Choice Should Be the Default

This week was an interesting one for me in terms of how much “unsolicited” marketing I received – not just in email, but also in phone calls. This week was the primary election here in the United States, which normally causes a huge blitz in marketing of candidates; I should know since I was one at one time. Our household would receive three calls, sometimes on the same candidate, just in a few hours! It finally got to the point where I was getting tired of them because many of these calls came in with either hidden or foolishly created caller IDs to confuse people, and those that we did answer I couldn’t opt out of or do anything else but hang up. I eventually stopped answering the phone this week (sorry for those who were trying to get a hold of me).

To make things even more interesting, a database service obtained and sold my work address over and over and as such I also received a bunch of non-solicited emails from salespeople trying to sell me unrelated services and products. Many attempted to disguise the email as informational webinars so it wasn’t considered spam. As usual, I attempted to opt out from many of the emails, but found that many of them did not have either a preference center or unsubscribe mechanism. From that point on I did a few normal things for me in these situations; I replied to one of them begging salesperson to remove me and also asked where they obtained my email address from. Usually if I find out who sold my information I then contact the data broker to suppress my information – I’m not fun, I know, but it was the same company from the others…grrr.

So already this week I was admittedly a bit on my soapbox because of my inability to control how people were allowed to contact me. I won’t go into how I’m still on my soapbox and why politicians are always exempt from do not call or email regulations.

At that moment I was happy that the salesperson apologized for emailing me and then suggested I contacted their marketing team to know where my information came from, which I did. What did surprise me was the answer I received back from marketing: “Broad marketing blasts always have an unsubscribe link added by our marketing automation system. The email you received was a template marketing provides to our sales reps to send out a 1-to-1 with their prospects, which is why no opt-out.” Was this an excuse? Defense? Or just plain doesn’t understand best common practices or regulatory requirements?

First of all, I wasn’t ever a prospect from what I recall, which means there was never a relationship and the target (me) wasn’t even the right person or title for the sale to happen to. I went back and looked at the message a few more times and began to realize that in the context it was sent and from the contents, it looked and smelled like a commercial message, which in turn means it needed to have an opt-out method or language as to how to do such. I brought this up with the marketing manager who informed me that a message had been sent to whomever runs their programs outside and to ensure that any and all messages like these include a way for the target to opt out.

Overall I was very happy with the experience I had in how my issue was understood and resolved, but it did bring me back to my soapbox a bit in that no matter the relationship you have with someone, you should always offer a choice to the person or at least garner permission in the first place if you plan on marketing to them.

I’ve spoke about privacy and email regulations for years now and most recently about the White House and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) relying on businesses to do the right thing in terms of self-regulatory practices. We’ve also heard lots of people talking about on as the default when it comes to privacy controls (tracking) in different products and marketing channels, but instead we should first try to figure what on is and agree to choice for the consumer. Turning something on or off for someone won’t be the same choice for someone else. Maybe some people wanted those political calls and marketing emails, but I didn’t, especially since I wasn’t even opted-in in the first place.

Folks, go back and look at your communication practices and ensure that you are giving your customers or prospects a choice as a default in how or what they want to be communicated about. Trust me, you will find the experience a liberating one, and one in which instead of gaining an upset prospect or customer, you will gain a happy one.

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