As someone who has spent the last two decades lambasting our industry for their attitude to consumers, I do find myself chuckling quietly at the recent flurry of activity regarding consumer choice and personal preference.
Let’s be honest - in the old days of high-volume carpet bombing, giving consumers a choice might have resulted in a short, sharp "leave me alone!", which didn’t make economic sense for direct marketers. While I understand the commercial imperatives that drive direct marketing businesses, my argument back in 1993 was that it makes no commercial sense whatsoever to waste money on marketing to people who aren’t interested. Seems pretty simple by today’s standards.
When I first uttered this “verboten verbatim” the industry would have strung me up if they could. Nearly 20 years later, the model has been turned on its head and it seems the consumer may have finally become king. Now, everyone is talking about how we can allow consumers to take more control and be in charge of their own data.
Ironically, somebody actually quoted the mantra of the Postal Preference Service at me the other day - “give consumers more of what they want and less of what they don't". While founded on sound principles, the PPS had no more intention of delivering less mail to consumers than Clinton did of admitting his involvement with the Lewinsky woman. The entire model was based on delivering less but actually delivered more, albeit marginally better targeted.
So, while the recent increase in consumer preference services is wholeheartedly welcome, in some cases it’s just another way of servicing the needs of clever opportunists. We all know the script - “tell us about yourself so we can sell your data, and we will exploit a few DMA services (MPS/TPS/FPS/eMPS) and send a few emails to a few big data owners so they have to remove your records from their files”.
One supplier has even offered to pay for the consumer’s data, turning it into a fully-fledged lead generation tool. Apparently, £10 is all you get for selling your data to the devil, a preposterous amount considering the wily supplier stands to make a return of 40 or 50 times that amount in the long-run.
Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely in favour of any initiative that enhances our relationship with the public, as well as being a voracious supporter of timely, appropriate and consented communications through the consumer’s preferred channels.
However, the last thing we need is a return to the hoodwinking model of the 1980 and 90s, where we do whatever it takes to get data out of consumers and damn the consequences. While I sense that we have turned a corner toward a brighter future based on openness, honesty and transparency, if the mechanisms that we provide to consumers to help them make a choice are entrenched in the same mindset, then there is no hope for our industry.