Will Internet Email Marketing be Regulated?

Privacy Groups Call for “Do Not Track” List

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Every marketer worth anything preaches that you need to identify your audience, discover what they want and give it to them. That’s shortly followed by statistics on how much better targeted advertisements work than general advertisements. That’s Marketing 101. It’s also a foregone conclusion that e-commerce—and electronic anything for that matter—provides an unprecedented opportunity for companies to discover actual information on their customers, aggregate it and then fine-tune their advertising.

This level of personalization can be very handy to a point. It means that you’re less likely to receive sales promos on things you’re not interested in. It also means that if you’re looking for a gift for someone that has nothing in common with you, the product may not be offered to you or—worse—once you purchase a gift for someone, you’re forever going to receive ads for similar products. If you need a good example of this in action, look at Amazon.com. They’ve mastered the technique.

Where things get murky is when this information is not used collectively, but to target individuals. Let’s face it, Amazon knows my mailing address, phone number, reading habits, the approximate age of my child, probably its sex and toy tastes as well as my credit card number and the mailing address of my parents. That’s a lot of personal information. If they link that up with any cookie tracked data, they also know what sort of books and products I looked at and then didn’t buy. (Since I haven’t yet received promotional material on those sorts of products, they either aren’t marketing to that yet, or have decided not to get that personal. Let’s hope it’s the latter. They know too much already.)

This is where the privacy groups start flocking to FTC meetings. Their proposal at the October 2007 meeting was for a “Do Not Track” list that would function like the telemarketer “Do Not Call” list. The aim is to protect us consumers from that level of marketing. An article in the November 12, 2007 issue of Information Week (Call Off the Wolves by Thomas Claburn) goes into great detail on the implications of this proposal.

Practically speaking, the abusers aren’t going to be hampered by this law. CAN-SPAM didn’t stop the offers to increase my penis size from flooding my mail box. I don’t know about yours. Likewise, being on the “Do Not Call” list and having an unlisted number hasn’t stopped telemarketers from calling me. The difference is that the calls now come from people I already do business with, or from charities. Nevertheless, I still have my dinners interrupted and I get more garbage in my email box than legitimate mail. I expect it will be the same for “Do Not Track.”

What Does This Mean For Writers Building Marketing Platforms?

Writers need platforms now more than ever before. For a first-time writer, it may be the difference between getting your book published or not. To build your platform, you need at the very least a method of establishing a two-way dialog with your audience. Forums, Blogs and email lists are the most economical ways of doing this. They also push us little guys into the arena of the big boys when it comes to personal privacy and we need to take the responsibility seriously. That means assuring our contacts that their information will be kept confidential and taking appropriate steps to do it. This includes complying with CAN-SPAM.

It doesn’t mean that we should stop gathering as much information on our prospects as we can. Knowing who has already bought our book can keep us from repeatedly sending them purchasing requests and potentially alienating them. We’ll just keep in touch with useful tips and newsletters and hit them with a sales promotion when we have something to offer that they don’t already own, or to remind them that our book would make a great gift for someone—if they liked it, that is. Discovering where they live will allow us to send them notices about when we’ll be speaking in their area rather than making them sift through all of our appearances. See? Useful tracking for their benefit.

How To Keep Out of Trouble

Thomas Claburn suggested 6 “essentials” for keeping a “Do Not Track” list from making it into law because, let’s face it, WE are the only ones who it’ll really effect. I’ve modified them a bit for our needs.

Security – Promise it and then follow through. If they buy through your email promotion or through your web site, use a secure transaction. PayPal is awesome. They process the transition and incur the liability for the credit card data. It’s worth the percentage they charge. Same with email addresses. Promise not to share or sell them and then don’t.

Be Straight – If you want their personal information, tell them why and offer them something worthwhile in exchange.

Opt-Out Options – Give them the ability to regulate what they receive from you. Any mass email or auto-response service will conform with CAN-SPAM and offer a 1 or 2 click unsubscribe option. Easy.

Interact – Contact them with things other than sales advertisements. Have a real relationship with them. If you want to have a successful relationship over the long term, you need to keep their feelings and needs firmly in mind. Be a friend—one they can trust.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Originally posted on my WordPress blog, November 23, 2007.

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This entry was posted by on Friday, August 22, 2008.
Filed under: Articles, For Writers, Marketing
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