Opt-in, opt-out: new legislation shakes us all about | DMA

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Opt-in, opt-out: new legislation shakes us all about

The gripping tale of consumer permissions – tedious, but increasingly important and about to get even more challenging for direct marketers – but the question remains: who is the new legislation actually going to help?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember every box I have ticked, so I can’t be certain which companies I have given marketing permission to and which I have denied. I’m also going to confess that I don’t generally read privacy policies, so I’ve no idea who my data has been passed on to. While I don’t really want my personal records plastered across the internet or traded like football cards on the direct marketing playground, I’m not terribly bothered when a company uses the information they have gathered about me to make timely, relevant and interesting offers for products and services that might just tempt me. So, am I an exception to the rule, or just a standard consumer?

Why people respond to direct
Evidence from the DMA and various other trade bodies points to the fact that direct mail, telemarketing, email, in fact all direct channels shift products – and significant volumes too. The plain truth is that people respond to direct offers when the mailer, email, call or text is relevant and timely.

As direct marketers we specialise in this form of consumer understanding – it’s why we collect data, analyse trends, segment audiences and pay attention to which channels people respond to. We look for opportunities and make timely offers to people who have a higher than statistically normal probability of being interested at that moment.

So, if these criteria are satisfied – and we only need to look at the successes of our sector represented in the annual DMA Awards to see what can be achieved – the public has no reason for complaint and the legislators have no reason to do their worst.

Unfortunately, not everyone plays by the same rules – and herein lies the problem.

The trouble with proposed data protection reform
The opt-in world outlined by the EU in the new Data Protection Regulation and the ICO’s new guidance on direct marketing looks set to be a rocky place to be as the endeavours of a successful industry are curtailed in an attempt to tame a small number of rogue operators.

The TPS was supposed to be the nirvana for telemarketing. UK TPS registrations now stand at almost 20 million, massively reducing the available pool of numbers for the calling campaigns of legitimate companies, who observe the legislation. This threatens an industry, the jobs it sustains, the tax revenue it generates, etc. What it doesn’t do is stop the rogues. They continue calling TPS registered numbers – regardless of the threats – annoying and upsetting the public with irrelevant offers and a ‘sod it’ attitude to the law.

Without significant revisions, I predict the same outcome from the EU opt-in legislation, with legitimate companies observing the letter of the law, dutifully collecting opt-ins, limiting communications so that they meet the criteria of only relating to the product or service for which the permission was collected and ultimately paying the price in terms of lost revenues.

Consumer stands to lose in this new ‘opt-in’ world
While the new legislation may reduce campaign volumes and frequency from genuine companies, it will also reduce the choices available to the consumer, removing some of the benefits and offers they currently receive and may ultimately cost jobs and national revenues. Truthfully, the only people it won’t have an impact on are the rogues, who will continue to pile it high and flog it cheap, mass mailing irrelevant offers, calling at tea-time while you’re eating your dinner and paying no attention to people’s preferences or permissions.

So, we’re faced with a dilemma that we’ve faced before and we’re eyeballing a failed solution. Perhaps we do need new legislation, but, if so, we need to look more carefully at how it is implemented and who it is applied to. Punishing a successful, responsible industry and limiting the range of choice available to the public seems to be the opposite of good sense. Surely the solution is to ensure that the body responsible for implementing the rules has the power, speed and necessary teeth to take on the rogues, as well as the sense to apply the rules without becoming draconian?

By DMA guest blogger, Steve Day, Director at UK Changes and DMA Data Council member

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