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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Intrusions and irritations: The morality of spam, canvassing and telemarketing

I'm starting to stir the pot on other forums with postings questioning the morality of canvassing.

Meanwhile, just after slamming the door on a canvasser at our home (I admit my manners here are terrible), I received another "blog comment" with an embedded link from someone trying to gain link juice and "SEO status" for their service. The effort to seek publicity wouldn't be bad, but clearly the organizing seeking the publicity had contracted an offshore vendor to send out "personal" comments to bloggers to escape the spam filters.

And one reason I'm not rushing to move to Wordpress from Blogger is that Wordpress's anti-spam filters are not strong enough: Sure the spam won't be published, but I have to read through the spam comments in the first place.

Spam, of course "works" -- or spammers wouldn't spam. So does telemarketing and canvassing, when you use these methods "properly". I put "works" and "properly" in quotes because I mean here they can be profitable for your business in generating quick and relatively economical leads.

But they are still wrong, in most cases.

Wrong is a moral rather than business word. Many immoral businesses are very profitable. The most profitable businesses are probably both immoral and illegal (though my brother is a drug dealer, and his business is profitable and is both moral and legal -- he owns a successful pharmacy in Vancouver.)

The point here is that some forms of marketing are effective but they cost far more to the people who are victims of the marketing "pitch" than the people who can benefit from the service. Do we have the rights as marketers to force ourselves into people's private spaces, when we don't know (or aren't reasonably certain) that they can really use and want our product or service?)

I would argue it is immoral to steal people's time and personal space to try to sell them stuff.

So how do you get around this quandary, (and by default, when is it morally correct to canvass, telemarket, and even send unsolicited mass emails (spam)?

You are giving useful information or materials, without expectation of return, and and what you give has enough value to justify the inconvenience you are causing.
An email with really good tips and insights that can help readers regardless of whether they respond to your email might technically be spam, but is probably not going to cause you any problems. When you knock on the door, and tell someone you are about to do work in the neighbourhood, and to call if there is a noise or debris problem, I don't think anyone would consider your uninvited visit offensive.)

When you truly respect privacy, personal space and the other person's circumstances.
This is both on a group and individual level. You need to size up the situation. If you are canvassing, calling cold on a bitter evening winter after a rash of home invasions in the neighbourhood is probably not a good idea. On a summer day, when people are out and about, and you have satisfied yourself that most people in the neighbourhood can use your service (or you can see it is necessary) you won't step too far over the line.

Alas much intrusive marketing for the construction and other industries these days fails these two tests. Go ahead, if you want, and if it is legal. But it is still wrong. Find another way.

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