This is a transcript of episode 81 of the Let’s Get Data-Driven Podcast

I’m Lanie Lamarre and in this, our first episode of 2023, I feel like it’s a good time to talk about how we can be better about how we’re showing up and promoting ourselves in the year ahead. We set all these goals about bettering our launches and our followers and the numbers in general, but what about showing up straight-up better for those we serve this year? I’m down if you are!

It feels a little bit like the word “ethical” has become a marketing buzzword to throw around. After too many years of the online world being something of a modern day Wild West of lawlessness and free-for-all chaos, we’ve all seen or fallen trap to the snake oil salespeople promising us all types of success that they may or may not be able to deliver on. In fact, not only are there a ton of other podcasts dedicated to the subject but it’s such a present phenomenon that you can afford to go niche with your level of interest in the subject.

Into hearing about the dirty business practices to watch out for in digital marketing? Check out Duped: The Dark Side of Online Business. Prefer to broaden your horizons and learn how people use their online influence and social media status to deceive and scheme others? Scam-Fluencers is a good podcast for that. Want to hear the story about how the founders of top companies have turned their hubris into “unicorn” capital? You’ll love WeCrashed.

The point is that deception in business is happening at all levels – as it always has – it’s just that today, a lot of it is happening online, and there’s no lack of examples to point to when it comes to illustrating how simple it is to mislead people into a vision that may or may not be possible.

This is why instead of talking about “ethical marketing”, I’ve grown to prefer the term “responsible marketing”.

“Ethical marketing” infers that there is a subjective element outside of yourself to characterize the moral principles you adopt; meanwhile, “responsible marketing” reinforces that YOU, the marketer, knows the difference between right or wrong, and you choose to take action accordingly.

I like the empowerment that comes with the term “responsible marketing” because it implies that you don’t need to be told what you “should” do or not do; after all, you’re a rational and sensible online citizen who doesn’t need a code of conduct to know how to treat others and to act like a human being… but the problem isn’t so much YOU as it is about that one person who always ruins it for the rest of us, amirite?

Online as in real life, there are and will always be parties who need the boundaries to be more clearly defined – and enforced! – than others do. We are entering a time where those much-needed boundaries are being established because companies and online marketers alike have prioritized online profits and revenue growth over treating people like you recognize them as fellow human beings in the digital landscape.

We talk about “hits” and “users” instead of “visits” and “visitors”. We omit the qualitative feedback we could be getting from interactions from our analysis of the numbers. We prioritize automated funnels to nurture our clients and leads over seeking opportunities for actual connection and engagement.

In the “before” days, it was sufficient to have consumer laws that protected you when you entered into a brick-and-mortar store where you could shop around, ask questions, chat the clerk or store owner up; that “simple enough” shopping experience wasn’t complicated by the two of you being in separate physical locations the way online business is now. To further complicate things for online business owners, it’s not YOUR location that matters as much as it is where the buyer is physically located that will govern the laws you’re expected to adhere to as a vendor.

This “location” issue has been a tough one to navigate and it’s part of the reason that the process of putting protections in place for doing business on the world wide web has been so slow, but we’re finally now seeing all kinds of cross-border data sharing agreements and privacy laws and digital consumer acts being put in place; commerce has and continues to change – the way we buy and sell goods and services is getting a dang glow up! – and we’re starting to see action being taken where these laws and regulations aren’t just words on paper or theories anymore… but they’re now actually being enforced.

Last fall, the California Consumer Protection Act – or what the cool kids call CCPAimposed its first fine and charged beauty product retailer Sephora $1.2 million for failing to inform customers that it was selling their data while claiming on its website that it didn’t sell personal information. Keep in mind that the CCPA was passed in 2018, which means it’s taken 4 years before this act was enforced with a first major fine and the message with this is loud and clear: online sellers need to start taking these laws seriously.

Which is why you may feel a little intimidated with all of this. It’s like “where did THIS come from?!” when you’ve been promoting one way all along and suddenly, you’re not able to do that anymore. Oftentimes, the reason is because of laws that were put in place years ago but are only now being enforced in a meaningful way and you’re now finally seeing the outcomes.

Here’s another “for instance” for your bad self: when the General Data Protection Regulation – or what the cool kids call GDPR – was put in place for the European Union in 2016, online marketers were primarily concerned with their opt-in forms and how they were collecting email information from EU-residents; it’s only now, 8 years later, where we’re also looking at what this law dictates about the cookies we’re using on our websites that also collect personal information, and how we have to communicate what those are, why we’re using them and how long we’re retaining that information, even if we’re doing it on someone else’s behalf like Google or Meta. This means you can’t absent-mindedly slap a bunch of tracking on your site “in case” you can use it down the line like we did 5 years ago, and as an online business owner, you’re expected to know and account for the information you’re collecting about your visitors.

GDPR isn’t a new law, even though the enforcement of it in this way is a recent phenomenon.

Now, if you’re listening to or reading this, it’s because you’re a rational, sensible online marketer who wants to follow the rules, who wants to be a good online citizen, but who also wants to have options for marketing and promotions and targeting.

