Industry tows the privacy-CRM line

A wave of tools on the horizon for companies struggling to manage the divergent demands of CRM (customer relationship management) will enable marketing departments to better balance the pressure for ROI with customer privacy concerns.

One such tool, coming this week from Unica, may start industry down the road toward privacy standards automation, even before the government steps in to answer the cry from consumers worried that marketers are playing fast and loose with their data.

"Consumers have, inherently, internally contradictory desires -- [they want] to be treated as individuals, to be treated personally, and they desire relevance in all commercial contacts with them," said Harry Watkins, CRM research director at Aberdeen Group. "They also have reasonable paranoia concerning the personal information that companies have; [information] that is required to deliver all of that relevance."

Unica will unveil the latest version of its cross-channel marketing CRM product, the Affinium Suite, at the Personalization Summit in New York. Users will be able to build privacy practices into each module in the vendor's suite, according to Carol Meyers, vice president of marketing at Unica.

Other vendors are stepping into the fray as well.

Earlier this year, Acxiom tried to address the needs of financial institutions struggling to keep their CRM efforts within acceptable bounds of new privacy laws. Acxiom teamed with PricewaterhouseCoopers to add functionality to its Abilitec customer data integration software to allow financial institutions to generate and adhere to privacy policies, practices, and consumer-preference procedures and to create a single view of the customers across the enterprise.

And last month, Internet privacy company Idecide introduced PrivacyWall, which is designed to enable large companies to audit Web sites for compliance with internal privacy policies.

Michael Baum, who as director of direct marketing at the Minneapolis Star Tribune manages databases that include information for 110 million US households and a customer database of 300,000 names culled from e-mail, said the Unica offering will eliminate headaches at the newspaper.

"[The Unica solution] makes our processes easier and gives us more confidence to execute correctly for these people who have requested they not be contacted," Baum said.

Corporate enterprises are under increasing pressure to self-police e-marketing efforts. Several bills, which would prescribe new data handling and sharing procedures, are now pending on Capitol Hill.

Much of that legislation -- including the Consumer Privacy Enforcement Act, a bill introduced by Senator John McCain and endorsed by big businesses such as Hewlett-Packard, America Online, and Walt Disney -- is built around best practices that require notice of data being collected and choice for consumers to opt out.

"It's incumbent on the industry to self-police itself to the point that it eliminates the need for some of the more draconian governmental restrictions that are being considered," Aberdeen Group's Watkins said.

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