The Ethics of Interactive Content Marketing

February 20, 2017 | by Jeff Mason

The Ethics of Interactive Content Marketing

For many would-be customers, what you do with the data you collect in your lead forms is a matter of principle. Namely: don’t sell it and don’t use it yourself, except for the reason they gave it to you.

Because of the thought leadership positioning involved in content marketing, being ethical is further complicated by issues of feigned expertise and of integrity, particularly in the case of native advertising (though the folks at CMI might take issue with me lumping native advertising in with content marketing).

Looking at the mobile/digital side of things, there’s issues surrounding privacy. Remarketing across devices or websites – the goose that lays golden eggs for marketers – represents a serious privacy violation in the minds of many consumers. This can apply to roadside billboards even.
Now that content is going interactive, that lead data has gotten more valuable, that presented expertise has become more relevant, and those privacy issues have changed shape—but the underlying ethical issues still remain.

The Ethical Use of Lead Data from Interactive Content

Because interactive content provides consumers with the opportunity to self-identify their persona, or their business need, or their stage in the funnel/buyer’s journey to marketers, automatically differentiated from the other options that were selectable through that same piece of content, the data you get from interactive content is inherently more valuable.

Similarly, because it was not an obnoxious gate the consumer needed to pass through to access what they really wanted, but rather an essential part of the process of conferring value onto the resulting content they are excited to receive, the lead forms you incorporate into your interactive content are more likely to collect accurate information.

None of this changes the ethical imperative you have to use this information to approach the consumer in a professional manner, and not to share it with other parties without the consumer’s permission.

In fact, because of the quality and granularity of the information, you should actually be holding your follow-up content to a higher standard.

If you knew nothing about me and had to try to promote something to me, there’s a good chance you would sound spammy. But if I already told you several key facts about me and your follow-up messaging doesn’t take that information into account, you have convinced me that you’re a spammer who doesn’t care about helping me solve my business problems, and as such are not worth my time.

How to prevent it: Always strive to provide genuine value, informed by the lead data you’ve collected!

The Ethics of Presuming to be a Leader

While many content marketing efforts are geared towards entertaining prospective customers, much of it is designed to demonstrate and lend company expertise to the target audience. Blogs and podcasts are typically strong examples of this. Interactive content ups the ante here as well – by providing results that are theoretically tailored to the specific needs of the consumer, as informed by the inputs they provided while engaging the interactive content.

If those results are not in fact tailored to the consumer’s inputs, sooner or later your would-be customers are going to discover that what they told you didn’t matter, and you’re back at the lead data spamming issue I mentioned above. This could happen as soon as they complete your piece of content, if the results page is too generic (or if, for whatever terrible reason, you hold their results hostage until you’re able to establish contact with them)- or it might be when they receive your first lead nurturing email or newsletter.

This demonstrates that you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you don’t care about your prospective customers. In either case, you are not leadership material in the eyes of those now-lost opportunities.

Don’t be afraid to stand on the shoulders of giants! If you are not an expert in an area, lean on the wisdom of those who are (and credit them appropriately- in many instances, the right citation can actually increase your own credibility).

How to prevent it: Don’t “fake it ‘til you make it”! Provide expertise where you have it and direct your target audience to the expertise of others when you don’t.

Privacy Ethics in Interactive Marketing

In the spirit of interruption marketing vs permission marketing, with interactive content you are not remarketing based on a cookie placed on the user’s computer or device in the background – you are presenting them with relevant content based on the information they willingly provided you because of the value they believed you could offer them in return for letting you get to know them.

This doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to send the user sales brochures based on their professed needs. What it does mean is that you have permission to continue to engage them in ways that help them understand why they should continue to give you their time and attention, why they should trust you to responsibly advise them based on the information they’ve provided you in good faith, and why ultimately your company’s push for a sale is in their best interest as well.

These are partially-qualified leads, and so you should not be hitting them with standard remarketing tactics (those are best saved for people who didn’t provide you with contact information anyway).

How to prevent it: The leads that have come to you through interactive content have respected you and the value you claim to offer them enough that they have told you about themselves. Contact them by the means they’ve given you permission to do so, and only use information they’ve given you explicitly and directly! If you need more info from them – ask (via relevant, interactive content)!