Workers at a call centre. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Workers at a call centre. Picture: THINKSTOCK

Ethical and responsible marketing is now more important than ever, and when it comes to direct marketing best practices, it’s in companies’ own best interests to toe the line.

Direct marketers should not wait for the implementation (and subsequent fines) of the Protection of Personal Information (Popi) act to kick in to respect the consumer. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to explore what Popi holds in store for companies undertaking any form of direct marketing, and to consider the importance of honouring consumers’ right to opt out of the marketing process.

Electronic communication and outbound calling

The most notable point to understand when it comes to electronic channels of communication (e-mail, SMS and automated voice messaging), is that companies will need explicit opt-in permission to contact the consumer. Here it is not about having the legal right to market to people, as the Electronic Communications Act now specifies, but rather involves being able to prove that they specifically gave permission for your communication.

This is set to bring about an overall decline in electronic marketing, and securing that valuable opt-in permission is going to be crucial. Yes, some companies will certainly struggle, but by providing relevant, ethical, targeted deals to their consumer database, there’s no reason for them to opt out, especially if their offers are beneficial. 

When it comes to outbound calling, Popi permits one marketing call to a person, even if he or she has not opted in. During this call, operators can attempt to get them to opt in for future marketing (both electronic and voice). While this might protect jobs in the SA call centre industry, it could   result in locals receiving more intrusive calls while less intrusive e-mail and SMS marketing declines.

The big take-out

It’s in companies’ own interests to respect consumers’ wishes not to receive marketing communication.

Respect the No

One thing to keep in mind during all marketing communication is to respect the public’s requests. If a person asks to be removed from your electronic marketing or direct calls, make 100% sure to comply and ensure their number or e-mail address does not slip through the cracks to the next campaigns.

On a national level the Direct Marketing Association of SA (DMASA) has established a National Opt Out Database to adhere to. Paid-up members of the DMASA have access to this database as well as the process involved in making sure that their own database corresponds to the DMASA no-contact list. This is through a process called “Deduping” and ensures companies do not accidentally market to anyone on this national do-not-call database. DMASA members also need to adhere to the code of conduct that regulates behaviour in the industry.

The responsibility of the company

When it comes to a company-wide level, it is best to automate the opt-out process so that human error is taken out of the equation. Keep a record of the opt-outs and inform consumers that they have indeed been taken off the database. One grey area where we believe companies might try to bend the rules would be to opt out consumers on a product level, meaning that though they have said no for marketing on one brand or product, the company will continue marketing other products in the stable to them. It is unlikely, however, that a consumer will decline to receive marketing for one product and still want communication for another. Rather take them off the database completely.

The reasons why companies must honour opt-outs are numerous, but the fact that the Popi act allows for fines of up to R10m or jail time for violation perhaps stands out as the most prominent. But as the ethical behaviour of companies is under the spotlight locally, the moral responsibility of respecting the consumer should not be ignored.

• Gareth Mountain is head of sales at Olico.