Does being a responsible marketer make your job harder than it was 5 years ago? Yes, absolutely. Accept the reality that you must now be intentional with how you approach your marketing, and we got away with a whole lot of shenanigans in our entrepreneurial youth… but we’re growing up!

Does this mean you have to give up your targeted marketing practices? Absolutely not, and anyone who go the extra, intentional mile will reap the rewards.

A recent – and oh-so-beautiful! – example of this I’ve seen was a campaign ran by Denise Duffield-Thomas, which I encourage you to check out and have linked in the shownotes. If you’re familiar with her brand, Denise – Duffield-Thomas if you’re nasty – uses what is called the 8 Money Archetypes that her audience self-identifies with. This represents some top-shelf first- and even zero-party data because this is information that she has collected directly through engaging with audience and it enables her to better meet her people based on their values, preferences or habits. Chef’s kiss!

As she details in her launch debrief post, Denise used these Archetypes to help define the buying patterns for each group in terms of when they are most likely to purchase and why, which payment options they tend to select, and so much more. If you love a good income report, this one delivers the deets on list growth and unsubscribes and refunds and ad spend and the whole nine yards, based on what her audience has told her about themselves.

To me, this is what responsible marketing can look like at its finest: you interact and engage with your audience to find out about them, and you use the information that you collected directly from them to better position yourself to meet them where they are.

Because let’s be clear that yes, your ad campaigns aren’t what they used to be, and anyone relying on Meta and Google to do all the heavy lifting on their behalf when it comes to targeting will struggle more than the person who is willing to take some of that targeting responsibility on for themselves by getting to know and engage with their people like actual human beings.

Denise is still using ads and she goes into those details as well, but it’s a direct complement – and not a substitution – for getting to know and engage and meet people where they are when they come to her, and I love this the hardest.

Which brings us back to the title of this episode: what does “responsible marketing and tracking” mean in 2023? Everyone gets to define this for themselves but from where I’m sitting, it means:

  • Making offers you’re confident you can deliver on;

If you have to include a “results aren’t typical” disclaimer at the bottom of your sales page, consider asking your legal representation what it is about your messaging that makes it such that you need this warning. Being intentional about your marketing means you understand and are deliberate about how you’re showing up and promoting. There’s nothing inherently wrong about having legal disclaimers like this on your content but I encourage you to be aware as to WHY they have to be there and what that says about the way you choose to promote yourself.

  • Behaving online as you would in person;

This means if you wouldn’t do it in real life – or what the cool kids call IRL – then maybe it’s worth questioning why you should do it online. The flip side of this is also true where if you WOULD do something IRL – like thank someone for buying from you – consider integrating those IRL habits into your online practices (and perhaps explore something a little more heartfelt and human than a single automated “thank you for your purchase” email.)

  • Thinking about what you need to know about your client to better serve them;

Look at the third-party services you’re using to track and target your audience, and ask yourself if you need or will use this information. For instance, I have a Facebook pixel installed on some of my sales pages, but I don’t have it on my actual website. Why? Because I don’t have a use for giving Facebook an all-access pass to everything my visitors are doing all over every one of my assets as it isn’t information I’ll use and I therefore choose not to share that information; however, I may have a use for tracking people who visit my sales page for the purposes of running ads that would remind them of their initial interest in an offer they looked at.

Likewise, understand that data collection isn’t done exclusively through cookies and pixels and technology. In my opinion, the very best kind of information you can access is the qualitative data that you collect directly through interactions with your audience. This can be done through questionnaires that ask your buyers about their experiences which you can then use to create better experiences for them and for future buyer, but this can also be self-identifying data like the Money Archetypes that Denise Duffield-Thomas uses to better understand her audience patterns and she can then cater her messaging to what those specific segments of people are saying they want and prefer from her.

  • Taking off your marketing hat.

You surf the web and stream things and buy stuff and do all the things online citizens do, right? What do you like? What annoys you? What are your expectations about how you’ll be treated and what do you find acceptable? What ads interest you? Which emails do you always open? What type of social media posts do you like and don’t need to be asked to share? What content or delivery do you get the most value or enjoyment or excitement from as a consumer? It’s too easy to get sucked into the complex, formulaic funnel mindset and to overlook the simple fact that these are interactions with human beings.

Let’s be clear that this isn’t a conversation about whether you’re a good, wholesome marketer or if you’re an evil scammer. Evil scammers wouldn’t listen to me for this long and the world wide web isn’t some Pleasantville of perfection, either. There’s a whole lot of grey area when it comes to marketing anywhere – both online and off! – and the shades of grey are constantly in flux to reflect the society and values we live in.

That’s why I believe that to be a responsible marketer, all you really need is to approach your promotions with 1) intention as to what you’re doing and for whom, 2) vigilance in regards to what obligations you have to the people you’re showing up for, and 3) the acknowledgment that a little humanity can go an awful long way when we’re all staring at screens.