Is ‘preference’ a Dirty word?

For years there have been rumblings about various industry-wide consumer preference services giving  consumers the chance to select (or deselect) channels, sectors and even specific brands they want to hear from. Such movements always provoke mass debate. Justin Basini’s Allow and REaD Group’s were two such initiatives that are no longer in existence. Is this because they didn’t work? Or perhaps because opposition from marketers was too strong to ignore?

Why have these initiatives failed to gain traction?

The question today is were these frontrunners onto something but just a little before their time? One argument against them was that the industry as a collective didn’t approve of any individual company profiting from their perceived misery, which is how many viewed these private preference services; merely a revenue stream rather than a genuine solution to unwanted marketing communications. Underneath it all, even the most ardent supporter of the scattergun approach, must see the benefits of only targeting people that want to be contacted. Of course the argument here can be nicely summed up by a famous quote from Henry Ford “if I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse” – meaning oftentimes consumers don’t know they want something until they’re given the opportunity to have it, which is why direct marketing and advertising is so effective. But this comes down to trust. If you have a trusted relationship with your customers they will want to hear from you, if you don’t, they won’t.

Consumer Preference Confusion

This summer’s shenanigans over charity fundraising has once again triggered the debate and it looks like the Government Fundraising Review is set to recommend a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) where individuals can register if they no longer wish to be contacted for fundraising purposes. The Review states that “any organisation engaging in high volume fundraising would have a responsibility to check their contacts against this ‘suppression list’ before the start of the campaign.” The Review believes that this will provide the public with a ‘reset button’ for all fundraising communications, completely preventing the receipt of unsolicited contact by charities and other fundraising organisations. If this is the case, then the FPS has to become the defacto suppression service for the charity sector. Because, if as reported recently in the media, recommendations are upheld whereby anyone registered on the TPS, irrespective of whether they are an existing donor or not,  must be removed from a charity campaign, this makes the FPS effectively a mail preference service. And what of people registered on the MPS? If they are registered on FPS and TPS but not MPS, does this suggest that they are happy to be mailed? It’s all very confusing. And this confusion will inevitably create loop holes for shady operators to bypass the legislation and market indiscriminately. Having multiple preference services for consumers will also become a chore for them, which will also serve to tarnish the reputation of marketing even further. We need a clear, simple solution.

 “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon”


The writing is on the wall. Legislation whether from the Government or from the EU is on its way. For once we have the opportunity as responsible marketers to jump the gun. As an industry surely we could build our own holistic marketing preferences’ portal which allows every consumer to receive marketing communications appropriate to their preferences through their channel of choice. It would take precedence over anything that currently exists and be a one stop shop for customers making it both an easy solution for consumers and a way to remove any grey areas that can be exploited by unscrupulous operators.


Martin Rides has 30 years’ experience in the world of Data & Direct Mail. He has worked across many areas of the industry including agencies, mail production and data bureaux. After 8 years running a specialist Direct Mail consulting practice, Martin returned to The Software Bureau as Managing Director in January 2015. The Software Bureau are leaders in the field of data processing, data hygiene & postal sortation software.

By |2017-01-12T14:39:25+00:00November 10th, 2015|

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About the Author:

Mark entered the DM business in 1986 at the Sudbury based Prolog. Since then Mark has worked for many companies including GWC, Olwen Direct Mail, Olwen International in Baltimore. In 2000 Mark took the role of Client Services Director at The Software Bureau helping users of Cygnus, SwiftSort and GeMMA make the most of the software.
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