Debate: from the consumer research a large number “frequently or always wondered where the brands get their data from”.

BY Suzanna Chaplin

The DMA 2015 email tracking report, revealed that 35% of consumers often or always wondered where a brand got their email from. A rather striking statistic, especially when you take into consideration that only 17% have rarely or never wonder this.  On the face of it, it does not bode well for an opt-in industry and would suggest marketers are failing to inform the consumer how they got their data, how they plan to use their data or using the data long after the consumer remembers providing consent.

Although on first look, this doesn’t look good for the industry, Consumer’s views and behaviours would suggest otherwise, with the email channel being the most desired channel for a consumer to receive advertising messages (DMA Benchmarking Report) together with ROI rapidly increasing year on year. It would suggest that even if they don’t remember their association to the brand, they don’t mind receiving communications. Maybe, unlike other channels such as social, there is an easy opt-out function.

Should we be concerned as an industry and is there more we can do and what could we do to provide more opt-in information to the consumer?

The statement was highly debated in the DMA’s Email Council in January 2016 with questions around whether the consumer cares, whether we should or would want to give the consumers more detail and whether this indicates a lack of relevancy in what we are sending.

Firstly, let’s break the statement down. If the statement relates only to email sent in the first party, this is rather shocking, however if you start taking into account that consumers may also receive brand advertisements from third party senders, where they have no relationship with the brand being sent, then this statistic can be expected.

But in both cases, should the consumer be clearly told where the data opt-in is from and how far should we go on the email itself.

It was suggested within the council that the footer of an email send, should obtain details of where the consumer initially opted-in and on what date. However this begged the question on whether this should be continuously updated with the latest opt-in, the last click or any other data that relates to the validity of the opt-in. It also inferred the consumer would recognise the place and time they opted-in and not be confused by a customer journey. For example, a consumer may remember signing up to a Starbucks competition but may not remember the brand or the URL behind the competition. Furthermore, if there is a long time lapse between 1st and 2nd contact, which may be the case in a seasonal product, would a person forget the brand. I have enough issues remembering what I did last week, let alone last year. So does this additional insight provide any real value or just makes a rod for our own back?

My company sends emails on behalf of third party brands.  We send in excess of 5million emails a day for 150 brands. On average we get one opt-in request every one to two months. So if we send 1.8billion emails a year and 6-10 people question where their details were obtained from, is the issue as big as the statement infers?  Would the additional insight in the footer actually have any benefit? If anyone is thinking all our mail goes in the junk folder think again as we achieve average open rates of 20% which is very reasonable for the industry.  This would provide evidence that the statistic is not as concerning as we may think, however I believe these response rates and minimal complaint rates can only be achieved if content is relevant.

If the number of people asking for opt-in information is low and consumers respond to advertising messages even if they don’t understand how brands got their data, what should we do to provide more transparency and trust?

Well firstly, the information on opt-in should be easily available to the consumers and all brands and senders should store a clear audit trial, so the information is available if the consumer asks the questions. Although some may argue this should be within the footer of the email, I would suggest clear directions on the footer to how you can obtain such information would suffice.

Secondly, brands should avoid ambiguous opt-ins and ensure they are contacting new subscribers in a timely fashion. The unsubscribe should be obvious, so that if they do question where the brand got their details from and take offence, they can easily opt-out. As much as email is an opt-in channel, it is also equally an opt-out channel and this is one of its key benefit over other channels.  Unlike platforms such as Facebook, if a consumer doesn’t want to see anything else from a brand, he/she can cease communication in a click of a button.

Finally, the content should be relevant. Ask a consumer what they consider a SPAM email and what they consider a marketing email and I am pretty sure the key difference would be relevancy. Would a consumer prefer a sender to mail them with a list of brands they don’t recognise but are relevant to them, over a brand they brought from but is no longer relevant? Take the following example, we target people based on behaviour and demographics, if we see somebody interacting with a Reiss email offering a voucher, we may send them a French Connection email. This tends to generate open rates in the region of 30%. However if that same person purchased some screws from Screwfix to install their new cupboard, would a weekly email on the latest screw deals be more preferential over the brand they didn’t sign up to but matches their everyday behaviour.

Now this brings the debate in a different direction and leads onto next month’s topic.  I believe our job within this industry is not to create more regulations but instead provide a better consumer experience. What does a consumer want?   A more relevant experience across all channels. So if that means data sharing across brands and senders, surely this is better than making the guidelines more restrictive so that the consumer is left with is the same brands with the same content, relevant or not.

So to answer to this question – should we be worried?  The answer is yes and no.  On the positive side, as result of all the work already done consumer confidence in email is soaring.  However, we as an industry should do all we can to ensure we don’t jeopardise this by keeping clean audit trials, mailing active data but above all ensure that what we do send is relevant to the consumer.


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