Direct Marketing, Mail Order, and E-commerce News from the National Mail Order Association


Email Marketing – Eliminating the Fear Factor
By Jeff Wilbur


Consumers today don’t trust email from marketers. And rightly so. Seemingly every day headlines depict
another insidious method used by hackers, phishers and the like to infect machines and steal money.


The dangers are very real. About 75 million people received email sent by phishers posing as trusted
companies last year costing consumers $1 billion, according to Gartner. Almost 20 percent of people’s
computers are infected by viruses and over 80 percent have spyware/adware, according to a recent
report from the National Cyber Security Alliance. Many of these nasty results stem from email messages
thought to be sent from trustworthy marketers.


The irony is most consumers want to read email coming from their banks, favorite e-commerce sites or
affinity groups, such as car clubs and scrap booking organizations. Their well placed fear is that upon
opening an email supposedly containing a benevolent message, they’ve opened Pandora’s box. The
mantra security experts tout is “never open unsolicited email.” This is sensible, but often impractical in
the real world.


As consumers grow increasingly leery of email, the results are impacting the bottom line. For instance,
consumer fears will slow U.S. business-to-consumer e-commerce sales by 1-3 percent in the coming
years, according to the latest research from Gartner. The effectiveness of email marketing initiatives is
suffering as well. 


Perhaps The Economist said it best recently: “Surely it should be obvious to the dimmest executive that
trust, that most valuable of economic assets, is easily destroyed and hugely expensive to restore.”


Dubious Deterrence


Cyber criminals are often too elusive for authorities to track and capture. This task is particularly tricky in
phishing attacks, where the phishing websites are online an average of only five days before relocating.


Naturally, businesses and technology providers are stepping up efforts to restore trust in email. On the
whole, two methods exist: filtering suspect email before it arrives in the in-box, and flagging known
deceptive websites referenced within an email. There are a variety of companies addressing these two
issues. While these are a step in the right direction, they are “whac-a-mole” or reactive solutions.


At the core, filtering emails and flagging URLs are reactive and automated solutions. If humans are
having a difficult time discerning good from bad email, automating the process to outwit clever hackers
and phishers doesn’t go far enough to protect consumers, especially considering the continued growth
and sophistication of the attacks.


Eliminating the Fear Factor


A few solutions are available today that take a proactive approach to the issue. They highlight known
good messages, rather than today’s less effective methods of filtering out received suspect messages
or flagging suspect URLs within an opened email.


These proactive solutions blend powerful security and simplicity to cripple phishing attacks, while
placing the sending company’s logo in consumers’ in-boxes to verify authenticity. This approach is
popular among marketers for the obvious reason that their brand is prominently visible in the person’s
email in-box and it is associated with trust.


A real world analogy would be using the traditional U.S. mail service compared to one of the
overnight services. When consumers receive a FedEx package they know it is delivered by a trusted
source and the contents are valuable. On the other hand, separating the wheat from the chaff in
traditional mail is onerous at best. This scenario is similar to what consumers now face on a larger scale
in their email in-boxes.


The effectiveness of a proactive email identification solution is surpassed only by its simplicity.
Consumers need only take a few moments to update their existing email clients to receive icon-based
email. Every email sent from a marketer using an identification solution will then appear with the
company’s logo prominently displayed in the “From” column of the in-box. Consumers then see the
sender’s logo and know the email can be trusted, so they are free to open the email and act on it
without second-guessing themselves.


Using a service to certify email and display a logo in the in-box comes at a nominal cost to marketers,
but is a small price to pay for restoring trust in and increasing the effectiveness of marketing messages
to consumers. The top three considerations for marketers choosing an icon-based solution are:


Certification – Each email sent by marketers must be certified and comply with industry-standard
security methods. Without proper certification the brand can “spoofed” by phishers and hackers.


Simple and Consistent – Consumers must be able to use their existing web and desktop email clients,
such as Hotmail and Microsoft Outlook, because studies show that consumers are resistant to change.
And since consumers have an average of nearly two email boxes apiece, the user experience must be
consistent, regardless of the email client used. The solution must also be simple for marketers to
implement, so it must work with marketers’ standard email server software and require little or no
infrastructure changes.


Free to Consumers – The solution must be free to consumers.


This proactive approach to the email issue is ideally suited for organizations that require trusted email
communications with customers and for consumers who want a simple yet powerful way to determine
if an email message can be trusted. Once trust is established, marketers and consumers mutually benefit.
Eliminating the fear factor allows consumers to communicate more effectively with organizations, while
marketers achieve their ultimate goal of getting consumers to notice, open and act on their email. 



Jeff Wilbur is Vice President of Marketing at Iconix , an email identification
company delivering an open-standards, icon-based solution to thwart consumer identity theft.
Jeff can be reached at


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