They're Called Best Practices For A Reason

As you've probably seen, recent industry reports have pointed both government and media attention to online lead generation providers who violate consumer privacy and trust by not following industry best practices. Many unethical and irresponsible practices are being discussed and scrutinized, including the selling of consumer data to third parties, misleading promotions, disrespectful use of email and forced registration.

Approaches like these may seem profitable for companies in the short run, but will ultimately hurt long-term profits, as bad practices result in:

· Poor lead qualityand low ROI that won't satisfy the needs of consumer brands working with such lead generation providers.

· A negative light cast on the online lead generation industry as a whole. This is why companies that follow industry best practices and industry organizations like the IAB and others need to take a stand and be vocal when these breaches of trust occur.



· Violation of consumer trust and privacy that will damage reputations -- not only that of the lead generation provider, but also of the consumer brands who are its clients. Consumer brands will not appreciate the repercussions and will move on to another provider that follows best practices -- or worse, they will cease all of their lead generation initiatives.

· Consumers getting hurt, with their online experience tainted, and additional worries about online shopping, participating in online communities, sharing their email address with companies -- all of the benefits of the Web that help people connect, network and find what they need.

· Consumers go elsewhere. Consumers are smart and will recognize when their trust and privacy are being violated, so they will find the information they need elsewhere.

Though online lead generation companies that use questionable strategies have recently been in the spotlight, it's important to keep in mind that many companies do online lead generation the right way by following best practices and promoting high standards within the industry. To eradicate unethical practices, industry organizations such as the Internet Advertising Bureau, Direct Marketing Association, and American Marketing Association need to stand up and be more vocal to ensure that industry standards are established and followed by all providers. A good starting point includes the following:

· Explicit one-at-a-time opt-ins for all offers.

· No third-party permission/sharing of consumer data! This goes for online lead generation providers and email marketers, as well as their partners or advertisers.

· Respectful email practices. Don't bombard your customers with email.

· Use promotions that are straightforward and easy to understand. Don't bury any requirements for the promotion in the small print or in hide them in a separate Terms and Conditions agreement.

· Use messaging that:

- Is clear and understandable through the entire process for the consumer.

- Lets consumers know exactly what to expect when signing up for a promotion or offer.

- Is clear in your offer's intentions, making it perfectly clear that the offer is an advertisement. Many providers think offers that aren't creative-heavy work better, but this often leads to consumer confusion as to whether it's really an ad.

Adhering to online lead generation best practices is a win-win for consumers and brand marketers. Marketers are able to precisely find and communicate with the right consumers who have shown interest in their brands and products -- and consumers are able to request information, coupons, samples and other promotions for the products and services they need most.

If stronger collaboration between online lead generation providers doesn't take place and the guidelines mentioned above are not strictly enforced, additional federal legislation will be put in place. Though implemented with good intentions to protect consumers, additional government regulations will not provide the best solution for legitimate marketers.

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