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TRUSTED MARKETERS' HOLIDAY E-MAILS WERE WELL READ

Consumer Survey Underscores Online Power of Known Brands

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Despite a continuing aversion to spam, 59% of consumers surveyed three days after Christmas said they clicked open unsolicited holiday advertising e-mails they received from marketers they knew and trusted.
Thirty-five percent of consumers said marketers' e-mail had no impact on their holiday shopping.
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Overall, the results suggest that while consumers remain as wary as they are weary of spam, they don't consider messages from recognized marketers about products they're interested in to be in the spam category.

723 surveyed
The survey, by e-mail marketing company Return Path, polled 723 consumers ages 18 to 54 on Dec. 28 in an effort to document their feelings about e-mail advertising.

Half of the 723 said they received more holiday marketing e-mail than they expected but it was still something they found acceptable. The other half found it annoying.

The survey found that 23% of consumers are so annoyed by unwanted commercial e-mail they hit their Internet service provider's "This is spam" button. Stephanie Miller, Return Path's vice president of strategic solutions for e-mail marketing, said that under current practice, if an ISP receives 1 in 1,000 complaints like that, it will, without warning, shut down the marketer's ability to e-mail into its servers.

Trusted brands
Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said the reason they opened and read any particular commercial e-mail message during the holiday season was because it came from a marketer they knew and trusted.

Thirty-five percent of consumers said commercial e-mail had no influence at all on their holiday online shopping. Forty percent said e-mail had some influence over their shopping; 29.9% said e-mail offered many gift ideas; and 7.7% even reported they only shopped with retailers who e-mailed them.

Nearly every respondent felt they received an increase in e-mail volume throughout the holiday season. One-third characterized that e-mail as spam. Almost one-tenth reported the excess as "overwhelming," according to the study.

Ms. Miller said that, anecdotally, most of Return Path's 200 or so retail clients admitted they sent more e-mail over the holidays.

Consumers overwhelmed
"Consumers are becoming more and more overwhelmed," Ms. Miller said. "The challenge for marketers is to really look at their e-mail programs and make sure they are sending e-mail that's relevant. We have this closing window of opportunity to abuse the privilege of permission."

One important way to foster consumer trust is to keep your word, Ms. Miller said. "If I signed you up and said I was going to send you weekly promotions and doubled that during the holidays, then I abandoned my promise."

Before the holiday season starts, "encourage consumers to sign up for more e-mail so they know what they are going to get," Ms. Miller added. Use e-mail to segment consumers' interests, so that the message they actually receive has been whittled down to a targeted bit of promotion to that customer. "Taking time up front to find out what your customers want to hear about pays off because your e-mail will be more welcomed," she said.

Opt-in standard
Another way to engender trust is to take care in opting in consumers. The industry standard for opting in customers is to present them with a box online for them to check. That method is better than presenting a box already checked and asking them to uncheck it, Ms. Miller said. Return Path also recommends following up with an e-mail confirming that the customer opted in. For instance, the e-mail might say, "Thank you for accepting our invitation to receive weekly e-mails."

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