Who is responsible for data integrity

Yesterday, Ken Magill wrote about his experience with the Obama campaign’s open and unconfirmed marketing list. Ken, to see just how open the Obama subscription form was, subscribed using a valid email address but the name of Stupid Poopypants. As expected, mail to Ken from the Obama campaign was addressed to Stupid.
eROI uses this as an example of people who ruin their ROI by filling fake data into forms and ends their post by addressing Ken as follows:

I think that as someone that covers the industry and espouses the things that make us strong, tear us down, threaten our industry, and lift us up… you of all people should be helping us out and not hurting us.

I have known Ken for a while, and done a few interviews with him over the years. He has never pulled punches. Ever. It is not what he does. His job is pot-stirring. In this case he is stirring this pot by pointing out the poor subscription practices of the Obama campaign.
From my perspective, the problem is not that Ken gave the Obama campaign Stupid Poopypants as his name, the problem is that the Obama campaign is not doing any data verification. Ken did give the campaign a valid email address, but there was no reason he needed to do so. Anyone could have signed up Stupid Poopypants and put in Ken’s address.
Ken was pointing out the poor data collection process with this experiment and based on their post the point flew right over the heads of the folks at eROI. People are going to put fake data in forms online and there is not any way to stop them from doing this.
This process is much more a reflection on data collectors than on the individuals signing up. Senders and marketers online have spent a lot of time collecting information and sending marketing to people. At this point in time people do not want more marketing in their inbox, or on their phone, or in their postal box. they do not trust that a company will respect their opt-in preferences. So they provide false data. The subscriber does not trust the collector to respect the subscriber, and so the subscriber takes protective action against the collector.
If what eROI says is true, “data integrity is everything to our industry” then people collecting data should be prepared to actually spend a little effort to not let subscribers pollute their data. If eROI lets any moron on the internet put information in their form, and then expects the data to be good then I just have one question to ask eROI: Are you new to the Internet or something??
hat tip: Box of Meat
Followup posts: Data Integrity Part 2 and Yet More Data Verification


  1. Al Iverson says

    Great post. As I said in my comment over on the Email Wars blog:
    I’m with Tamara. Require me to enter data I don’t want to give, and all bets are off. And I am absolutely certain that our view is the prevalent one.
    What’s being forgotten here is that our jobs is to respect consumers, not to lambaste them bitterly for defeating our imperfect processes.
    I don’t spend hours cleaning crap data out of CRMs. I spend hours training marketers that they need to make information collection optional, and that they need to validate and verify.
    Oh, the stories I could tell you about past lessons learned about profanity in personalization, and the the wrong way paths of requiring information before handing over freebies.
    Consumers don’t cause crap delivery; crap SENDER practices do. I’m surprised you see it differently.

  2. Dylan Boyd says

    I can agree with you that the burden of data integrity is on us as email marketers. I can agree with you that without confirmed opt ins and data cleansing we are at fault for any email campaign that comes out of OUR system to our clients OR for any other email marketer for that matter.
    Ken did his job of stirring the pot. Getting all of us talking about this issue, and bringing this into the public.
    He did do a bad job in how he presented it, which made me wonder why anyone in our industry would take this approach to bring this issue to light. I did talk to him and he did clarify to me about what his intent was. So we are clear.
    We are not new to the internet, which is an interesting comment for you to make. We are standing up for all of the data ALL email marketers see each and every day. It seems that some email marketers DO NOT pay attention to what they are getting and not taking the steps to keep their data integrity in check.
    I used this story fro Ken to illustrate what we face as marketers and how it is a bigger challenge than many might realize.
    Al, whom I respect, I understand you points about our jobs. I understand that as marketers it is our job to manage our data. But when people continue to expect to get things with false data, where does that leave us? Should we all just open all of our lead gen, knowledge and programs open to anyone and not expect that give and get are closely tied together.
    I believe in sharing and trust. I believe in creating more knowledge for all of those that seek it. What I don’t get is when someone in our own industry presents the data the way that they did.
    I would expect that anyone that is a client of yours or any other email or traditional marketer to take a stand on this. I cannot see someone at a large or small organization being happy about this issue and the extra time and money it takes to address this.
    Many marketers FAIL at the data collection and verification process. I will agree to that. And leaving this open to failure is the fault of the marketer and not the consumer. The consumer is OWED the right to have responsible marketers working diligently to make sure that IF they are collecting information, that they are doing so in a way that is conducive to best practices and user experience.
    We call all look at this issue in multiple ways. I might be a purist in my beliefs, but I am glad that we have all opened up the conversation and are sharing our thoughts.
    Now back to Chapter 4 on Email Marketing for Dummies and Internet Marketing in One Hour a Day. I do hope that after 12 years of doing this I can learn to be smarter.

