An early mentor of mine advised raising our heads often and working ON the business, instead of just IN the business.  Similarly, current policy and consumer perceptions of our industry require that we all raise our heads and work ON the industry reputation instead of just IN our respective businesses.

Last month’s 60 Minutes program and last night’s broadcast of “America Tonight,” produced by Al Jazeera America, are just the latest efforts to “expose” what Senator Jay Rockefeller  (D, WV) has called a “dark underbelly” of the marketing business.   This is not just about service providers, but affects every marketer and advertiser who uses consumer data to improve customer value.  That is truly all of us.  Our industry is under attack from both regulators and privacy advocates.

Granted, try as they may, neither broadcast program nor the multitude of hearings and workshops from Senator Rockefeller, the White House, the FTC and other regulators have demonstrated any actual harm to consumers caused by data-driven marketing – and in fact, all have acknowledged its tremendous value to consumers, business, and the economy.     Data-driven marketing contributed $156 billion and 675,000 jobs to the US economy in 2012 according to the Value of Data study from the Data Driven Marketing Institute, a think tank of DMA.

To be clear, we are talking about (and protecting the use of) marketing data for marketing purposes.  Data used for financial and healthcare eligibility and with children is already regulated (and should be).

DMA participated in these and other press efforts to clarify the facts and provide balance to the story.  However, in both cases, producers seemed to be on a mission to pick up stones and look underneath them.  Al Jazeera America last night claimed they called a list broker and spent $400 for a list of consumers – “no questions asked.”

Knowing the checks and balances that list and data brokers use, we suspect that there is more to the purchase of that data than was reported, and while the company they claim to have sold them this list is not a DMA member,  we’ve reached out to discuss their practices.

However, that is all beside the point.

The point is that public opinion is being shaped by these kinds of reports and it’s up to all of us to band together and set the record straight.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Make sure your ethical practices are above any hint of reproach.  Audit your practices regularly and ensure you comply fully with DMA Ethical Business Guidelines.
  2. If you market lists, make sure the names of those lists are consumer friendly. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to making what we do sound creepy.
  3. Be transparent with consumers.  Make your privacy policy complete and visible.  Provide a conspicuous and easy to use opt out where appropriate (and required by law).  Give consumers choices about how their data is used, and make it easy to exercise those choices.  Two DMA programs can help – participate in and to quickly give consumers ways to exercise their choices.
  4. Support DMA in planning our Data Commitments program, which will expand to include both industry and consumer outreach.  For more  information, please contact me.

 Self-regulation works.  DMA has worked with our members to be the standard-setter and enforcement arm of our industry for more than four decades.   The  Guidelines for Ethical Business Practices  set a high bar for responsible marketing, and are flexible enough to address ongoing changes in technology, markets, consumer interest and new business practices.  DMA enforces these guidelines and punish bad actors. Further regulations would stifle innovation and would have a particularly devastating impact on businesses and our economy.  

Together, we are stronger than any one company alone.  Let’s band together, re-commit ourselves to high standards and consumer-centric principles, and keep our industry healthy and flourishing.

We welcome your ideas in the comments section below.

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