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The Most Hated Kind of Spam

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While no one likes to open their inbox and find a bunch of unsolicited spam, there's one type of email ad in particular that tends to really irk people. Personalized email advertisements are especially annoying to consumers, a new study finds.

The research, led by Temple University Fox School of Business professor Sunil Wattal, revealed personalized emails are far more likely to repel customers than to endear them.

Using data from a firm's real-world transactions, the study shows 95 percent of customers responded negatively when an email ad greeted them by name.

Shoppers who were unfamiliar with the business were very likely to click off or unsubscribe from emails that carry personalized greetings, according to the study. Even those who did know the business responded negatively to such ads.

While customers may have appreciated a personal touch in the past, the study shows the advent of the Internet has changed those feelings.

"Given the high level of cybersecurity concerns about phishing, identity theft and credit card fraud, many consumers would be wary of emails, particularly those with personal greetings," Wattal and his co-authors wrote in the study.

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The research did uncover one way businesses are successfully using a personalized touch online. Wattal found that product personalization, in which customers are directed to products that their past purchasing patterns suggest they will like, triggered positive responses in 98 percent of customers.

The researchers used their findings to craft four key strategies for improving email marketing:

  • Don't assume that a customer's acceptance of the terms and conditions of a privacy policy is a license to openly use their personal information for marketing purposes.
  • Do not send personalized greetings to new customers.
  • Send emails to established customers more frequently than to new ones. A large number of emails may drive a new customer away, but may prompt an established customer to purchase.
  • Build a relationship with new customers by only emailing them ads for products they are predicted to like.

Co-authored by Carnegie Mellon professors Rahul Telang, Tridas Mukhopadhyay and Peter Boatwright, the study "What's in a 'Name'? Impact of Use of Customer Information in E-mail Advertisements" appears online in the journal Information Systems Research.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.