Due to the misconduct of some online lead generation providers that has been brought to light in the past six months or so, I believe the IAB's best practices merely skim the surface of what the industry really needs. In fact, I wouldn't even go so far as to call what the IAB has released "best practices." What the IAB has put out are standards for data transfer. While I think these data transfer standards are very good, let's not call them industry best practices, as they barely skim the tip of the iceberg in addressing the big issues the lead generation industry faces. Although these guidelines are useful in helping the process work more smoothly for online lead generation providers and their clients, they do nothing to address the abuses (including the selling of consumer data to third parties, misleading promotions, disrespectful use of email and forced registration) that are hurting the industry and consumers.
What our industry needs is to come out with firm best practices that address HOW leads are collected and WHAT advertisers do with leads once they get them. Issues such as transparency, data sharing, and misleading promotions need to be tackled head-on. When we talk about consumer data, isn't the bigger issue the reselling of this personal data over and over again without the consumer's knowledge or consent? Best practices that deal with these types of issues are what the industry lacks.
One of the first steps in accomplishing this is to start an honest dialogue between providers, the IAB and other industry organizations such as the Online Lead Generation Association (OLGA) - to take the real problems head-on and come to an agreement on best practices. Lead generation done right is a fantastic source for new customers. Let's make sure we do the right thing and keep our industry free of the bad players.
We can look to other industries to provide a roadmap for how to do this -- the email marketing industry, for example. Email industry organizations such as the Email and Sender Provider Coalition (ESPC) formed prior to the signing of CAN-SPAM into Federal law in 2004 to proactively bring the email industry together -- not only to address abuses, but also to ensure that legislative initiatives didn't cripple marketing and business communications. Due in large part to the ESPC's good work and the dedication of its founding members and other companies that joined, industry best practices have been clearly defined. Spam persists as a major problem, but both industry insiders and consumers alike understand who the "white hat" companies are versus the "black hats'" who continue to abuse email. Within this framework, the fight against spam can continue, while email thrives as a marketing and business development tool.
The online lead generation industry has yet to face legislation on par with CAN-SPAM, but we will soon if we don't get our act together. And that's not even the issue. We owe it to consumers who are the future of the industry to take aggressive action just as the ESPC did and build a strong framework for industry best practices. Industry organizations such as OLGA are beginning to emerge as the potential leaders in taking on such a mission and seeing it through. Let's stop talking about it and make it happen.