My recent encounter with Bay Point Trading left me thinking about a couple things including our relationship with marketers, generally. The more I thought about the encounter and the criticisms I received for my blog posts, the more I wondered what the appropriate response would be to similar encounters? My critics went to some lengths to condemn my post as “bullying” and otherwise objectionable but they didn’t present any substantive suggestions for what they considered an appropriate response would be.
The sort of scenario I have in mind is an unsolicited communication from a marketer pitching a product or service and which is premised on the notion that consumers should make time to receive the pitch as entries on a database, selected for some characteristics they have which led to them being in a particular database segment in the first place. These marketers make little effort to seek permission to contact us and likely rely on traded databases which are currently, roughly, permissible. As the Protection of Personal Information Act looms large in the near future, lazy marketers are making the most of the time left under a largely opt-out regime to send as many marketing messages to consumers as they can. They may respect opt-outs but they don’t seek opt-ins as a general rule.
The impression I have from the response Bay Point Trading had to my post and to the sympathetic criticism from its supporters is that I was expected to receive the call from its sales person, listen to her script and either be persuaded to accept the company’s services or offer up an acceptable reason why I shouldn’t. If I felt the call was unwelcome then I should have accepted that this is legally permissible (possibly) and that Bay Point Trading has a business to run and not have gone to far to express my displeasure. After all, it’s legal so they can do as they please, right?
There is a huge difference between a marketer who calls, is polite and offers a relevant service or product, mindful that he or she is taking up my time which I have other uses for and a marketer who calls or emails me with a sense of entitlement to my time and my attention (and my money). I accept that marketers will contact me (in a sense, I am a marketer, myself, although I have a strong preference for consent-based marketing for my businesses) and am even make mistakes at times (I have spammed people more than once and have been made aware of this rather pointedly when I have). On the other hand, I don’t see why we should be required or expected to accept obnoxious and pushy marketers’ tactics and then not have the audacity to express our displeasure.
More responsible marketers will take the time to set reasonable boundaries and establish sympathetic responses to consumers who they contact. They may use similar tools but they use them mindful that asking permission is generally better and make an effort to add value to consumers as much as they can. I make time for these marketers because they are not transparently treating me like an entry in a database but a potential relationship candidate.
As consumers we are targeted collectively as demographics and, at the same time, as relatively isolated individuals. We receive messages, calls and emails on our personal devices and typically have two options: accept the pitch and the associated product or service or opt-out using impersonal links or SMS short codes. When I have insisted on being removed from marketing databases over the phone, the call centre person appears to be decidedly unprepared to action that request meaningfully. On the other hand, more responsible marketers will immediately action an SMS or email opt-out using some pretty effective mechanisms. The obnoxious ones will just email you next month, and the next until you adjust your spam filters. Our responses are limited to passive, mechanical responses when we disagree. As angry as you may be, even adjusting your spam filters is, at best, passive aggressive. The marketer carries on and the problem is compounded as more marketers adopt more aggressive tactics to deal with more consumer apathy.
So my question is whether we, the consumers, are subservient to marketers’ needs? The answer sounds rhetorical but I have a feeling many marketers would answer “yes”. That, to me, is unacceptable. You may agree. That said, the passive responses we have available to us don’t really hold the problematic marketers accountable for their tactics. They give these marketers a get out of trouble free pass, again and again. They have no shame, we are just numbers and bits of data after all. Perhaps an appropriate response is to share our experiences and break out of our effective silos into the collective. Perhaps our response is to remind these marketers that we are people deserving of some respect and that their lazy tactics are not acceptable intrusions into our daily lives.
There is room for smart and useful marketing (I’m generally ok with targeted advertising because it means I see more relevant ads and not whatever happens to be slung at me based on overly broad demographics – male, has a pulse – assuming, of course, that no advertising isn’t an option) but not for shotgun marketing by trigger happy mass marketers. The social Web gives consumers a remarkable platform for sharing our experiences with dodgy marketers and facilitating collective and public responses to those marketers. How we should frame those responses is another debate and I don’t think I have nailed that one yet but a collective response may be the more effective way of pushing back against these practices.
What do you think?