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Study: Spam, Saturation Plague E-Mail Marketing

A new survey lends further credence to the belief that e-mail marketing efforts are being blunted by record levels of spam and inbox oversaturation, according to research from Executive Summary Consulting, Inc. and Quris.

Based on a survey of more than 1,200 e-mail users, the study found that spam makes up the largest share of most users' mailboxes. For those who use e-mail primarily at home, unwanted e-mail marketing messages comprise about 37 percent of users' mailboxes -- more than personal correspondence (26 percent) or permission-based mailings (24 percent).

For users of e-mail at both home and work, spam tops even job-related mail by 3 percent, making up 28 percent of users' average inboxes.

Saturation, too, plays a major role in turning consumers off e-mail as a communication channel. Seventy percent of respondents said they felt they received more e-mail this year than last, with 74 percent of that figure saying that increases in spam volume are a major factor.

Additionally, two-thirds of the respondents said they feel they get "too much" e-mail. About 51 percent of those say they are likely to "occasionally" respond to marketing mailings, or 7 percent less than the sample total. As a result, consumers who feel inundated by e-mail are less likely to respond to messages -- even if they've opted-in.

Stamping out unwanted e-mail isn't necessarily the cure-all for both situations, either. According to the study, respondents deleted 39 percent of their permission e-mail without reading it -- a testament, perhaps, to untargeted offers or too-frequent mailings that induce consumer "burnout."

While challenges loom, e-mail marketing remains a major opportunity for marketers, since consumers -- for the present, at least -- continue to accept and act on advertising messages, according to the study.

About 62 percent of the survey's respondents said they would be "curious" or "eager" to read permission-based e-mail messages, while mail from an unrecognized marketer would elicit such responses only 13 percent of the time. Instead, 52 percent of the survey's respondents said they'd delete mail from unknown senders without reading, while an additional 21 percent said they would consider opening the e-mail, but would likely be annoyed.

The study also indicated that marketers who had maintained opt-in e-mail practices the longest were likely to have the most responsive customers. For e-mail users who have maintained opt-in relationships with companies for more than 3 years, 61 percent said they believe mailings sometimes affected their purchasing decisions, 13 percent greater than those with shorter relationships.

Additionally, most consumers don't view opt-in e-mail as part of "the saturation problem," with most respondents pointing to increasing amounts of personal e-mail and spam as being nearly two and three times more responsible for cluttering up their inboxes.

The research comes as marketers are scrambling to deal with the problem of too much mail -- especially unwanted mail -- competing for users' attention. Groups including the Direct Marketing Association have released guidelines for "best practices" for marketers, in an effort to make e-mail more effective, while a host of industry players -- including DoubleClick , Microsoft and Omnicom's RappCollins -- have signed on to test a new TRUSTe seal for e-mail. The program aims to boost response rates by guaranteeing that e-mail messages are sent from legitimate marketers rather than spammers.