How to Give Data Driven Marketing Customers the Option to Opt Out

It’s important to allow customers to opt out of receiving information from you when using data driven marketing. Your customers have varying levels of tolerance for marketing communications. This tolerance may actually vary by communication channel. Some people can’t stand sifting through junk mail. Others are profoundly annoyed by their e-mail inbox filling up with unwanted e-mails.

You should give your customers the opportunity to tell you to stop contacting them. This is known as opting out of marketing communications.

Opt-outs are generally collected and stored separately by marketing channel. In other words, a customer may opt out of postal mailings but not from e-mails. Standard practice and even legal restrictions on contacting customers vary somewhat between channels. Phone and e-mail communications are much more tightly regulated than traditional mail.

Because it’s the right thing to do

Allowing your customers to opt out benefits you by helping to control marketing costs. If they don’t want to hear from you, they aren’t going to respond to your solicitations or offers anyway. There is some debate among database marketers as to how true that really is. But it is certainly the case that you’re better served focusing on customers who are not negatively predisposed to hearing from you.

When it comes to traditional mail, there is a central repository of customers who have opted out. This repository is managed by the Direct Marketing Association, or DMA as it is commonly called.

Database marketers are not required to honor these opt-outs, but it is widely accepted as a good idea. The mechanics of purging customers on this list from your mail files is generally done by the vendor who executes your mail campaign. Many, if not most, of these vendors require this purge to protect their own reputations.

The DMA also maintains an e-mail opt-out repository. This repository is not quite as universally used as the direct mail repository, probably because it hasn’t been around as long.

There are also a variety of industry-specific opt-out registries. For example, the major credit bureaus offer a service to suppress credit-card solicitations. Because these mailings generally get run through the credit bureaus at the last minute to check credit-worthiness, the bureaus are in a convenient position to purge opt-outs from the mail lists.

Opting out through the credit bureaus can be done in writing or over the phone. The phone number is the same for all three bureaus, 1-888-5-OPT-OUT. If you prefer to do it in writing, you need to write directly to the bureaus.

Such services are not magic bullets. Customers will still try to contact you directly to opt out. You should have a straightforward way for them to do that. Just as importantly, you should have a convenient way to honor their requests. If a customer was annoyed at hearing from you before, imagine how annoying it would be to hear from you after they thought they had opted out.

Because sometimes it’s the law

There are also laws regarding contacting customers for marketing purposes. These laws specifically address the ability of customers to opt out of such communications. There is not currently a wide-ranging legal mandate regarding direct mail. But there are laws that specifically address telephone and e-mail channels.

The Federal Trade Commission manages a do-not-call registry. Consumers may enter their telephone numbers in this registry in order to avoid telephone solicitations. Companies are legally obligated to honor these opt-outs and can face penalties for not doing so.

There are some exceptions to this law. Nonprofits and politicians (what a surprise) are exempted. There are also some exemptions for communicating with your existing customers. The basic idea is that if you’re communicating about an existing relationship, then it’s not really a marketing communication. The FTC has a link labeled Industry that explains the regulations in detail.

Small telephone campaigns you may want to execute could fall under this exemption. But it is important that these campaigns are in compliance with the law. Consult your legal department, if you have one. Or familiarize yourself with the details of the FTC regulations. The broader telephones sales efforts in your call center are generally not exempted.

You also should be aware of the amusingly titled CAN-SPAM law. This law has nothing to do with potted meat products. Rather it deals with marketing via e-mail. (The acronym stands for controlling the assault of non-solicited pornography and marketing.)

The name aside, what the law essentially says is that you have to allow people to opt out of marketing messages sent by e-mail. In fact, you have to specify in all of your e-mail marketing messages how they can do this. Most often this means putting a link in your e-mail to an opt-out site.

CAN-SPAM also addresses some issues concerning misleading consumers as to who is actually sending the e-mail. It also deals with some of the more underhanded ways that e-mail addresses are sometimes collected. You should familiarize yourself with the basics of the law. But if you’re running afoul of these provisions, you’re probably already aware that you are doing something shady.

You should also be aware that regulations regarding opt-outs differ dramatically by country. The United States is actually one of the least regulated nations in this regard. Canada and especially the European Union have much more restrictive laws regarding marketing communications.

It’s important to understand these regulations if you’re communicating outside the U.S. Unfortunately, there’s no global repository for marketing regulations. Each country needs to be researched separately.

Marketing to minors is also a touchy subject. But the FTC also retains broad powers to regulate marketing to children based on their interpretation of regulations regarding deceptive marketing practices.

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