Opt-in or opt-out. It's as basic as it gets. Yes or no. Polar opposites. The choice is central to marketing strategy.
The question is, do you want your customers to say yes or no? Do you want them to say, "I understand and clearly want this value." Or should they say, "Please stop, I can't take it anymore!" It makes all the difference in the world.
We exist in an opt-out world. If the scales of justice are balancing opt-in versus opt-out, the opt-out side is way lower. I think marketing's thumb is in play.
We marketers like opt-out because it gives us blanket permission, or license. We do what we want. I, the marketer, am entitled to pummel you, the consumer, with offers great and small, communications of relevance and irrelevance…until (channeling Peter Finch) you finally declare, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"
Oh, this may take up to 90 days while we clear our files and the backlog of promotions. And by the way, we gave your name to our business partners; if you want their stuff to stop, it's a different issue. Yes, I know we "opt-in" to e-mail. But that's a joke.
All of this is somewhat unsatisfying from the consumer's point of view, no? These are feeder funds into a portfolio of discontent.
Opt-in is a much stronger more efficient business model. Let me give you a good example: the National Do Not Call Registry. This is probably the single greatest marketing program of all time.
Outbound telemarketing had become absolutely the most powerful medium for leads and sales—and a pariah. Self-regulation? Ha! The FTC created the National Do Not Call Registry as a shelter for all those fleeing the hot breath of the telemarketer at dinnertime. Opt-out gone nuclear.
My take? Consumers didn't opt-out of a medium as much as they opted-in to a value proposition that was simple and exactly what they wanted: an umbrella of protection. A majority of the United States of America got up off the sofa and registered. (Might we say, joined?) I'm guessing attrition isn't an issue. And in 2007, when the FTC decided registrations were permanent, everyone was glad. The ultimate affinity group.
The point is, saying yes creates a stronger bond between marketer and consumer, right from the beginning of the relationship. Opt-out scenarios refer to the customer relationship—is this a customer relationship? I'm having a problem with the word customer.
"Customer" used to be an exalted term. Growing up, I remember if my father said he was bringing a customer home for dinner, we dressed up and got out the china. That's not where business is these days. We appeal to a mass of people and try to direct them towards our turnstiles. We count the rotations and those that go through are our customers. These customers then go to the end of the line. Our concentration is really on the transaction; thus; the term "customer" becomes transient.
We need to focus more on the arc of the relationship. Transactions are important as events in the lifetime experience. We're not focusing on—and potentially missing out on—the bounty waiting at the end of the rainbow.
I like the term "member." It means much more than customer. It means someone who has elected (opted-in), to become a part of a specific ecosystem, and does so with the expectation of participation and reward.
No question: I'd like a couple of those, please.
Scott Hornstein is the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing" and president of Hornstein Associates in Redding, Conn. He can be contacted at email@example.com.