are legitimate e-mail marketers supposed to do? They follow CAN-SPAM guidelines. They use proper permission marketing techniques. They mail only to opt-in lists. Still, recipients are increasing hitting the "This is spam" link.

After all, while marketers may have a set definition for spam, and know that they don't practice spamming, consumers have a broader view. Legally, e-mail isn't spam if a consumer has opted-in to receive messages. However it could also be argued that, if there is something in a user's e-mail box, and they don't want it there, it is spam.

According to a recent survey by Return Path, 34% of consumers said they deal with an increasing volume of e-mail by reporting it as spam to their ISPs, and that is up from 23.4% the previous year.

Ways that Online Consumers in North America Dealt with the Increase of Marketing E-Mails during the Holiday Season, 2004 & 2005 (% of respondents)

"Consumers use the 'S' word very easily," Stephanie Miller of Return Path told MediaPost. "Their definition of spam is completely different from a marketer's definition of spam."

That's bad news for e-mail marketers. Being reported as spam increases the likelihood that a company's e-mail will be filtered, whether it is permission-based or not.

Faced with numbers showing that consumers' spam fingers are getting itchier, Ms. Miller added, "It's really easy to report somebody as junk or spam, so the bar is higher for marketers to be really relevant."

"Marketers need to use the data they have to make better decisions about what to send and when to send it," Ms. Miller told the Multichannel Merchant. "If [there is] an expectation that you're going to send a weekly e-mail, and then suddenly during the holidays you start sending a daily e-mail, you're very likely going to get reported as a spammer."

Return Path found that nearly half of the respondents in the survey were surprised by the large volume of e-mail that was delivered to their e-mail boxes after registering. In all, during the 2005 holiday season, some 31% of respondents felt that they recieved an increased amount of e-mail.

Amount of Marketing E-Mails Received during the Holiday Season according to Online Consumers in North America, 2004 & 2005 (% of respondents)

A substantial 17% of respondents said the surge in e-mails during the holiday season was "overwhelming," compared to only 10% who felt unable to cope in 2004.

Other findings from the survey showed that the number-one influencer over whether or not consumers will open an e-mail is their past experience with the sender. More than 60% of the consumers surveyed said that knowing and trusting the sender was a key factor in determining if they would open an e-mail. Also, 48% of those surveyed said they opened mail from companies that had previously sent e-mails they found valuable.

Get ready for all that 2006 holds in store for online marketers, sign up to be notified when eMarketer's Analyst Reports are published — and stay ahead of the trends.


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