How not to hurt customers with digital marketing

Marketers have been in the news recently for many of the wrong reasons, usually when we’ve allowed the use of big data or social media to get us over-excited. Here are three recent examples you may have seen:

Facebook’s Year in Review, when their 1.23 billion users were sent the message “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being part of it”. If it wasn’t a great year, as was the case for Eric Meyer, who sadly lost his beloved daughter due to cancer, this simply served as an unpleasant reminder. He commented later on his blog “My year looked like the now-absent face of my little girl. It was still unkind to remind me so forcefully. I know, of course, that this was not a deliberate assault. This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of the code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases”. And he finishes “Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. To call a person thoughtless is usually considered an insult and yet we unleash these literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves”.
Legislators new proposals to strengthen the protection that is currently offered to UK householders from unwanted cold calling. There is widespread acceptance that the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) regulations 1999 is difficult to enforce. Consumers who register with the Telephone Preference Service find that, in practice, cold calling often remains an intrusive and unwanted invasion. In 2014 there were a massive 175,000 complaints to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s office. As a result of campaigns by consumer groups like Which? the fines for breaching the codes are to be increased “For far too long companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm,” said digital economy minister Ed Vaizey. “This change will make it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on.”

Nando’s UK decision in January to stop providing prizes to fans of Oldham Athletic Football Club, after the controversy about a possible signing of the player Ched Evans. The company tweeted it’s decision – “Re Oldham signing: we’d have liked to continue our involvement with fan prizes at matches but feel we can no longer continue our association”. Clearly the adverse publicity had an impact on many of the club’s sponsors, which would have been difficult to predict before the event, although sponsorship of celebrities remains one of those areas where marketeers usually tread with more caution.

So, as a marketing profession, it’s probably time we stopped hiding behind the small print. We need to reduce the onerous terms and conditions that give us permission, in theory, to act as we do. Let’s start showing more respect for consumers and their privacy. We all know that, in practice, very few consumers will read the small print. Even if they do, what real choice do we have when asked if we accept cookies on a new website we’ve just opened up? Recently my newspaper has been full of examples of people who say they inadvertently signed up to paying £79 per year for the Amazon Prime service. They signed up online for the free trial period and failed to cancel the agreement. Some have obtained refunds, others have not been so fortunate and this offends our British sense of fair play.

Happily for most SME businesses, we have a crucial advantage over the larger UK and global brands – we have a much closer relationship with our customers. When developing website content, social media strategies and commencing automation of our marketing, we are able to ask real customers what they think and adapt quickly to their feedback if necessary. Our ethics and standards are much more visible because of this more immediate and direct relationship.

So here’s our tips for managing your digital marketing
• Write all your own website content yourself. If that’s not practical, have a senior manager review it before it goes live.
• Check that your sales and marketing activity complies with current Data Protection legislation and best practice (please ask us if you’re not sure)
• Manage your own LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter activity wherever possible rather than outsource it. If time is a constraint you’ll need to restrict your use to those platforms that get you the best results, so measure and monitor their effectiveness.
• If you use marketing automation, keep it on a business level. Anything that could be seen as personal should be risk assessed first, but bear in mind that it’s hard to predict every eventuality.
• Don’t be a bore – bombarding customers or prospective customers with frequent, repetitive e-mails or phone calls is usually counter-productive. It may be easy to do but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best marketing strategy to adopt.
Happy marketing!