Consumers are ready and willing to participate in email marketing — but they have high expectations of the quality and quantity of content they receive, according to a new Technographics® report by Forrester Research B.V. (Nasdaq: FORR). Marketers must ask consumers’ permission before sending out emails and set clear rules of engagement if they want to maximize ROI.

“Although consumers are increasingly eager to sign up for email marketing, they are just as eager to cancel,” said Technographics Senior Analyst Luca S. Paderni. “Travel-related email marketing gets one of the lowest cancellation rates — only 5% of consumers have unsubscribed from travel-related email marketing services; this is in no small part thanks to the unique appeal of ‘last-minute’ deals. Where cancellations are high, consumers are unequivocal on the reasons: poor content and irrelevant information. Email frequency and advertising intensity are the next most important reasons for consumers to cancel email subscriptions. Last but not least, online marketers must refrain from sending very long emails, trying to address all the possible interests and needs of the target audience.”

Consumers willing to give permission for email marketing are a demanding and sophisticated bunch. Fifty-six percent of consumers participating in email marketing are between 16 and 34 years old and they tend not to have children. Forty-four percent of them have a university degree and 46% have been online for more than two years — 77% of them are technology optimists. On average, they spend 9 hours per week online, and email is the key regular activity for 95% of them. They are keen on having multiple communication channels like Web-based email, chat, and instant messaging. When offline, 90% of them have a mobile phone and 29% send SMS messages at least daily. Forty-one percent of them consider email a great way to find out about new products, 36% read most of the promotional emails they receive, and 9% find the information they received so valuable that they decide to forward the emails to a friend.

“Campaigns built on explicit consumer permission win every time compared to the ‘spamming’ mentality of opt-out email campaigns,” Paderni added. “Double opt-in — demanding explicit permission plus explicit confirmation — has a positive effect on both acquisition and retention marketing. At present, there is a limited number of double opt-in lists available in Europe. In the meantime, there are more than 10 million addresses available for single opt-in email campaigns. The lower return rates from single opt-in reduce the overall ROI. Just by failing to send a confirmation email, marketers can compromise the future of a healthy database. By asking customers what kind of information they are interested in receiving with double opt-in, marketers can preserve and enhance customer relationships and vastly improve the ROI of retention marketing via email. By assuming customer consent in the absence of a specific denial, online marketers will upset consumers and boost cancellation rates. Furthermore, because most of the messages will be perceived as irrelevant and intrusive, they have the potential to damage the brands associated with them.”

The data used for the report “Email Marketing Needs Permission” was drawn from Forrester’s Consumer Technographics 2001 Europe Benchmark Study, fielded in 13 European countries by means of consumer mail panels of 29,354 respondents. The 13 markets are Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. All data was weighted to demographically represent the countries’ populations.