Nobody Asked Trees

This looks like a good example of why I say mistrust research. This morning Small Biz Labs posted an intriguing piece showing that consumers prefer regular mail to email for receiving product information and promotions; by a large margin.

That surprised me and I like Small Biz Labs, so I read on.

According to the survey cited, 73% prefer regular mail to email for product announcements, and 70% prefer regular mail for unsolicited promotional material.

The trail of clicks ends with a Pitney Bowes — the postage meter company — press release. Pitney Bowes commissioned the study. Hmmm  … would they have a reason to want to find that traditional mail is better than email? And guess what, Small Biz Labs mentions the source in its reference, but I hadn’t noticed it because I was focusing on the research, not the funding of the research.

I’m not saying that anything about this is dishonest, just that I can design questions on a survey to generate the answers I want. Mistrust research.

Link: Small Biz Labs: Survey on Traditional Mail Versus Email.



  • Steve King says:

    I agree that research should be viewed critically, and that biases are often part of the research process.

    Your post "Mistrust Research" does a nice job of describing these problems, and I've posted on it on the Small Biz Labs blog (will be published friday).

    I too was surprised by the traditional mail versus email numbers in the ICR survey. But after thinking about it for a bit, I didn't find them totally out of line.

    According to Pew Internet (the most unbiased source I know), about 70% of Americans have Internet access in their homes, and 91% of those with Internet access use email. Of those using email, 56% use email more or less on a daily basis. This means only 40% of Americans use email at home on a daily basis, and roughly 36% of all American adults don't use email at home at all.

    Couple these numbers with the impact of spam on regular email users, and it is believable that a substantial majority of adult survey respondents would say they prefer receiving marketing communications via traditional mail.

    I haven't seen any other studies on this. I'll do a little more digging – email versus traditional mail is an active topic of debate in the direct marketing industry so I would think there would be more research on this topic.

  • Josh Cochrane says:

    Beyond the conflict of interest here, this is a good example of the ambiguity of many business surveys.

    I happen to like trees and try to act in ways that will keep them around. Were I not so inclined, though, I would probably prefer my promotions by mail too, since I experience unsolicited email as a productivity hit but only occasionally get around to even checking my real-world mailbox.

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