Email’s Role in Customer Trust

Being a responsible data-driven marketer is an opportunity to transform the marketing organization and rally participants in all areas around the need to use data respectfully and ethically. Email marketers—already adept at pulling insights from consumer data and behaviors—are, arguably, the best positioned to lead in this area.

Many marketing organizations outsource the responsible use of data to their legal or privacy teams. Doing so is a mistake. In fact, no department should care more about data governance than the marketing department. It’s our job to be both the voice of the customer internally, and also the steward and protector of the trust consumers place in our brands and products.

Trust is built over time, but can be destroyed in an instant. What would the impact be to your business if there were a media exposé about how your consumer data was misused or breached? Yes, better not to think about that; instead, protect your precious brand assets and your business with a commitment to data stewardship.

What does data governance do for business? It helps to ensure that:

  • Consumers are given notice and choice on how their data will be collected and used.
  • Consumers trust the brand and company.
  • Responsible data stewardship is projected to policymakers and media.
  • Data is protected, and marketing data is used for marketing purposes only.
  • Accurate data is appropriately monetized.
  • Compliance with all appropriate laws and DMA industry self-regulations is maintained.

Marketers cannot take this responsibility lightly, nor assign it to other teams. Instead, embrace it as a core component of building consumer trust and engagement. Email marketers can lead the way.

The email database is a source of both opportunity and vulnerability for these reasons:

Email is nearly universal. It’s the leading outbound-messaging channel, usually reaching the largest number of customers, prospects, and influencers. This is true because email marketing works—it’s still the highest ROI channel in the marketing toolkit.

Email marketing is primarily permission-based; most files are built at the request of the subscriber. That creates trust between the sender and the recipient. Consumers give us their email address confident that we will respect their choices and send them something helpful. Email marketers already make an unspoken commitment to be responsible stewards of consumer data and that precious permission grant.

There is a penalty for irrelevancy in email marketing that doesn’t exist in other channels called the Report Spam button. Clicks on that button, whether the cause is dissatisfaction, ignorance, or annoyance, affect our sender reputation, and thus our ability to reach any inbox at all.

Unlike direct mail, there is no guarantee that messages sent–even those requested or transactional–will actually reach the subscriber. Mailbox providers are under no obligation to deliver commercial mail and they make no bones about how automated and aggressive their antispam measures are, regardless of the fact that they often produce “false positives” (legitimate messages that are blocked). Email marketers are already under pressure to delight and amaze subscribers, because that is the only way to even get a chance at a response.

Email marketing is regulated by the Federal CAN-SPAM law and several state children’s- protection laws, as well as by opt-in regulations in almost every country in the world. Unlike other areas of marketing, responsible data stewardship in email marketing is already a legal and ethical obligation.

With all this pressure from competing forces, it’s no wonder that email marketing is a good place to lead the marketing organization in responsible data governance and stewardship. We’ve got the most to win, and the most pressure to comply.

This leadership won’t happen without a plan and a commitment. There are four components to launching and living/growing with an effective data-stewardship program:

1. Appoint a data governance compliance officer, and make this position a real part of someone’s job. This person will lead a cross-department, collaborative effort to build a responsible data-stewardship program.

2. Establish ongoing processes to manage data to a standard of legal and ethical compliance, ones that are flexible enough to adapt to shifts in the marketplace, new laws, or industry best practices.

3. Create written policies for a data governance and quality control program. Incorporate these policies into the business objectives and performance metrics for everyone on the marketing, operations, legal, and privacy teams. Make data governance and consumer trust inextricable from your ROI and business goals.

4. Conduct a proactive risk assessment. This helps the team understand current data practices, outline privacy and consumer trust commitments, and rate any potential harm from marketing practices or product features. Repeat this assessment at least annually.

Our world is social, our lifestyles are digital, and almost every aspect of modern marketing is data driven. New approaches are needed. Rethink data, not just for push marketing but also for strategic insights—and to build and maintain consumer trust.

Stephanie Miller is VP, communications and member engagement at the Direct Marketing Association. Read her blog at DMA/Advance (blog.thedma.org) and follow her on Twitter @stephanieSAM.

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