  3. Tamara Gielen says

    Here’s my latest reply to the original post:
    Ultimately it’s all about trust. If I trust you enough I’ll share my data with you because I know you will not abuse it, if I don’t trust you enough, I won’t share my data with you. Period. The company itself is to blame if I enter fake data… they just didn’t make me trust them enough… and seriously, if you’re asking me a ton of questions like my physical address, my phone number, and a bunch of lead qualification questions, when all I want is to download and read that white paper, then I KNOW that you are going to use that data to start harassing me.
    There’s a time and a place for everything. First gain my trust by asking only the minimum, if I like the contents of the white paper, I’ll come back for more, if I don’t I won’t. It’s like in a relationship: give before you take. And when you take, treat what you take with love and consideration.
    Sometimes it’s good to put yourself in the shoes of the other party… if consumers fill out our forms with junk, it’s because we have taught them to do so in the first place. We’ll need to do more than run a consumer trust campaign to set this right. Companies will have to rethink their approach to lead generation. As long as they continue to ask more than I’m willing to give (and make the information required instead of optional), I will continue to fill out their forms with junk.

  4. Al Iverson says

    Dylan, I think that your point comes off as “oh noes, the internet users are mean to my lead gen programs.” I think that’s a very anti-subscriber sentiment, and it think it completely misses the point that it’s the consumers, the end recipients, that are in control. They primarily only feed you bad data when you force them to do so. If you’re getting unwanted results, your path for consumers is a bad one. I can’t speak for Ken, but that’s certainly one of the messages I got from his article. It also highlights why certain types of data capture need to be better validated than others.

  5. laura says

    I would expect that anyone that is a client of yours or any other email or traditional marketer to take a stand on this. I cannot see someone at a large or small organization being happy about this issue and the extra time and money it takes to address this.
    I’m not sure I understand what “take a stand on this” means. The reality is that some people are on to the tricks of lead generation and they will do whatever they can to get the goodies and avoid the marketing. Many, many lead gen companies make it trivial for users to do this, thus rewarding them for giving false information.
    Marketers must do the following, if they want people to actually give them valid information.
    1) Build trust, treat the lead with a little respect, build a relationship with them.
    2) Take steps to verify information at the time of signup. It is not hard, I have some clients who do just that. I have other clients who don’t. Guess which ones have better delivery at the ISPs?
    3) Build a process that makes it advantageous for consumers to be honest with you. This includes being honest with them. That means telling them upfront that what you are doing and how many places you are going to sell their information. Really, if you expect them to be honest with you, then surely you should be honest with them.
    Lead gen can be profitable, but people who want good, valid data in their lead gen program need to build their collection processes defensively.
    I’ll also point out: what Obama was doing was not lead gen. Ken put in an address for one form, and the data was not wrong. Sure, now Ken will know when/if the Obama campaign sells his information, but how is that fake or corrupting data? That would be like telling me I can’t use a unique email address for each signup, that I *must* give my “real” address. Except every unique address is real, and it goes into the same mailbox as my “real” one.

  6. Dylan says

    Take a stand equates to exactly what you are doing Laura. Taking a stand is sharing your thoughts, beliefs and opinions on an issue. I can say that in this blog battle no one is right and yet we are all right. This issue lies with the marketers to do a better job, not be lazy, learn how to engage, build trust, share, and in the end BUILD a marketing program that meets not only business goals but subscriber expectations.
    When someone maliciously puts bad data into your form, you think it is OK and is due to trust. I can agree with you on trust, but have we built a paranoia out there that is so bad that even people in our own industry can support it?
    I am clear as to WHY Ken used the example. It could haver been better stated but he has personally explained that to me. But what is not clear to me is why the two of you are so anti marketer. Have you had so many poor experiences with marketers that you do not trust any of them?
    Let’s keep this professional and stop lobbing playground insults about knowledge and one another’s thoughts. And above all let’s see what strides we can drive with this conversation.

  7. Al Iverson says

    Well, I guess when some of us see that there are more points of view than just “the marketing way”, I suppose it’s possible for some folks to confuse us for being anti-marketer. It’s not really something I’m too worried about, though. It’s true! I don’t blindly drink the marketing kool-aid. I drink the spam stopping, best practice kool-aid instead.

