E-mail backlash appears to be waning

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After a huge falloff in response to e-mail marketing in recent years, list managers are starting to feel hopeful that the backlash against unsolicited e-mail won't kill the market altogether.

The negative reaction to waves of junk e-mails that prompted the enactment of the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 seems to be subsiding. According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and released in April, e-mail users are gradually becoming less bothered by spam.

"We see a little more spam with a little less distress," said Deborah Fallows, senior research fellow at the Pew Internet Project. The percentage of e-mail users who say spam "has made being online unpleasant or annoying" has fallen-although it's still the vast majority. Sixty-seven percent of e-mail users said spam is annoying in this year's report, compared with 77% last year.

"E-mail marketing takes expertise," said Steve Morris, VP-market development at Advanstar Communications. "The most important thing is deliverability, and there are many words that will get your e-mail caught in spam filters. Maybe only 64% will be delivered."

Worse still, inexperienced e-mail marketers can easily make mistakes and get listed as spammers by the major Internet service providers such as AOL and Yahoo! "Just one trick word and you can be blacklisted," Morris said.

Even when an e-mail is designed to get beyond e-mail filters, the human recipient has a subjective filter of his or her own, and b-to-b circulation and audience development executives are sensitive to the limits of their audiences' attention and good will.

Nicholas Cavnar, VP-circulation and data development at Hanley Wood, said the consumer backlash against e-mail marketing could in fact create an opportunity for b-to-b publishers. "Some of the companies that have been focused on consumers in their direct marketing are taking a harder look, now, at b-to-b," he said. "So, a good growth opportunity for us would be to aggressively target those direct marketing companies."

-Marie Griffin

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