TBT: Do you really want “We’re sneaky” to be part of your brand?

Thoughts on direct voicemail messaging

Originally posted July 10, 2017. As stay-at-home policies continue, there’s a greater reliance on voicemail messaging—especially during this election year—so I thought this might be a timely reminder.

Certain marketing tactics, legal though they may be, can be troublesome. Today’s ambivalence du jour concerns direct voicemail messaging. 

As its name implies, direct voicemail messaging sends a prerecorded message straight to voicemail. Since phones do not ring and charges for minutes do not rack up, Do Not Call laws don’t apply. 

Companies that provide the service for generating leads claim (what else would you expect?) that direct voicemail messaging is effective. 

Fine, but sometimes there are other considerations, e.g., it can come across as sneaky.  

For one thing, consumers cannot block direct voicemail messages. For another, just look at the names of selected service providers. Names like Voicecasting might sound innocuous enough, but the field also includes gems like Slydial, Slybroadcast, and Callfire

Direct voicemail messaging appears to enjoy some popularity among financial institutions: 

The most frequent users of Ringless Direct-To-Voicemail are Debt Collectors, Financial Institutions and Student Loan Servicers. 

That excerpt comes from the Do-Not-Call Protection website, whose motto is “We help business to business, business to consumer and single-agents to comply with the Do Not Call Laws and Telephone Consumer Protection Act.” They’re not a consumer advocacy group, so by “helping to comply” they more likely mean “avoiding legal hot water” than “avoiding being annoying to consumers.” 

As I write, Direct voicemail messaging is facing new legal challenges. The New York Times reports: 

Regulators are considering whether to ban these messages. They have been hearing from ringless voice mail providers and pro-business groups, which argue that these messages should not qualify as calls and, therefore, should be exempt from consumer protection laws that ban similar types of telephone marketing. 

But consumer advocates, technology experts, people who have been inundated with these calls and the lawyers representing them say such an exemption would open the floodgates. Consumers’ voice mail boxes would be clogged with automated messages, they say, making it challenging to unearth important calls, whether they are from an elderly mother’s nursing home or a child’s school. 

… The commission is collecting public comments on the issue after receiving a petition from a ringless voice mail provider that wants to avoid regulation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. That federal law among other things prohibits calling cellular phones with automated dialing and artificial or prerecorded voices without first obtaining consent—except in an emergency. 

The United States Congress appears divided on the matter. (Congress divided? I know, you’re shocked.) Ars Technica reports

In March, a marketing company called All About the Message petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would prevent anti-robocall rules from applying to ringless voicemails. But the company withdrew its petition without explanation in a letter to the FCC last week, even though the commission hadn’t yet ruled on the matter … 

The Republican National Committee supported All About the Message’s petition, claiming that it has a First Amendment right to use direct-to-voicemail technology without any TCPA restrictions. Senate Democrats opposed the petition, saying that it would allow “telemarketers, debt collectors, and other callers [to] bombard Americans with unwanted voicemails, leaving consumers with no way to block or stop these intrusive messages.” 

I won’t wax partisan here, but I will point out that legislated regulations often overshoot, piling on onerous requirements no one had counted on. If you don’t believe me, I’d suggest brushing up on Dodd-Frank.

I’ll also point out that self-regulation is one of the best ways to avoid onerous government regulations. That’s why organizations like the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) urge members to police themselves. “These guidelines,” reads the introduction to DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, “represent DMA’s general philosophy that self-regulatory measures are preferable to governmental mandates.” 

From a marketing standpoint, I return to my above assertion that direct voicemail messaging, especially for lead generating, can appear sneaky. Upon finding a directly deposited voice mail message, many consumers react with How did that get there? instead of I’d better pay attention to this message. 

Unless you’d like We’re sneaky to become part of your brand, you might think twice before using direct voicemail messaging.

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