Integrating ethics into marketing strategy

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Personalized relationships can have a significant impact on your bottom line, so the way you manage information gathered on your Web site is crucial to your company’s success. Smart b-to-b marketers—those who realize that ethical behavior is a distinct competitive advantage—now have a new ally and a valuable tool at their disposal in creating a successful marketing strategy.

The ally is the Personalization Consortium, a 61-member advocacy group founded in April 2000 to promote the responsible use of technology for personalizing consumer and business relationships. The consortium has established a set of integrated privacy principles that could be your key to higher sales volumes and enhanced customer retention.

These privacy principles establish best practices for handling private information, and are intended to balance the needs of consumers and businesses in the wake of rising concern over privacy of personally identifiable information, or PII. As b-to-b personalization often makes use of proprietary information, there is an increased need for such industry-sanctioned standards.

The principles cover the collection, use, access and sharing of information that consortium members obtain about Web site visitors. Marketers have an obligation to disclose to users how their information is used, how long it is stored and whether it is combined with PII from other sources, including third parties.

The Personalization Consortium is creating an audit framework that companies can adopt to assure customers that merchants and site owners follow through on mutually beneficial privacy principles that are both clear and well understood. All consortium members will be required to adhere to this process, which involves a third-party audit to assess the degree of compliance with the principles. The consortium will announce a process for enforcement and recognition later this spring.

"The model will be analogous to how businesses today follow General Accepted Accounting Principles when reporting their financial statements, which are then subject to independent audit," said Don Peppers, co-chairman of the consortium. GAAP, combined with credible third-party audits, allows investors to understand a company’s financial situation and make comparisons in a fair manner. The standards, with enforcement, make efficient capital markets possible, and both investors and the company benefit.

Why bother? It’s simple: Combining privacy principles and third-party audits with personalization is the equivalent of exchanging a flashlight for a laser beam. Instead of simply throwing some light on your marketing objectives and hoping the light will reach the target, you can pinpoint them with total accuracy from quite a distance. Moreover, personalization allows you to go far beyond users’ expectations of privacy and actually market your ethical stance as one of the distinctive benefits of dealing with your firm.

Ethical behavior is destined to become the protocol for all commercial communication over the Internet. Embrace the Personalization Consortium’s privacy principles and auditing practices and your immediate dividend will be a sustainable competitive advantage.

Scott A. Martin is the founder and inaugural president of the Personalization Consortium. He currently serves on the board of Individualize Consulting and can be reached at [email protected]

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