E-mail Privacy and Trust

Most of my columns are written about marketing strategies. How to reach consumers, engage consumers, get them to purchase from you, or be a brand advocate. But, there’s a very important aspect of e-mail that cannot ever be overlooked: e-mail trust and privacy.

When you think about it, giving someone your e-mail address is like giving them your digital Social Security number. As humans, we use our e-mail addresses to register for almost everything we do online: Web site passwords, social networks, purchases, online billing, mobile phone messaging, and more. In some cases, you can get more information by using someone’s e-mail address to find out what sites they frequent, register for, and buy from.

This makes the value of getting access to someone’s e-mail address close to priceless.

That said, when it comes to e-mail marketing, as marketers we must stop every once in awhile and take time to reflect on what our company’s practices are and how we work to make our consumers feel that their interaction with our company is safe and secure.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the Online Trust Alliance’s Summit, founded by Craig Spiezle. The room was packed with the most aware and concerned technologists. The takeaways ranged from trust and security issues on Web sites and data collection to goals for improving e-mail “beyond deliverability.”

While typically, someone like me, a marketer by nature driven by sales goals and engagement rates would tend to roll her eyes at this conversation, there were some great points made. Many of these made me sit up and pay attention. Here are the top six takeaways from Chip House, VP, ExactTarget; Sal Tripi, senior director, Publishers Clearing House; Mike Hammer, Web operations security, American Greetings Interactive, and me in response to goals outlined at the panel:

Goal: All e-mail and corporate names must be authenticated with definitive SPF/SenderID records and DomainKeys Identified Mail signing policies. This not only helps ensure your e-mails make it to the inbox, but it makes sure if you switch e-mail providers your reputation can go with you.

Takeaway: Do this, instead of starting from scratch.

Goal: Your opt-in statement must be written for the consumer.

Takeaway: Okay, no offense on this one, but duh — we know this already.

Goal: Consumers must be provided with clear notice and transparency on usage of data collected including any sharing with third parties. (This includes a separate, but linked disclosure from the privacy policy.

Takeaway: The general consensus here is, you shouldn’t sell your data to third parties. But, if you do, make sure your opt-in consumer knows and agrees.

Goal: Consumers must be provided a clear expectation on the frequency of e-mail they will be receiving or told there are no controls in place, again in a user friendly way.

Takeaway: Translation: Yay! This means more focus on preference centers.

Goal: Consumers must be provided with control on the relevancy of the e-mail they will be receiving or told there are no controls in place.

Takeaway: This one is debatable. I’m not sure I buy into finding a realistic way to make this happen.

Goal: E-mail marketers must have a data governance plan in place for any data they collect and remediation plan available for user review upon discovery of leakage or loss of such data. Notification should be made for any data leakage not just personally identified information (PII).

Takeaway: Hmmmm…this makes sense, I think.

My question in all of this was: How will this impact my ability to send brand-related messages that drive long-term relationships? And, more importantly, how will all of this impact the 700 other e-mails my competitors are sending?

In the long run, privacy and compliance are key in establishing messaging trust with your consumer, so pay attention to these six goals for best practices. And let me know how it goes in your effort to implement them.

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