Privacy, Netiquette and Web Marketing

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Target marketing on the Internet works. Unfortunately, enough marketers are engaging in poor strategies such as mass unsolicited e-mail advertising, that many direct marketers are skeptical of the online marketing's efficacy.


Unsolicited commercial e-mail, or spam, is a bad idea. Netizens loathe it and think poorly of its senders and it is ineffective compared with the Net's superb audience-targeting potential.


Net marketers must embrace high standards of business ethics. The online threats to consumers from con artists, hackers, perverts and other predators are too real for them not to demand that legitimate companies respect their and their children's privacy and personal data security.


The best road is the high road, particularly in light of the Federal Trade Commission's report, Privacy Online: A Report to Congress, issued last month. The government, with good reason, is taking the view that industry self-regulation on these issues is not working and federal regulation seems likely.


Here are five ways to achieve effective and affordable direct marketing online without violating privacy or netiquette.


* Embrace strong online business ethics: Take the high road now on business ethics. Don't wait for government restrictions. Companies that enact strict privacy policies and internal guidelines for customer data management today immediately see an increase in customer acquisition. Surveys routinely find that many consumers turn away from online forms that request personal data when sites lack a clear privacy policy. Several sites offer guidance on crafting good privacy policies, including the Direct Marketing Association and TRUSTe.


Meanwhile, marketers should follow the development of a few new industry initiatives, notably the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P). A draft protocol from the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), P3P would let consumers easily share their personal data with sites according to preselected preferences. If widely adopted, P3P promises to advance the privacy and e-commerce interests of consumers and marketers.


* Niche sites: Arguably the best way to target users online is still through ad placement near relevant content. Although the top 50 sites receive more than 50 percent of all online ad dollars, hundreds of smaller sites may be more cost- effective for target-marketing objectives. Smaller publishers that foster well-targeted audiences are generally eager to please sponsors with low long-term rates and strategic sponsorship opportunities.


*Online communities: Online communities, such as Usenet newsgroups, America Online forums, Web bulletin boards and e-mail discussion lists, are fertile ground for marketers when netiquette is respected.


Selling your message to online communities is the thinking person's marketing, requiring direct interaction with consumers. Blanket ad postings in forums elicit little consumer response beyond hate mail. Online business guides to netiquette abound, but the basic rules are simple. Find the best online forums for your market and join the communities. Follow the discussions, and respond from personal experience. Let your e-mail signature file sell the company for you.


Yes, this style of grass-roots marketing is time-consuming. But when well executed, it results in "viral marketing," with consumers spreading the word among themselves.


* Paid e-mail advertising: Although spam is offensive and unproductive, there are several ways to use e-mail effectively for advertising.


Mailing lists, sometimes called "listserves," are an Internet tradition. They are one-way newsletters or interactive discussion lists sent via e-mail. Either way, they are almost always free, so most list owners welcome advertising support. In the proper context of the list, subscribers respond well to advertising. Mailing list advertising is a hot trend as marketers recognize the tight demographics and cost- effectiveness of typical lists.


Other companies have a different take on e-mail advertising, for example, IntelliPost's BonusMail. The service has registered nearly a million users who volunteer to read targeted e-mail ads in exchange for redeemable loyalty points. Meanwhile, the explosion of free Web-based e-mail, such as Juno, HotMail and Yahoo Mail offers new targeted ad opportunities for marketers.


* Opt-in customer e-mail lists: A sales adage holds that it is cheaper to sell to existing customers than to acquire new ones. Accordingly, in-house opt-in e-mail lists are the golden goose of online marketing.


Waiting for customers to opt into a direct marketing list may not jibe for marketers accustomed to purchasing consumer names. But the Web changes many rules. Consumers consistently elect to receive sales pitches by e-mail when companies respectfully invite them to do so.


In-house opt-in e-mail lists can create unparalleled sales results, often double-digit response rates. Merchants such as Amazon.com and FirstAuction.com staff editorial positions for in-house mailing lists that number in the hundreds of thousands of subscribers.


Online public relations, sweepstakes, affinity sites links, loyalty currencies and targeted advertising are effective ways to populate a mailing database.


RESOURCES


The Direct E-mail List Source: http://www.copywriter.com/lists/index.htm


A directory of hundreds of target mailing lists that accept advertising.


Netscape on Netiquette: http://home.netscape.com/menu/netet/


A respectable guide to the dos and don'ts of marketing and general


behavior online.


Business Netiquette International: http://www.wp.com/fredfish/Netiq.html


Another similar guide.


The Direct Marketing Association: http://www.the-dma.org


The site has many resources for direct marketers, including a


Web-based program that generates a custom privacy policy for


marketers.


TRUSTe: http://www.truste.org TRUSTe is a nonprofit organization that helps companies adhere to clear consumer privacy policies in exchange for a TRUSTe logo to display on their sites, the online privacy equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It includes free resources related to privacy.


The Federal Trade Commission on Privacy: http://www.ftc.gov/privacy/index.html This page links to several documents about Web privacy, including the new report issued to Congress.


The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on the P3P: http://www.w3.org/P3P/ This is the nerve center of the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project.


Leland Harden is a partner with the Audience Development practice of USWeb Corp., Santa Clara, CA, a provider of strategic Internet professional services. He can be reached at lharden@usweb.com.
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