Consumers know inbox, so should marketers: Return Path study

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Consumers are savvier with e-mail and demand the same sophistication from marketers, per a holiday study conducted by Return Path.

The third annual holiday e-mail consumer survey compiled by Return Path, a New York e-mail marketing services firm, found that 17 percent of respondents were happy to receive holiday offers via e-mail.

"E-mail is still a really effective channel, and consumers still really appreciate it when it's relevant to them," said Stephanie Miller, vice president of strategic services at Return Path.

"What was interesting in our study was finding that consumers are carefully managing their inboxes," she said. "This is good for marketers who are segmenting, targeting and sending triggered messages, but those who are sending blasts are not doing well."

The study found that 51 percent of consumers are likely to open e-mail if they feel that they have experienced a prior value from the marketer before.

This implies that e-mail is about relationships, Ms. Miller said. Marketers need to think of e-mail in terms of campaigns and storytelling, and focus efforts on making e-mails relevant to the customer. Customers may be happy with the brand, but not with the e-mail channel. Marketers need to be aware of this in order to make use of e-mail.

Interestingly, the study also found that consumers trust unsubscribe buttons. Forty-three percent of respondents use the feature sometimes and 24 percent use it all the time.

"What this shows is that consumers really do trust the unsubscribe button, and they seem to understand this button as opposed to the 'This is spam' button," Ms. Miller said. "This is really good news for marketers, that consumers understand how to communicate their interests."

Despite positive results from targeted e-mails, consumers still felt that they were sent too much e-mail this past holiday season. Thirty-seven percent of respondents claimed that it was higher than expected.

What do all of these results mean for 2007? Expect more segmenting, more targeting and more testing.

"The key thing for marketers in the coming year is really taking the time to figure out what customers want and how to extend this value to them," Ms. Miller said.

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