Most web users are surprised, and then alarmed, when they realize how closely marketers scrutinize their online activities. That alarm has triggered a new and powerful consumer privacy movement, one that has led to an impassioned national debate: Should marketers be able to track consumers' online behavior without explicit permission from the people they are tracking?
I believe that this debate is focused on the wrong question.
The real issue is not whether we, as marketers, should give consumers the opportunity to "opt-out" of tracking technology that monitors their actions. The Do Not Track movement reflects not merely a policy question, but rather a turning point in the evolution of the Internet. It is a seismic shift that will leave some companies on the proverbial "ash heap of history."
If we hope to survive and thrive in today's market environment, where consumers have more power than at any time in human history, the question we really should be asking is this: What should marketers do to motivate consumers to make a conscious decision to "opt-in"?
We should not place the burden on consumers to "opt-out" of activities they may consider intrusive. We, as marketers, should assume the burden of developing compelling value propositions regarding the many benefits of behavioral tracking and, as a result, engage business and consumer decision makers to opt-in.
In this age of empowered, social-media-savvy consumers, it is our responsibility to create marketing that motivates consumers to engage at a deeper level with us, based on the value we can provide. We need to create a Reciprocity of Value equationwhereby consumers can trust us to deliver a more personalized online and offline customer experience based on the additional information they opt-in to share with us. That is the essence of an opt-in relationship.
Of course, some marketers have raised concerns about the possibility that significant numbers of consumers won't opt-in. I don't share this concern. I am confident that today's legitimate marketers have the creativity to effectively communicate the myriad benefits of behavioral tracking and drive large numbers of opt-ins. Solid brands don't have trouble building strong Twitter or Facebook followings -- why should they have trouble getting people to opt-in?
Based on extensive experience, we know that people who actively choose to opt-in will provide rich information regarding their preferences. This detailed customer-generated information enables marketers to provide targeted and relevant communications and offers as determined by the individual preferences of consumers. This is a major win for consumers and marketers.
Results from over 100 Voice of Customer relationship research efforts we have conducted for companies such as Microsoft, NBC Universal, IBM, and many Growth companies, indicates that there are five criteria consumers have as they evaluate whether to opt-in to sharing in-depth information with a marketer. They are:
- Consumers have to trust that the company will adequately safeguard their information and use it in a responsible way.
- "Responsible" means that consumers must believe that their information will not be rented or sold to third parties.
- "Honor my preferences" reflects the expectation that their "opt-in" self-profiled preferences will be used to drive increasingly targeted communications and offers... and suppress those that are not relevant per the expressed preferences of individual customers.
- The value consumers receive in exchange for providing in-depth information must be obvious and compelling. To overcome the legacy of receiving untargeted and irrelevant communications, consumers must see an obvious improvement in relevance. This expectation of relevance applies both to their online experience and subsequent email, direct mail, etc. If the value is not obvious, consumers will assume you have betrayed their trust and expectations.
- Consumers must see proof that the company will be able to deliver on requirements 1 through 4 above, not just once, but consistently over time.
Whatever form the Do-Not-Track regulations finally take, I predict that the marketers who survive and thrive will be those of us who consistently meet the five requirements above. I am confident that marketers today have the skill and creativity to communicate the compelling value they can provide to consumers who don't merely decline to opt-out, but actively choose to opt-in.
Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.
Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.
Ernan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.
His latest book on marketing best practices was published in October, 2010, and is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.
Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."