Meet "Extreme Respectability" Marketing

This past week, I took part in the FTC’s comment period on the proposed Do-Not-Email (DNE) registry. While I certainly wanted to add my two cents, I kept thinking about the bigger picture. Policymakers at the state and federal levels have been tightening the noose around most direct marketing channels with such initiatives as the Do-Not-Call list and Do-Not-Fax list with no apparent end in sight. Direct Marketers must feel that their planning choices are now so regulated, that it’s not about what you should do but what’s left that you can do.

The question on most DMer’s minds is, "Why now?" After all, telemarketing is hardly new. Neither is fax marketing. Heck, email marketing is nearly a decade old already! So why are legislators all of a sudden gunning for direct marketers? The answer to this question is far simpler than anyone would believe: it's because there are plenty of voters supporting it.

To uncover why the average voter has it in for direct marketers, I suggest you take a moment and count your personal contact points. These are the channels of communication available to you through work and home -- postal addresses, email, phone, fax, etc. In my informal study, I found the average person has roughly 10 contact points, and that seems to be multiplying at an incredible pace. Just in the last decade alone, we’ve seen at least three additional contact points thrown into the mix: email, cell phones and instant messaging.

Thus, the good news for consumers is that there are now more channels of communication available to them than ever before. The bad news is that you’ll most likely receive sales pitches through all of them.

To try and put this into context, consider that in 2003 approximately:

  • 657,000,000 opt-in emails were sent per day – which does not include Spam
  • 678,000,000 outbound telemarketing calls were placed per day
  • 553,000,000 pieces of direct mail were sent per day

That’s close to two billion pitches per day going to a country with approximately 190 million people over the age of 18. That’s a lot of marketing. As yet another informal experiment, I counted all the pieces that I received on one random day across all my contact points and I received a total of 156 sales solicitations. I didn’t count spam.

Yet spam does serve as a fabulous science project. It’s a wonderful example of marketing that’s completely out of control. Spam, in a way, has given us the Scrooge-like peek into the future where we we're all given a glimpse of permission-less marketing on steroids -- and nobody liked what they saw.

In fact, spam serves as one of the best arguments for permission because once you remove two simple things -- permission (or consumer control) and the economic barriers from opt-in email -- what’s left is more akin to “anti-” direct marketing. Spam is anti-relevance, anti-targeting and more importantly, anti-respect. Spam sends the loud and clear, no-excuses message to consumers that if DMers had their unregulated way, all channels would be just as clogged. They’re probably right.

Spam is so extreme -- in the negative sense, of course -- that savvy, legitimate email marketers now flock to the polar opposite end of the respectability spectrum, not by just obtaining permission but by putting their squeaky-clean best practices up front and center and waving their respectability flag high and wide. I call this type of marketing that’s starting to emerge “extreme respectability.” In other words, many marketers now see the need to first sell  consumers on their privacy policies, or their company, basically, before they pitch their products or services. Not a terrible concept, actually.

Now what’s even more interesting about extreme respectability marketing is that consumers see this top-notch online behavior among legitimate marketers and begin to wonder why they are treated differently offline by the very same marketer. It’s becoming very clear that today’s top direct marketers do not treat them differently at all. They treat their customers and prospects with the same level of respect, care and disclosure online and offline. Furthermore, they are very adept at collecting and honoring permission across all channels. In short, they recognize permission is not just for email marketing. It’s a best practice for all DM programs.

Permission is not a fad or a defensive action; it’s the right way to market in this new millennium. We should embrace it not because we are told to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Take it from one who’s been living in the permission world for the past six years and whose company now collects permission from several thousand people per day: It’s not, at all, a bad place to be.

This is an interesting time to be in direct marketing. It’s a time when pummeled consumers -- not policymakers -- are forcing us all to be better marketers. They feel the best way to make us better marketers is to give us less choices. I beg to differ. The way to be a better marketer is to build a bond with the consumer that “Do-Nots” can’t break. I, for one, am convinced that those bonds begin with permission.

As president and COO of NetCreations/PostMasterDirect, Michael Mayor is an 18-year veteran of direct marketing and a recognized pioneer of email marketing. Michael joined NetCreations as one of the company's first employees in 1998, and played a key role in helping to build the largest and most successful email list management company in the industry today. He has also pioneered many of the email marketing industry's standards and best practices. Mayor is a leading advocate of privacy and is a frequent speaker at industry functions. Mayor is also the Chairman for the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Email Committee.