One definition of responsibility is “doing the right thing before somebody tells you to do it.”    No where is that more fitting than in today’s data-driven marketplace.

That’s why DMA has been out on the front lines, talking with our fellow marketers as well as with elected officials and agency heads about ethical practices in data collection, management, protection and use.  We all know that ethical practices, notice and choice are key to consumer trust and higher revenue.  However, industry has to go the extra mile just to be considered trustworthy.  So any one bad apple truly does spoil the basket.

Despite the good practices of many and the assumed good intentions of all, the scrutiny of our industry goes on:   From our own customers, from legislators and regulators, the news media and watchdog organizations.

Every time a list name confuses or frightens a consumer, every time a sweeps offer is unclear, and every time a company commits a judgment error with its list-management practices, the calls come thick and fast for regulation. Even worse, when governments suffer a data breach or use poor data collection practices, marketers get tarred with the same brush.

What can we do about it? The first step is to clean up our own collective act before lawsuits or regulations try to do that for us. The next step is to put a public face on what we’ve done to bolster data responsibility.

We’re at a critical stage today with data, which has become the currency of everyone’s lives as well as the lifeblood of the marketing operation. The free flow of data empowers our $156 billion industry, according to the Value of Data study from the Data-Driven Marketing Institute.  Getting out in front of misinformation, mischaracterization, myths and attacks on our reputation and practices is crucial to our ability to maintain our privilege of largely self-regulation.

Customers in general are both more knowledgeable today about the marketing practices that affect them and more wary about how companies are managing that data, especially sensitive information related to health care and finances.

The bar is much higher now for marketers, and that’s a good thing. It compels us to adopt responsible data practices, both to keep our customers’ confidence and to stave off misguided attempts at government regulation.

Responsible marketers adopt a “don’t do stupid things” perspective on data collection, management and use, whether they collect it themselves, rent it or buy it. They audit their own practices and update or adjust them as needed to make them more customer-friendly as well as business-necessary. This is an excellent Step One.

Step Two happens when companies who have successfully incorporated data responsibility into their policies and procedures speak out and spread the word to peers and the public.  I hope that you will join DMA in speaking out about the ethical practices of responsible marketing, and improving the transparency between marketers and customers.  If you are doing things right, tell your customers about it and invite their feedback.

If you are doing that now, DMA wants to hear about it so that we can help others follow best practices, and also celebrate your leadership.

Stay tuned for more developments on this effort.  In the meantime, start auditing your own data-management practices. Would they stand up to outside scrutiny?

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