I decided to have fun with this. I usually let the "spammer" comment go, and chalk it up to the person not understanding the underlying business behind email, but when it came up again at a recent neighborhood meeting, I thought I'd see if I could modify at least one person's view of the channel. This is how the conversation went.
David: Well, I wouldn't call what I do spam, but it does bring up an interesting topic. How important would you say email is to you in a normal day?
Neighbor: I use it a lot. I'm a technical consultant and I get hundreds of emails a day.
David: How many email accounts would you say you have that you use regularly?
Neighbor: At least three: one at work, one Hotmail account I've had since college, and one Yahoo account that I don't use often.
David: Are you a member of any loyalty programs -- airlines, hotels, book clubs, industry?
Neighbor: Sure, I have loads of them, since I travel so much with my job.
David: Do you get email from them?
Neighbor: Of course.
David: How often?
Neighbor: At least a couple times a week.
David: Do you consider this spam?
Neighbor: No, but I still get a lot of junk mail and spam as well.
David: Where do these loyalty emails go to? Which email account?
Neighbor: Mostly to my Hotmail account, but some to my work.
David: Do you ever look in your junk mail or spam folder and find email that shouldn't be there?
David: Why do you think this happens?
Neighbor: Not sure, I guess it got flagged as spam when it came in.
David: Do you think Sony, Marriot, Martha Stewart, ESPN, Neiman Marcus, The Gap and Fandango are spammers?
Neighbor: Not necessarily.
David: Have you changed jobs in the last few years?
Neighbor: Yes, I just joined this company in the last year.
David: What happens to those loyalty messages that were going to your work? Do you go in and change your email address in each program?
Neighbor: That's a pain sometimes, which is why most of my personal email goes to my Hotmail account.
David: How often do you check email per day?
Neighbor: At work? Too many times. I have a BlackBerry so I check it all day long. But I only check my personal email a couple of times a day.
David: What type of marketing email do you like to get?
Neighbor: Travel deals, sports-related email (like fantasy football), and industry news.
David: Imagine how hard it is to develop email programs that are timed to your pace, the cadence of your life and your changing interests; that can keep track of you over all the changes in your career, and still are creative enough to keep you engaged and loyal.
This conversation is no different than it was five years ago. There is a general disdain for email, but it has become such a mainstream part of our lives that we accept it, even if our first instinct is to call it spam, however flippantly. What has changed is, this doesn't happen with everyone. Attitudes are improving. At the neighborhood meeting described above, two others in the group started talking about some really good email programs they know about. I usually end these discussions with a reality check.
"Imagine your world, if we didn't have marketers who were smart and creative. You would get text email at best, and it would come at inappropriate times. If you changed email addresses you'd have to rejoin every program you enjoy. You'd have to sift through hundreds of identical-looking emails a day and you'd get more unsolicited email at your work than work-related email."
Now that wouldn't be fun at all.