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INBOX OUTRAGE

By Published on .

How many people are really looking to re-grow their hair? How many need a home loan? How many have the time and inclination to help the man from Africa who's looking for a friendly American to hold his millions of dollars for him until he gets to the U.S.? Spam, as unsolicited e-mails like these are called, has gone from being a simple nuisance to a major problem for system administrators and e-mail providers. Beyond the IT department, and lost in the spam debate, is the fact that e-mail once seemed to be a direct marketer's dream: a low-cost, immediate format for contacting potential customers. But the marketing clout of e-mail has succumbed to the overuse and abuse of the channel by scam marketers and hackers.

A published statement entitled, Tackling the Spam Issue, from the CEO and chairman of the Direct Marketing Association, H. Robert Wientzen, cited four pillars of direct e-mail marketing: honest subject lines; accurate header information that has not been forged; a physical street address for consumer redress and an opt-out mechanism that truly works and is honored. Unfortunately, playing by the rules is not in the best interests of some e-mail marketers.

American Demographics sought to learn how well e-mail works as a marketing tool, and whether people might be willing to give out more information about themselves if they felt it would cut back on unwanted clutter in their inbox. Ipsos North America conducted an exclusive telephone survey to determine the answers to these questions. About 70 percent of the 1,000 survey participants had access to the Internet. Not surprisingly, access was higher among younger respondents, those with higher incomes and respondents with higher levels of education.

In terms of the amount of advertisements or notification e-mails that respondents read, some 58 percent said they read none, and another 23 percent said they only read a few. Only about 1 in 5 respondents acknowledged reading more than a few e-mail marketing pieces. Possibly another bad sign: the only people who have the time to read all or most of their marketing e-mails do not have jobs. Some 11 percent of unemployed respondents said they read most of the e-mails they receive from marketers. Among nonwhite respondents, 1 in 5 read at least some of the marketing e-mails.

When asked if they might be willing to disclose information about their hobbies or interests to receive more relevant marketing material, the overwhelming response was no. Overall, 85 percent said that they were not interested in sharing more information about themselves, even if it did mean getting less spam. Only respondents with incomes under $25,000 (27 percent), those from the South (19 percent) and respondents with only a high school education or less (28 percent), seemed interested in the idea. Midwesterners were perhaps most skeptical, as more than 9 in 10 said they would hesitate to share more, even for better targeted marketing messages.

So, the challenge for e-mail marketers is to overcome not just charges of cluttering and general consumer mistrust, but skepticism in the channel's ability to offer real value through personalized messaging.

THE PRICE OF SPAM

The average productivity cost of spam and savings of anti-spam solutions for an average firm with 5,000 e-mail users.

WITHOUT

ANTI-SPAM

SOLUTION
WITH

ANTI-SPAM

SOLUTION
E-MAIL USERS
Daily time spent by each user 10 minutes 5 minutes
Average annual

(cost)/savings to firm
($4.1 million) $783,000
IT STAFF
Daily time spent by each user 43 minutes 19 minutes
Average annual

(cost)/savings to firm
($85,800) $13,000
Note: Other costs and benefits unrelated to productivity are not included here.
Source: IDC 2004
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