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The Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is credited with coining the phrase “desperate times call for desperate measures.” While the phrase originally related to extreme diseases needing extreme methods of cure, I think it can be applied to the common disease of unethical customer engagement.

Customer engagement today is in a unique position. Data privacy laws are tightening, in large part due to poor marketing practices, creating desperate times for “broad brush” marketers who are struggling to connect and convert with customers. As a result, these marketers are putting desperate measures in place, measures that often take the form of unrelenting email messages and text notifications. And the desperate measures (also known as poor marketing practices) are exponentially growing — and are being fed by the shortened consumer attention marketing and advertising overload has created. It's a vicious cycle.

And needless to say, consumers are becoming fed up with companies' desperate marketing tactics.

A Digital Marketing Chicken and Egg Question

You would think things would be different, right? You would think in a world of big data, where more channel and demographic data is available to marketers than ever before, where better marketing technologies are available, marketers would become less desperate. They should have the data and the insight from the data to know what will and won’t work — and adjust marketing programs and strategies accordingly. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Irresponsible marketers and their work have resulted in more laws, regulations and directives to control marketing engagement while protecting consumers and respecting their wishes. These data privacy laws and regulations are needed — and are being enforced. Within one year of the EU's GPDR going into effect, nearly 145,000 complaints had been registered. The US followed suit, with multiple states introducing privacy laws, to give residents of the respective states more insight and control over the data companies collect on them. 

Related Article: Let 'Ethical by Design' Guide Your Use of Consumer Data

3 Principles of Ethical Customer Engagement

So where do marketers go from here? How do they ethically engage with their customers and create positive sentiment vs. the “ugh, not again” effect? I’d like to offer three ideas that may serve as reminders to some, but new concepts to others. Either way, they are worth mentioning as principles of ethical customer engagement to follow in a world of data overload.

Measure Your Intent

As a marketer in this world of big data and data privacy, having a valid and purposeful reason to engage is more critical than ever. If you aren’t measuring intent and propensities around engagement and conversion with data that you can legally collect, it’s important to do so. Predictive analytics can help you accomplish this task — and you can start very small –— by measuring simple things like propensity to respond based on past behaviors. In marketing today, you have to have a valid reason to engage — repetitive spamming just doesn’t work.

Proactivity is the Best Policy

As far as customer engagement is concerned, there are two types — reactive and proactive engagement. Proactive engagement is preferred, and the proactivity should span from data collection down the line to engagement. But how do you move from being reactive to becoming proactive? Proactivity involves identifying customer behavior patterns within data volumes and using them to your advantage. The related technology here is prescriptive analytics — which assists marketers in using data to proactively “prescribe” offers, interactions or messages. Most consumers are much more likely to react to an offer that is relevant and well-timed with a needed product or service. Very seldom do replies come from reactionary marketing — post-purchase emails that offer irrelevant add-ons or adjacent products.

Related Article: How to Handle the Crisis of Consumer Trust

Simple Contextual Clues are Critical

If a co-worker, family member or neighbor doesn’t interact with you for extended periods — this is usually an indicator of sentiment or intent. The same goes for B2B and B2C interactions. As a marketer, please use the context provided to you to gauge recipient intent. Nothing is worse than 12 emails in six days from a service provider desperate to engage. If marketers are using data and analytics to measure customer value, they can quickly understand how to score and treat both leads and existing customers. Some prospects and customers desire frequent communication, and others don’t — and that’s OK. Referring back to our first bit of advice, if you don’t have a reason to engage, your strategy can be “limited touch.”

Using intent, proactivity and context as indicators for engagement creates an ethical, mutually beneficial relationship. The desperate look of unethical engagement is never a good one. Being an analytical marketer, all of my suggestions are rooted in analytics — but I firmly believe if you start to follow these simple rules both your marketing department and end customer will be pleased.