Despite growing spam levels, consumers increasingly accept email as their communication channel of choice from marketers, according to a recent DoubleClick Inc. report.
The company's fifth annual Consumer Email Study, released at the DMA Annual Conference in New Orleans earlier this week, indicates that permission-based email is being welcomed by consumers as a replacement for telemarketing, direct mail, and even bills and statements. The study also shows that consumers are increasingly likely to make purchases, both online and offline, as a result of receiving permission-based email.
Email usage growing in volume and sophistication
According to the study, email usage has continued to rise over the past year with 81 percent of consumers identifying themselves as going online to send and receive email multiple times daily; 33 percent report constant usage. Compared to 2003 levels, this group of constant emailers jumped considerably, from 20 percent. The average consumer receives 308 emails per week, a 16 percent increase from 2003. Permission-based email accounts for 8 percent of emails received, and two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents report opening at least six out of every 10 permission-based emails.
Consumers are also becoming more sophisticated in their use of email. A significant proportion of consumers consider email to be a replacement for telemarketing (49 percent) and direct mail to their home address (45 percent). When asked what they would like email to replace, 54 percent said telemarketing, 45 percent said in-person sales calls and forty percent said direct mail to a postal address. An additional third (33 percent) of respondents would like to see email replacing retail offers and coupons, and 28 percent said bills or statements.
New marketing potential for transactional email
Across the board, consumers expect emails to confirm transactions and shipping (95 percent and 90 percent respectively), and many are open to the ideas of promotional emails being used to promote ancillary offers. Fifty-two percent were interested in offers for related products, 47 percent in information about membership rewards programs and 41 percent displayed an interest in sweepstakes.
Currently, more than half of consumers (57 percent) report receiving permission-based email from online merchants and from brick-and-mortar retailers (55 percent), with slightly fewer receiving them from catalogers (45 percent). In addition, 54 percent say they currently receive bills and statements by email, with 65 percent of respondents receiving banking statements by email.
Historically, transactional and service email has originated from the IT department within an organization. By transferring ownership of this area to marketing, says DoubleClick, organizations can use these messages as a powerful sales tool, marketing directly to existing customers that have an ongoing relationship with its brand.
"Email marketing comes in dozens of flavors and monetizing the real estate within an email that's generated by a customer's action is certainly one of them," says Michael Mayor, president of NetCreations. "Smart marketers can often take something that may initially seem like an extra step or overkill and turn it into a profit center."
Email drives multi-channel sales
Thirty-two percent of respondents have made an immediate purchase online as a result of an email, up from 28 percent in 2003. A slightly smaller percentage (30 percent) have clicked on an email to find more information, and then returned later to purchase online. An additional 12 percent clicked on an email to find more information and then later purchased the item offline. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of consumers have redeemed an online coupon during an online purchase, while 59 percent have redeemed an online coupon offline.
There is little variation between which categories are most likely to drive purchases through email. Travel, hardware/software, electronics, apparel, food, home furnishings, gifts/flowers and sporting goods all recorded between 71 percent and 80 percent of respondents that have purchased a product as a result of an email. Within these product sectors, catalogers are the most successful at driving purchases, most likely reflecting their innate multi-channel and direct marketing expertise.
Spam volume continues to grow
The volume of spam that consumers receive increased from 56 percent last year to 62 percent in 2004, accounting for nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of consumers' emails. Consumers had consistent views of what constitutes spam both this year and last. Deceptiveness (96 percent), unknown senders (93 percent) and offensive subject matters (93 percent) were the most commonly cited definitions of spam, although once again frequency (58 percent) and irrelevancy (57 percent), even if permission has been granted, can cause consumers to categorize email messages as spam.
When asked about how they deal with spam, the majority of consumers (72 percent) simply delete these emails. Only 28 percent attempt to unsubscribe, compared to 33 percent two years ago. Sixty-four percent of consumers now use bulk folders, a significant jump from the 59 percent that reported using them in 2003.Usage of "report spam" features has also seen a dramatic increase, with 49 percent using them in 2004, versus 36 percent in 2003. Only 7 percent of spam messages get opened and 69 percent of consumers say they open only 1 to 10 percent of them.
