Online lead generation isn’t always what you expect- you could be helping to support your competitors. Robin Caller takes the tricky issue of ownership when it comes to leads, and chases the ghosts away…
Imagine walking into a bar, buying a beer, and standing there drinking it. Now imagine that another punter walks into the same bar, buys exactly the same pint of beer, and stands beside you calmly drinking it.
Don’t be confused. I am not suggesting they are drinking a “similar” pint. I am saying that they are drinking the same pint. Your pint. The pint you just paid for.
At this stage, you may think I wrote this article whilst I was drunk, but I didn’t, I’m not. I am just drawing an analogy to make a point.
Of course, in the real physical world, it is not possible for the above scenario to take place. But in the world of online Lead Generation, it is perfectly realistic, and in fact it happens rather too often for my tastes.
I spent 2010 as Chair of the IAB online lead generation Council, lobbying industry players to define and adopt Best Practices. During that time, I stumbled across a rather critical issue which I am raising in this more general forum today.
Put simply, the issue is one of “legal title” – or more simply put, it’s a question regarding “who owns a lead?” Many buyers of leads would automatically assume they owned the lead. After all, much like a pint, they bought it.
But of course, in the digital world, copies of this lead, copies of the pint, reside on databases, and might just be re-sold. The traditions of “caveat emptor” are commonplace in today’s online lead generation marketplace, and buyer should definitely beware.
I think buyers of leads should be made aware if they are paying to help their suppliers supply their competitors. I also think buyers of leads should be made aware if they are paying to help their suppliers build mosaic profiles of audiences, which can then be remarketed to on behalf of competitor brands.
Major lead sellers continue to lay claim, legal title, to the leads that are being “bought” by advertisers. Agencies and advertisers buying leads are failing in the most part to structure contracts and terms which clarify this point of ownership.
I am not saying that sellers have no right to lay such claims. I am just saying that they should make this point very clearly in their sales methods. If a seller captures a lead and transfers it to the client, and is seeking to retain some title or claim to the captured lead data set, that should be made perfectly clear.
When I suggested that this issue was “laid bare” and made transparent to all lead buyers, within an IAB document on Best Practice, few Council members supported my thrust. The elephant in the room was, and is, the “silent G” that turns “host and post” lead generation programs into “ghost and post” programs. A copy of the lead is ghosted away into the database of the capturer and seller, for resale and profiling purposes.
To put it simply, the capturer and seller of a lead secretly claims legal title to a copy of the lead, and the right to profile the subscriber. It’s lead generation’s equivalent to the profiling activities of the invisible behavioural targeting software. These companies sit between customer and brand, profiling users to the best of their ability. It’s the same, potentially abusive, treatment of consumers which threatens to backfire spectacularly against the perpetrators.
One of the largest “lead generation networks”, and one which promotes itself as “premium” is arguably guilty of such “ghost and post” activities. It should be warning enough, to their management and investors, that the invisible layers in behavioural targeting, are now being taken to task. For my part, I am keen to avoid replicating the mistakes of the display industry, and i would prefer to tackle the issue before it tarnishes a sector.
My goal is to promote best and ethical practice in the field of online lead generation and to raise standards. Over the coming weeks, I hope to lift the lid and shine a light on some of the shadier areas of online lead generation.I chose to start with “ghost and post” in the hope that the phrase captures your imagination, and inspires you to subscribe to this column.
By highlighting issues, I hope to make the market more aware, with the goal of encouraging buyers and sellers to raise their standards and ethics. The day that market commentators regard online lead generation as a “killer app” rather than a “shady area” will hopefully come sooner for these efforts.
My model is one in which I will seek to protect all “mothers” from the mischievous operators who have already sold their own family, and forgotten what they look like. As someone very clever once said, losing our parents is like running into a plate glass window. We don’t realise they are there, until we’re left picking up the pieces.
By Robin Caller
Founder and MD