June 29, 2008

Catalog Choice: You Decide What Gets In ... Except When They Market Catalog Choice Webinars To You?

Catalog Choice has been a blessing for consumers who do not wish to be marketed to via catalog advertising. When my clients ask for advice, I recommend they partner with Catalog Choice. Honoring customer requests is a good thing! Catalog Choice is like a "widget", if you will, and can be used to make the opt-out process easy.

This past week, Catalog Choice used marketing techniques that are very similar to those employed by catalog marketers. Allow m
e to explain what they did. I will ask you for your thoughts at the end of this essay.

Thursday, June 19: I receive the following e-mail from Catalog Choice. Please click on the image to enlarge it.

There are several things that are unique about this e-mail marketing message / webinar invitation.
  1. I did not opt-in to receive marketing messages from Catalog Choice. They chose to send this marketing message to me without previously obtaining my permission to receive marketing messages from them.
  2. The "from" line of the e-mail message is from an individual at a PR agency. The subject line does not mention Catalog Choice. The body of the e-mail message is from a staff member at Catalog Choice. I'm not sure where this stands from a can-spam standpoint. At minimum, the strategy is not aligned with standard e-mail marketing practices.
  3. The PR agency employed by Catalog Choice graciously agreed to answer my question about how they received my e-mail address (they visited my website and copied the e-mail address), an act I appreciate.
  4. The e-mail message does not offer me a link with the option to opt-out of future Catalog Choice e-mail marketing campaigns.
  5. The privacy policy at Catalog Choice suggests that they may collect information on users, should the user ever send an e-mail to Catalog Choice (I previously responded to an e-mail from Catalog Choice. and may have sent an e-mail to Catalog Choice in the past). Catalog Choice offers an individual like me the opportunity to opt-out of marketing communications by e-mailing them at a unique e-mail address. Catalog Choice offers the following language, regarding volunteered PII: "Limitation of Liability By providing us with any PII you expressly and unconditionally release and hold harmless CatalogChoice, and our subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, officers, employees and agents from any and all liability for any injuries, loss or damage of any kind arising from or in connection with the use and/or misuse of your collected PII."

Wednesday, June 25: I received a phone call from Catalog Choice, asking if I was planning on attending their webinar.
  1. I never gave my phone number to Catalog Choice.
  2. I never gave Catalog Choice my permission to market webinars to me via telephone.
  3. My phone number is part of the national do not call registry, though I give it out to my clients, family, and to potential clients at business-related conferences. It is probably true that .org brands can market to the do not call registry.
  4. Catalog Choice volunteered to me that they obtained my phone number from a presentation I gave in early 2007, a presentation they found via a hyperlink online. My thanks to Catalog Choice management for being honest and forthright about answering my questions.
  5. Catalog Choice did, via e-mail and during the phone call, offer to remove me from future marketing campaigns, good for them!
  6. I did not get to have a say (in advance) in the marketing frequency employed by Catalog Choice. In other words, I did not get to say whether I wanted one or two or seventy marketing messages. This is comparable to the practices of the Catalog industry.

Why Is This Important?

Catalog Choice goes by the tagline ... "you decide what gets in". When it comes to catalog marketers, Catalog Choice aims to give consumers control over what goes in their mailbox. When Catalog Choice markets to me, the marketing strategy is comparable to the practices of the Catalog industry, practices Catalog Choice are hopeful to change within the Catalog industry.

We also know the following:
  1. Catalog Marketing requires that forests be harvested, potentially damaging the environment.
  2. E-Mail Marketing uses electricity and plastics (computers/servers), often sourced from coal and petroleum, potentially damaging the environment.
Obviously, Catalog Choice has a right to run their business model as they wish, a business model that benefits consumers, catalog brands, and the environment --- win/win/win.

Here is my question to you, the e-mail, online marketing, multichannel, and direct marketing leader who subscribes to this blog:
  • Is it reasonable for an organization to strongly request that the Catalog industry institute permission-based marketing, yet in their own marketing programs execute the very strategy that they are trying to get the Catalog industry to stop?
I am torn by this topic, since I have always recommended Catalog Choice to my clients. I genuinely believe that Catalog Choice means no harm. It is my opinion that they simply did not think through the parallels of their strategy and the very catalog marketing strategies they are trying to influence, making this an honest mistake. My hope is that the Catalog industry and Catalog Choice can have a strong, collaborative, and beneficial relationship. My hope is that, in the future, Catalog Choice employ marketing strategies consistent with those they wish to encourage Catalog marketers to adopt.

I'd appreciate your thoughts in the comments section of this post. Please forward this post to your colleagues, as the topics outlined are worthy of general discussion in the direct marketing community.

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