Most likely reflecting these increasing spam levels, the From line continues to be the most compelling reason to open permission-based email, cited by 63 percent of respondents, versus 33 percent who cite the Subject line. Of those that did cite the subject line, discount offers and compelling news increased in impact versus 2003, while free shipping dropped considerably (from 42 percent to 31 percent). These reasons differed between men and women with women more likely to respond to retail and catalog offers, coupons and health information, while men are more likely to be interested in news and sports content.
"Despite the omnipresent spam and irrelevant email, consumers and those companies they want to hear from will meet somewhere in the middle," says Bill Nussey, CEO of Silverpop. "As the number of consumers that prefer email communications over other channels grows, marketers are learning to adapt by becoming increasingly sophisticated and looking at email as something more powerful than a blast advertising tool. We're glad to see DoubleClick's reseach confirm what we are seeing in the marketplace -- email is transforming as a media and many of the old rules are no longer applicable."
The 2004 Consumer Email Study is the fifth in an annual series sponsored by DoubleClick. The study was conducted by ROI Research via the TNS NFO Access panel of 900,000 U.S. consumers. One thousand consumers who use email at least once per week (statistically 94 percent of the U.S. adult online population) were polled between July and August 2004.
“This year’s study shows how consumers have embraced email as a marketing vehicle and have become more sophisticated in how they use and control this medium,” says Eric Kirby, vice president and general manager of Strategic Consulting Services at DoubleClick. “For marketers, what I think is most significant, is consumer’s embrace of email as a service and support vehicle and their openness to marketing messages within these service, support and transactional emails.”
Berens: The great and terrible thing about online content is its scalability. You can click on a terse explanation of the thing you're interested in or find yourself in the middle of a textbook. Similarly, it can be difficult for media consumers to adjudicate among different sorts of information and figure out when, say, a blog post is reliable and when it's shoot-from-the-hip opinion.
And if consumers are confused, advertisers find this at least equally challenging. What context is safe for a brand? What isn't? If Search is the entry way for all information queries, how can advertisers deal with the different kinds of media that get homogenized through the search results page?
Horan: We live in an age of intent-driven media. Search frees users from guessing which media have the answers that they are seeking. It directs readers to the specific article, blog, recipe, photo, store or whatever that they are seeking. Consumers have embraced search specifically because it enables them to discover a broader range of information options.
In traditional media content, presentation and delivery are tightly bound and professionally edited. With intent-driven media, the reader has prioritized relevance over brand. They have indicated that they are comfortable judging the quality and trustworthiness of the information that they are finding.
Advertising on search results pages has proven to be one of the most effective vehicles because of that relevance. Display ads placed on those content sites are there only because the advertiser has chosen to advertise on that particular site.
In the end, the intelligent advertiser benefits because their ad appears in context where it is more likely to be welcomed by the consumer.
Berens: Another, perhaps more coherent, way of asking the same question: from the search engine's advertising perspective, how do social media differ from publisher-produced media?
Horan: In the wars between church and state, search engines try to be agnostic.
Our job is not to tell readers where they should go. Rather, we use metrics and analysis to understand where consumers want to go and do the best possible job of getting them there.
To the greatest extent possible, we try to serve the consumer. That means that we work hard to showcase quality content whether it is from a publisher, consumer, merchant or vendor.
To the extent that we can decode the reader's intent when they search, any one of those sources might be the best results. At the same time, we will try to exclude or suppress results that aren't in the consumer's best interests, including but not limited to sites that distribute spyware, phish for data, or aid and abet scams.
Social spider webers
Social spider webers use their screens to socialize the content they are consuming. Consumers who tweet or post about their solitary content experiences are social spider webers. This type of multi-screen user uses devices to share a consumer experience. An example would be someone tweeting about the Oscars while they watch it in their living room.
Quantum is the ultimate multi-screen consumer. This user handles their screens to enhance every moment and decision for consumption. An example of a quantum consumer is a person who takes a picture of an ad, emails it to themselves, and then purchases the product with a laptop or tablet. These consumers are all encompassing device users and don't differentiate between their life with or without screens.
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"Group of four people in a row using their phones to writing or reading SMS isolated on white background" image via Shutterstock.