The Direct Marketing Association's board of directors is about to promulgate a privacy promise to consumers who are customers of direct marketers and to make compliance with the policy a requirement of membership as of July 1, 1999. Business-to-business marketers are encouraged, but at this point aren't required, to make the same promise to their customers.
Roy Schwedelson poses some important questions as to how this policy should be implemented by BTB marketers (“Getting Ready for Privacy Principles, May 11). As a DMA board and executive committee member who has been intensively involved in formulation of the privacy promise, I would like to comment and expand on Roy's observations.
To begin with, keeping the privacy promise is just plain good business. As marketers we must listen to our customers, and they are telling us very clearly that they want their privacy respected and want to exercise choice over the way their names, addresses and other information are used and transferred to other organizations. It is in our best interest not simply to respond to these wishes but to anticipate them and to facilitate the ways in which customers can express their wishes to us. From an economics point of view, we also know that we don't want to spend money or use scarce resources contacting people who don't want to hear from us.
There are several reasons why BTB marketers should make the same promise. First, it is simply good business, and second, as Roy points out, often it is very difficult to determine whether an individual on a list is a consumer or a businessperson. Beyond that, businesspeople often are contacted at their office about products or services they would use personally or in which their company would have no interest.
Many BTB marketers already have the capability to suppress the names of people who don't want to be contacted. BTB marketers would be well advised to notify recipients of their contacts that the recipients have the opportunity to opt out and to provide a convenient vehicle for the recipient to implement such action.
Roy comments specifically on the fact that business marketers collect information and use that information for their own marketing activities as well as to generate list-rental revenue. He cites the information collected by controlled-circulation publications and it seems to me that the principles of notice, opt-out and suppression apply very well to this example.
The collection questionnaire should ask the respondent whether he would like to receive communications from the publisher related to products or services other than the publications to which he is subscribing and whether the information provided can be used by other marketers to select names of people who think they would be interested in their products and services. People in business crave information. If they have any interest in an area, they are not likely to opt out of receiving valuable information. If the recipient is not interested in more information, then the marketer is better off not contacting him.
Roy is probably right that getting business users to provide notice and a convenient way to opt out will not be easy. The practice probably will impact their revenue model, but in the long run, it will impact their model favorably rather than unfavorably. To the best of my knowledge, no marketer has suffered by making and keeping the privacy promise.
Robert D. Kestnbaum
Kestnbaum & Co., Chicago