Stop Backlash With Traditional Values

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Lately, there's a lot of talk about the state of our industry in a variety of new outlets and, I'm sure, around scores of water coolers. Most of what I hear is negative, and usually tied to the troubling phenomenon of spam.


If you believe all the hype, then the state of our industry is alarming. From pending spam legislation to disenchanted consumers and overzealous consumer groups out to stop all online marketing, there seem to be more than enough challenges mounted against direct marketing to signal the industry's eventual downfall. That's if you believe the hype. I, for one, do not.


This is a time of great opportunity for our industry. Yes, we face challenges. Legislation, public perception and ever-changing best practices are topics that every DMer will have to address for years. However, the challenges confronting the direct marketing industry are all ones we can meet and eventually conquer.


The situation is not as dire as some say. It's true that you can find a story about the evils of spam in most major media outlets just about every day. This will not change. None of us likes to be inundated with irrelevant, unwanted and useless messages.


But a growing population of consumers appreciates and values the important and pertinent marketing pieces that legitimate businesses offer. The trick is understanding the difference, following our own guidelines and educating others on the difference between the "good guys and bad guys" in our industry.


The stories in the majority of media outlets miss the perspective of the legitimate marketer offering customers something of value. They also miss the perspective of the consumer who volunteers to receive this marketing correspondence. But stories that tout the value of opt-in and permission-based marketing are not scandalous and definitely are not sexy.


What are we as marketers to do in this environment of public pressure, media scrutiny and close monitoring? It's simple: Return to traditional business values.


Think about it; our industry is no different than any other. We have a few bad apples that have given our industry a reputation that is undesirable at best. But doesn't every industry?


The good news is we already have the processes, practices and tools to do this. This is why I see the direct marketing industry standing in front of a tremendous opportunity. We can work together to change public perception about what we do by following simple guidelines that start with one concept we all learned years ago - respect.


Any businessperson can tell you about the importance of excellent customer service. Treat customers the way you would want to be treated, and they, in turn, will be loyal and will trust you. And they should. After all, we act with our customers' best interests in mind, right? Then we simply need to commit to doing so in a way that shows our customers that we respect them and respect their wishes, and encourage all others in our industry to do the same.


Our challenge and our opportunity hinge on general business etiquette. It's about providing customers with what they want, when they want it and in the format that they desire.


For e-mail marketers specifically, this business etiquette means many things. It means targeting opt-in e-mail lists rather than deceptive address-capture practices. It means sending carefully planned correspondence rather than an overabundance of mailings. It means sending e-mail pieces and newsletters that offer true value to customers rather than simple promotion. It means protecting your lists and your customers' privacy as if it were your own.


E-mail marketing has proven benefits that no other channel offers: personalization and reporting; better matching of offers to audience, resulting in measurable performance gains; low cost; and dissemination of information quickly, easily and on demand.


Also, e-mail gives the recipient a chance to receive deals and specials in a timely manner; easy access to information geared toward individual interests or hobbies; and a way to expand relationships with companies they already trust.


When used properly, e-mail is a win-win situation for all involved, and companies that practice careful and responsible online marketing get positive and measurable results. Businesses begin to see their e-mail marketing as an indispensable tool and find that this method improves their customer relationships and brand loyalty.


Individuals like to get pertinent e-mail from people or companies they know and trust. Businesses that do it right become not an annoyance, but a trusted adviser. Their correspondence is welcomed and eventually brings in more business.


But once we achieve these types of positive results, we must do everything we can to maintain the consumer's trust because we know how hard it is to come by.


Let's go back to the good old days when companies knew their customers. New technology lets us practice this one-on-one customer relationship at an even higher level.


Our world is not so fast paced that old-fashioned business values no longer apply. We work in a world where the situation is just the opposite. Despite popular opinion, traditional business etiquette is not only appreciated, it is required.


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