In 2009, the Email Institute, Epsilon’s highly-regarded research and industry best practices organization, conducted a global study of the evolution of email marketing that included in-depth looks at how multi-channel marketing, social media, instant messaging, and mobile devices were affecting email marketers. The study also looked at how consumers define spam email, and what steps email marketing professionals should take in light of the r evised spam definition.
One of the most important email marketing questions asked in that 2009 study was how consumers define spam email. The Distributed Marketing Blog decided to crowd-source an updated spam definition, so we posted a single-question survey on several social media sites, and collected responses from over 5,000 volunteers who clicked on the survey link between January 15 and February 15, 2012.
Most of our new results tracked the Email Institute’s results closely, but there were a few surprising changes over the last 2 ½ years, including the fact that today’s consumers are much more resistant to emails that:
- Try to trick or mislead them into opening them
- Contain offensive content
- Take an offline purchase as permission to send email without explicitly asking for that permission
At the same time, they seem to be less intolerant of frequent emails from lists that they’ve subscribed to and sales-oriented emails in general. The email marketing lessons from our crowd-sourced redefinition of spam email are simple:
- Don’t lie to consumers, and don’t try to trick them into opening email.
- Get permission for your email campaigns, and make sure that consumers explicitly opt-in to receive them.
- Focus our messages on the benefits consumers get from being on your list — useful information, discounts, or just access to products and services they want.
Here are the complete results. In 2009, the Email Institute surveyed 642 North American consumers, 1,221 in EMEA, and 2,221 in APAC countries; in 2012, 5,000 North American consumers replied to our version of the same question. We discarded responses from outside North America, because our samples from other regions were too small. The survey conducted by this blog is not scientific, since participants self-selected, and only limited demographic information was collected.
Survey respondents in 2012 were:
- 60% female
- 40% mail
- 18-65 years of age
- Residents of Canada or the United States
- No additional demographic information was collected on the 2012 survey respondents.
Emails that intend to trick me into opening them
- 2009 71%
- 2012 97%
Emails of an offensive subject matter
- 2009 65%
- 2012 83%
Any email I receive that I did not ask for or subscribe to
- 2009 60%
- 2012 61%
Emails from senders who are unknown to me
- 2009 53%
- 2012 61%
Emails that are filtered into the junk mailbox
- 2009 43%
- 2012 53%
Any email I receive that I don’t want, regardless of whether I subscribed
- 2009 33%
- 2012 33%
Any email sent to me from a sender who is not in my address book or approved sender list
- 2009 29%
- 2012 28%
An email from a company I may have given permission to send me mail at one time, but that I no longer wish to receive
- 2009 32%
- 2012 34%
Emails from companies I have a relationship with offline, but to whom I never gave permission to contact me via email
- 2009 34%
- 2012 73%
Emails from a company I have done business with but that come too frequently
- 2009 28%
- 2012 18%
Any email that tries to sell me a product or service, even if I know the sender
- 2009 18%
- 2012 12%