Survey: Consumers Don’t Mistake Mail for Spam

While the growing spam epidemic is rapidly becoming one of the online business world’s largest problems, consumers are still able distinguish it from legitimate e-mail marketing, according to a recent study from Harris Interactive .

The survey, underwritten by e-mail marketing provider Digital Impact , found that 59 percent of the approximately 2,800 respondents in the survey said they appreciated some kinds of marketing e-mail — namely, e-mail that they had requested to receive from companies.

Seventy-nine percent of the respondents also said they had a neutral to positive impression of e-mail marketing — when done properly. About 16 percent of the group said they viewed all commercial e-mail as spam.

What’s more, a large portion of respondents respond to e-mail marketing efforts, despite the looming presence of spam. About 86 percent of those surveyed have either requested to receive e-mail from companies, or have made a purchase based on e-mail marketing.

However, those numbers might overestimate the goodwill that the average Internet user has for e-mail marketing. Because respondents have opted in to receive Harris surveys via e-mail, they might be more likely to represent advanced Internet users than the general online population.

But the researchers maintain that the study indicates some measure of consumer interest in receiving opt-in e-mail. And, in either case, the survey underscores conventional wisdom that consumers would be willing to accept e-mail marketing if delivered according to their privacy preferences.

Research also has shown that the proliferation of spam threatens the legitimate e-mail marketing business in other ways, however.

For one thing, consumers can experience “in-box burnout” and become less responsive to e-mail campaigns when their accounts are the targets of spam. According to a study conducted earlier this year by Rick Bruner’s Executive Summary Consulting and e-mail marketer Quris, almost two-thirds of Internet users say they now get “too much” e-mail — in large part, due to spam. As a result, a sizable portion of e-mail users now delete permission e-mail without reading it.

Hard hit by costly increases in the volume of spam traversing their networks, Internet Service Providers also are exploring ways to filter out more of the stuff — a side effect of which is that legitimate commercial e-mails could get blocked as well.

Already, some of the biggest e-mail providers are looking to beef up their protections against spam. Earlier this week, Microsoft extended its relationship with e-mail filter Brightmail to block spam for users of its Hotmail service.

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