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Have you counted your daily e-mails that offer instant credit, travel deals, or products "guaranteed" to improve the size and function of various body parts?

Right now, 50 percent of all e-mails that individuals and businesses receive are spam, says Enrique Salem, CEO of Brightmail, Inc., San Francisco. A world leader in anti-spam software, Brightmail filters more than 60 billion e-mails a month for its customers.

In 2001, just 7 percent of the e-mail it checked was spam.

"In the past five years, Brightmail has recorded the incidence of spam attacks climbing from a few hundred a month to nearly 7.7 million in June 2003," Salem says. "Each of these single unique attacks can affect millions and millions of mailboxes anywhere on the Internet."

Spam is growing exponentially, Salem emphasizes. "Some e-mail users, such as high profile companies, are suffering from spam rates as high as 79 percent," he notes. "While the volume of adult spam is disturbing, the largest category of unsolicited spam continues to come from illegitimate direct mail companies that offer products to e-mail users who have not requested to be contacted."

That situation, Salem says, has led to the number one problem for legitimate Internet marketers - blocked e-mails. "It's important for Internet users to select filtering software that has a low false positive rate in order to not miss receiving legitimate e-mail," Salem advises.

So how do all of these spam trends affect the use of the Internet by legitimate marketers?

Over the past 30 years, the trend has evolved from unsolicited marketing to what's called "permission marketing," says Vin Crosbie, president and managing partner of Digital Deliverance, a Greenwich, Conn.-based consulting firm that specializes in interactive publishing.

"The marketing world is in a transition from once typical broadcast marketing," Crosbie says. "The old style was characterized by marketers sending masses of inquiries to potential customers via snail mail, phone and fax, with the hope that some people will buy."

E-mail is seductive for these marketers because it costs virtually nothing to send, Crosbie points out. No printing costs, no envelopes or stamps to buy, no phone bills.

"With such low costs, marketers need just a 1/1,000th return or response rate to make money," Crosbie relates. "That's why so many 'old' marketers want to send unsolicited e-mails.

"Moreover, 'old' marketers don't realize that, just because e-mail has the word 'mail' in it, it isn't like postal mail," Crosbie says. "E-mail is more akin to the telephone. Just as half the phone calls a consumer receives are telemarketing, when half the e-mails a consumer receives are unsolicited commercial inquiries, the consumer gets upset."


"Thus, 22 states have enacted or proposed legislation restricting unsolicited commercial e-mails," Crosbie says. "Several anti-spam bills are being debated in Congress. The bottom line is that consumers will have increasingly more control over what marketing messages they receive."

Vin Crosbie, president and managing partner, Digital Deliverance
When it comes to researching and shopping for goods and services online, consumers still appreciate most one-on-one relationships with trusted marketers, Crosbie says. "It's like when customers walk into a store and are recognized and greeted warmly by the clerk.

"When using the Internet, an astute marketer will strive to develop and nurture that all-important one-on-one relationship with customers and potential customers," Crosbie continues. "Instead of bombarding people with unsolicited information, savvy marketers ask, 'May we send material to you?' If a company has a good relationship with a customer, that person will say yes."

Crosbie calls this consumer marketing method "opting in." Its antithesis is "opting out," meaning anyone can send you anything, and you have to tell them to not to send you any more.

"Consumers like permission-based, opt-in marketing," Crosbie emphasizes."

Reputable marketers don't send unsolicited messages, Crosbie says. All that reputable marketers have to do to avoid getting their messages unopened or deleted, he advises, is to send those messages only to consumers who have directly asked to receive them from that marketer. AM

Contributing editor Linda L. Leake deletes spam from her home base in Wilmington, N.C.

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