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How Not to Abuse a Lead

Best practices for protecting your most valuable asset—your customers.



By Chandra Johnson-Greene
11/23/2009

When it comes to running a successful lead generation program, part of a publisher’s job is to make sure that its most valuable asset—the customers—aren’t being abused by its staff or advertising partners. After all, once a company loses its reputation as a trusted brand, it takes a long time to build it up again.

Craig D. Spiezle, executive director of Online Trust Alliance, gave LGI some best practices that publishers can use to ensure that privacy guidelines are being followed and leads are not getting burned out.

Treat each lead as you would want to be treated.


This slight variation of the golden rule sounds obvious, but is sometimes not followed, according to Spiezle. “In most cases, customers get irritated when they’re getting mail and they have no idea how they got on that company’s list,” he said. “If it’s not relevant to the customer, they’re going to tune out and your brand might be considered abusive.”

Therefore, publishers should always be extremely careful when handing out lists to advertisers. They should ask themselves if the customers on the list are right for the advertiser and vice versa. And, of course, only those names that have given the company permission to share their information should be a part of those lists.  

“Use restraint, be conservative and treat the customers as assets,” Spiezle said. “If you must do third-party sharing, be really clear about that. Give them the chance to opt-out because customers aren’t always expecting that they’re information will be shared.”

And don’t forget about frequency, Spiezle adds. Even when consumers give you permission to be contacted, that doesn’t mean they want to be bombarded with emails twice a week, every week. “1-800-Flowers, for example, has a great database where if they know you bought flowers for Mother’s Day, they’ll send you a reminder email the following year about two weeks before Mother’s Day comes again,” he said. “But I got pestered everyday for 10 days after that. I felt abused and wanted to get off that list.”

And because the advertisers you’re working with should follow these same guidelines, it's best to be vigilant about the companies that are a part of your lead generation program.  


Write privacy guidelines so that every customer can understand them.

Most companies write their privacy policies in a language that is recommended by their legal department, but is not necessarily easy to understand for the average consumer. And if they have a hard time understanding their personal information will be used if they offer it, major problems for the brand may follow.

“We recommend writing the policy in a brief statement,” Spiezle said. “It’s almost staccato: ‘Thank you for signing up. We share your names with a list of selected third parties that we approve. For more information, click here.’ You have to be very clear and concise, and it has to be written so that the typical reader can understand."

Spiezle also recommends that publishers use email providers that have the ability to offer layered notices where when the customer reads the brief policy statement, they then have the ability to click to a more detailed version of the policy if they wish.


Make it easy for customers to unsubscribe—but don’t make it an all-or-nothing process.

CAN-SPAM rules require that all marketers clearly outline an “unsubscribe” option in their emails so that customers know that they’re not locked in for life, but Spiezle recommends giving them a choice in how “unsubscribed” they’d like to be.

“Some consumers may not necessarily want sever all ties with you and your partners,” he said. “So when they hit the “unsubscribe” button, bring them to a page that lets them choose which products they want to continue interacting with and which ones they don’t.”

By Chandra Johnson-Greene
11/23/2009







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