What is direct mail if it cannot be directed?

//What is direct mail if it cannot be directed?

And, what is direct mail if it gets trashed before it is opened? – A Hobson’s choice indeed.

Of late, there has been a lot of hue and cry over the privacy breach in direct mail strategies, especially in the West, although in India, we aren’t even close to getting our legal definition right for the word ‘privacy’.

Nonetheless, the new Code of Practice released by the New York-headquartered Direct Marketing Association (DMA) may have some far-reaching impact on the direct mail (Conventional and digital) industry in India, since we live in a world where information travels at the speed of light, or thereabout.

For a very long time, customers across the world have been wary of getting their mail boxes stuffed with unsolicited promotional offers from brands and services they may never have heard or read about. Never mind the number of trees that get chopped to produce the reams of paper that are dumped straight into the trash, without being opened. The e-tailers get spammed or trashed in quite a similar fashion.

We have the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) mandating a ‘Do Not Call’ registry for such pesky intrusions, but it has proven to be ineffective, so it may as well not be there. So the regulatory authority is now toying with the idea of replacing it with an opt-in ‘Do call’ registry to segment offers that a consumer DOES want to receive in product and service categories of her choice from brands she may have experienced, or companies she has dealt with in the past. Will this put a stop to unsolicited marketing? Only time will tell.

But going back to DMA, the US regulator has bent under pressure from consumer right activists and taken notice of the colossal waste in effort and money (even if not unduly concerned about data privacy issues) and tweaked its existing recommendations with a set of five principles that DMA believes will “inspire the industry” to serve its consumers with “fairness and respect” – high time!

“Privacy is more than just solving technical issues of access control,” says the author of a recent Knowledge@Wharton blog post. The author cites a much-publicized 2012 case, where a boy came to know about a 16-year-old girl’s pregnancy long before her father did. The father stumbled upon the information at an online store. What happened was that the ecommerce site, where the girl did some purchases, happened to do a ‘Big Data’ analysis of the pregnant girl’s buying patterns and started sending her ads for baby products. Her father noticed it and – you guessed it!

The story is illustrative of what kind of social havoc marketers can cause when they land wrong kind of data, or even when they land the right data, but happen to leak it to the wrong user.

Recall the number of data breaches that ‘get caused’ at social media sites, including Facebook, that happens to be the world’s biggest aggregator of personal data.

The DMA practice code follows an 18-month consultation process with various stakeholders and comes into effect for all its 1,050 corporate members from Monday 18 August, 2014. It’s a form of self-regulation but if followed rigorously, it just might work.

But will all this self-regulation mark the end of one-to-one marketing, where unknown charities call up virtual strangers to solicit donations on phone in the middle of a business meeting, a doctor’s appointment or a family feud?

If that happens it would certainly be good for consumers, who have been stomping their feet hard against these practices but all their protests have fallen on deaf ears.

More information on DMA’s new code of practice can be found here.

(From MLI, Social Marketing Division. As an integral part of our broader services, we provide clients with complete data management solutions including: Data Cleaning, Mailing Campaign Management, De-duplication and In house Database Management)

About MLI

MLI is the leading Direct Marketing company in India, offering integrated multichannel marketing strategies in the B2B and B2C space. The company provides access to all types of mailing lists in India and the rest of the world direct mailing lists, telemarketing lists and email marketing lists and support services for cross-channel marketing.

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