  8. Trout says

    Im not Laura, but I can respond to two things: I did not see her post any “playground insults” and I can unequivocally say YES, I have that that many poor experiences with marketers that I trust very, very, VERY few of them. Like, I can count them on one hand, few.
    Expecting the consumer to care about your lead-gen process is disingenuous at best. The consumer only cares about not getting harassed. As a consumer I can say I have passed up on many “goodies” because I was entirely unwilling to jump through the absurd set of hoops and put off by the data requirements presented to get whatever it was I was interested in.
    As someone in the industry I can say that all the marketers that have used poor data collection and management processes, that do not clearly set expectations at time of sign up, that have abused their consumers’ trust (how’s about 16 emails a day because you signed up for ONE thing?), and that care more about having Lots Of Addresses In Their Databases than the quality of their lists have ruined it for the infinitesimally smaller number of marketers that do it right.
    I am of the considered opinion that consumers’ current behavior is what marketers trained them to do, and complaining about their behavior is counterproductive. Marketers need to clean their own houses before lobbing rocks at their long-suffering victims.

  9. laura says

    When someone maliciously puts bad data into your form, you think it is OK and is due to trust. I can agree with you on trust, but have we built a paranoia out there that is so bad that even people in our own industry can support it?
    Whether I think something is OK or not does not change the reality. The reality is people don’t trust marketers and lead gen companies. The reality is they are going to put bad data into forms. The reality is that marketers must defend against that.
    I didn’t say I supported it, nor did I say it was OK. I just said it is out there. I also think there is a major difference between me signing up with valid contact information, but “Stupid Poppypants” as my name and signing up with valid contact information.
    That’s the real killer for delivery and for ROI: invalid contact information. When someone gives you another person’s contact information as part of the signup process, you have actually lost 2 opportunities. You have lost the ability to convert the original signup, and you have now sent spam to the second signup, thus losing them as a potential customer. If this happens enough times, the sender is going to find their mail blocked.
    Have you had so many poor experiences with marketers that you do not trust any of them?
    No, there are marketers and marketing companies I trust. The difference is they earned my trust over time. I did not start out trusting them, experience indicates that marketers are a lot more likely to lie to me and abuse my information than they are to respect me and my information. Therefore, I am protective of my information until I am convinced this marketer can be trusted.

  10. Shakib Otaqui says

    I’m just an ordinary user of the internet who’s not involved in any aspect of the marketing industry – except as a victim of its apparent belief that it owns my eyeballs.
    George Orwell wrote, more than half a century ago, that “advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.” In the years since, the swill has turned into something much more noxious.
    Dylan’s comments are typical of the marketers’ belief that the world owes them a hearing. It doesn’t, and I for one will do everything in my power to pollute the data of any marketer who intrudes unasked on my use of the internet. As far as I’m concerned, any marketer who runs an open and unconfirmed signup process is no better than the sleaziest penis enlargement spammers.
    If he and his fellow marketers can break out of their coccoon of self-righteousness, they’d recognise that my extreme views are becoming more and more typical of internet users. That’s why AdBlock Plus is the most popular addon for the Firefox browser, and why protection of mailboxes is such a growth industry.

  11. Rick Vaughn says

    Hi Laura,
    I just wanted to say I enjoyed posting this comment by entering my info into your two required fields.
    I almost entered valid info, but I just don’t trust you yet.

  12. J.D. says

    “…have we built a paranoia out there that is so bad that even people in our own industry can support it?”
    Um, yes. Even if your own practices are perfect, every marketer who abuses consumers makes it harder for well-meaning marketers like you to gain & keep those same peoples’ trust in the future. You can only poke someone in the eye so many times before they try to get out of the way.
    It’s long past time for the marketing industry — and particularly those who work with email — to take a firm, united, public stand against your colleagues’ horrible practices. They’re the ones you should despise, not the people who’re simply reacting to being abused.

  13. Huey says

    “It’s long past time for the marketing industry — and particularly those who work with email — to take a firm, united, public stand against your colleagues’ horrible practices. They’re the ones you should despise, not the people who’re simply reacting to being abused.”
    This is the same lesson that RealNetworks taught for, what, eight or nine years now? and it’s still being learned: iTunes requires that you enter an email address to download. Just yesterday nothanks@example.invalid downloaded a copy at my house. If you’re forcing someone to enter an email address to do something unrelated to email, the users are going to assume (correctly!) that you’re just doing lead-gen for something they don’t want, and they’re going to pollute your data. This is not new news, this is expected behavior.

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  15. Suresh Ramasubramanian says

    If you do lead gen, if you do coreg .. dont expect deliverability.
    If you let others in the industry do it and keep working with them (cleaning your lists through them, schmoozing with them at conferences) then you’re shooting yourselves in your own feet. With something rather heavy caliber.

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