What Will Your Company Do If It Cannot Lawfully Rent or Exchange
“Its Names?”

Published: January 14, 2008 – Lists and Data Strategies For The Multichannel Merchant

If list owners and renters fail to self-regulate and adopt new privacy practices governing data sharing in 2008, the government will do it for them. You can rely on that outcome like death and taxes.

Imagine a scenario where no transactional data can be rented, sold or shared, unless your customers have given their express written consent to receive unsolicited communications from third parties. Last year, over a dozen states considered legislation to restrict unsolicited mail and information sharing in various forms. This year, the DMA is expecting approximately twice that number to take a second look at this festering issue.

If any of these bills pass this year, your list management income and livelihood may be in jeopardy.

For many direct marketing companies, marketing their customers’ names to pre-screened third parties is among their most profitable endeavors. If this form of transactional data sharing is either curtailed or banned, revenue will fall. The value of certain companies will also decline because their most important asset, their customer list, is no longer as valuable as it was in preceding years. If you don’t believe me, ask your accountant or list manager.

How about consumer co-op database participation? Now would be a good time to ask cooperative database companies how they intend to serve you if data sharing regulations are enacted. Consumer catalog companies and retailers are at particular risk if the prevailing political winds blow the wrong direction.

Whether “your names” are on the market or in a co-op, there’s still time and a compelling reason to ask your customer’s permission before you share their names with known third parties or marketing partners who operate co-ops. Surprisingly, you may still find that most customers will “opt-in,” as one of our high-profile cataloger clients discovered over 10 years ago, when they followed our sage advice and asked permission via first-class mail before considering a change in their “we will never rent, sell, or share your name” policy.

It is highly beneficial for direct marketers to maintain privacy policies that give customers control over how their transactional information may be used. If you have delivered value to your customers, they should be more likely to extend the privilege of sharing their purchase information with affiliates, outside companies, or organizations that you have deemed have appropriate offers that may be of interest.

Marketers should not fear requesting an “opt-in” from their customers, regardless of marketing channel, which includes both direct mail and e-mail. Opt-in names should command a premium for list rentals, which will increase list management income.

Have you ever wondered about direct marketers or online companies who tout that they will never sell or share their customer information? That promise defies credibility. Consumers know a lot of data sharing goes on, with and without their knowledge. What happens to the customer list when a business is sold? Why not be up-front with them and ask before you tell!

If consumers know that you share transactional information with third parties and are given the option to accept or reject certain offers, you just raised the privacy bar even higher for your company. Maintaining strong consumer-friendly privacy practices is good for direct marketers because they engender mutual trust, which translates into greater customer loyalty and return on investment (ROI).

A handful of visionary catalog and financial services companies have engaged in consumer-friendly privacy practices for many years, long before the government or privacy advocates began the process of scrutinizing data sharing practices in the direct marketing industry. For these noteworthy companies and others, maintaining trusting relationships with loyal customers is paramount. If there is a breach of trust, the ultimate sanction is “loss of consortium.” When companies lose customers, those customers are not only expensive to replace but often tell others about their misfortune. There is something to be said about trusted brands in this day and age. Is your company one of them?

The Direct Marketing Association has championed self-regulation for years. Regrettably, most direct marketers are not members of the DMA and are therefore not subject to its regulatory guidelines. Aside from educating consumers and businesses about contemporary privacy issues and associated best practices, the DMA also needs to recruit new members to help support its mission to keep direct marketing and data sharing lawful in all 50 states.

In conclusion, it is advisable for direct marketing companies who rent or exchange their names to reconsider their data sharing and privacy practices — and then to confidently join those who demonstrate their concern about consumer privacy by asking before telling.

About Acculist

AccuList USA® provides a broad spectrum of services to direct marketers and their agencies including consulting, list brokerage, list management, list enhancement, merge-purge, response analysis, campaign planning, graphic design, copywriting, printing, mailing, and predictive modeling services.

AccuList USA is headquartered in Ventura, California. It maintains a list and insert management office in Laguna Woods, California, along with affiliates in La Quinta, Oxnard, and Thousand Oaks, California.

AccuList USA is an active member of the following professional associations:

Advertising Federation of the Desert (Desert AdFed)
Association of Fundraising Professionals
Direct Marketing Association – (National – List Leaders)
Direct Marketing Association Southern California (Charter member)
International Association Of Exhibitions and Events


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