Holiday Email Conundrum: When SPAM Makes The Nice List

As the holidays get underway, it’s time for cheer and catching up. Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to spend some time with out-of-town relatives we only see a few times a year.  As we talked, I heard my godbrother say something that caught my attention: “Let me check my SPAM folder for coupons from XYZ store.”

Of course I had to dig further.

The Q&A that followed was worthy of sharing with you all. Although only a consumer test group of two (he and his wife), the mindset he shared was interesting:

Q. Why would you assume that the offers you are looking for would be in your SPAM folder?

A. Because I put them there.

Q. [Slight head tilt] Why would you put them in the SPAM folder if you knew that you wanted those offers?

A. Because I want to be able to engage with, and read them, when I want and need them -- not when the brand sends the offers to me.

Q. Why not just create a folder for “promotions” or “offers” that you can filter messages to for access at a later time?



A. I didn’t know I could create folders in my email account. There is a SPAM folder in there already, so I just put them in there.

Q. So for you, SPAM has become synonymous with offers?

A. Yeah, basically. 

Q. You do realize that by putting those messages in the SPAM folder, you could negatively impact the various brands you put in there, and their ability to deliver email at all? It could also cause them to stop sending email to you.

A. No, it didn’t even cross my mind that it could negatively impact them. And why would they stop sending to me just because I put an email in the SPAM folder? Someone should educate the public about that, because I had no idea.

Q. Why not just unsubscribe, then?

A. Because I actually want the email. I just want it when I want it -- and will read it when I want to read it. But having too much email in my inbox is frustrating, so I move [the ones I want] to the SPAM folder to keep my inbox organized.

Q. Could a brand sending too much email to you cause a negative connotation for you with the brand?

A. Absolutely. There are a few brands that send way too much email for my liking -- even for my SPAM folder. But I don’t really ever unsubscribe.  It may make me annoyed with them, but it hasn’t yet prevented me from doing business with them. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The conundrum I faced from this conversation was that this small consumer sample set views email as a coupon channel filled with coupons, offers and deals that he can pluck from his SPAM folder when he is actually ready to shop -- much like coupon clippers. The email being received isn’t driving incremental shopping behavior, per se, but could be influencing WHOM he is shopping with.

I am still processing what to do with this information, as it definitely indicates a few things for me that need deeper consideration:

  • Just because a consumer puts email in to the SPAM folder, does that always mean (s)he doesn’t want it?
  • Has the email channel been relegated to nothing more than a discount channel? Do consumers see no other value in the email sent?
  • Are we truly driving incremental behavior in consumers, or simply providing discounted conversion for a behavior that was going to occur anyway?

Perhaps as the holiday season continues, additional family conversations will trigger inspiration for what to do with this information. But one thing is certain as 2016 approaches: Driving incremental behavior in consumers through email should be something we all resolve to do in the New Year. 

What do you all think? Is a “there” there in this conversation, or is it just a sample set of two?

Let the holidays begin!

4 comments about "Holiday Email Conundrum: When SPAM Makes The Nice List ".
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  1. Josue Sierra from W. L. Gore, November 30, 2015 at 12:08 p.m.

    If my inbox is any indication, brands that have lowered consumer's perceptions of email to just being a discount channel have done it to themselves!! I got over 12 emails in a 48 hour period from a well known language learning brand. I love their brand, and plan to purchase a subscription,  but the disconnect between their various emails was disheartening and actually caused me to wait longer (for a better deal). Brands need to stop doing the broadside approach to email targeting!!

    And for crying out loud, stop using email as a cheap way to try to hit your sales goals. It's going to have long term costs you haven't even begun to measure. 

  2. Ric Welker from Reach Publishing, November 30, 2015 at 12:21 p.m.

    I saw a very interesting link at the top of an email the other day...  it said "Report as SPAM/unsubscribe".  It didn't matter which side of the text you clicked, they both took you to the merchant's 'unsubscribe' page.  Based on my wife telling me a very similar story that your sample set of 2 told you...  this approach may be brilliant!  Rather than hit the SPAM button, let's offer them an easy path - that they can relate to - in our emails to get them off of our list!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 30, 2015 at 4:20 p.m.

    The problem basis you are describing is more disturbing that people do not know that they can create a file for promotions/sales or any other topic and how easy it is. The dislocation of understanding of a basic email needs to be fixed first. Who is responsible for that and how can it be fixed ? If anyone will know, it will be you Kara.

  4. Kara Trivunovic from Epsilon, December 1, 2015 at 11:24 a.m.

    Thanks for your comments @Ric and @Josue - I agree that we marketers need to be more dilligent about leveraging the channel effectively and meeting the needs of the consumers (as well as the business). 

    @Paula - I have been trying to figure that out for years. There are some consumer groups that I have worked with in the past that were focused on educating consumers around these types of topics, but ultimately the education should come from the ISPs. There is some education out there, but the consumers really need to seek it out - and who has time for that when they can just delete it or put it in the spam folder? It is a tough challenge to solve for - no doubt.

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