Today, regulatory scrutiny, politicizing industries and consumer activists have brought significant changes to how we market to and sell our products. Lead flow is down in many industries, conversion from third-party marketing has dropped and compliance expenses are up.
So how do we pivot away from this story line and connect the gap between lead conversions and compliance data?
- Put compliance first to confidently work all leads.
- Collect detailed lead data.
- Remediate instead of wasting a lead and/or source.
- Make integrated marketing decisions.
We dive into the strategy behind each of these points in the latest April 2017 issue of FeedFront Magazine.
Click here to continue reading the full article on “Conversions vs. Compliance”.
You’ll learn how to integrate and have both because being compliant with marketing regulations doesn’t mean your lead generation should suffer.
What opportunities are you missing for them to work together?
Businesses have the opportunity to gather and analyze data at an increasing rate. Whether it is customer conversion data, compliance or call center functions, these databases are typically housed in separate locations and the data is rarely integrated. How do businesses tie this information together to find actionable intelligence and make sound business decisions? Let’s take a look at some opportunities you may be missing if you are experiencing the gap left between conversion and compliance data.
Years ago when leads were flowing in and volume was king, compliance wasn’t much of an issue—or at least one we spent much time on. Sales were up, reps could cherry pick, and most marketers didn’t have a real understanding of third party lead generation. They liked getting thousands of cheap leads. Skip to today, regulatory scrutiny, politicizing industries and public outcry have brought significant changes to how we market to and sell our products. Lead flow is down in many industries, conversion from third-party marketing has dropped and compliance expenses are up.
So how do we pivot away from this storyline? I spent nearly 10 years talking to businesses about how to improve lead volume and quality to increase sales. Many times the first response was “just shut it off”. As an owner or employee committed to doing what is best for the business, it’s easy to lean heavy on the compliance side, or toward what’s best for conversion. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Whichever way you lean, no one wants to continue a path toward extinction—so change we must. Change the way we think about, and act on, the data we have.
- Put compliance first to confidently work all leads you get your hands on. Check your audit process to see if it includes all aspects that would make a lead contactable and compliant upon receipt. IntegriShield found that 9% of an advertiser’s infractions are from missing, or non-compliant, consumer consent and disclosure language.
Waiting to see if a lead is compliant until after you get doesn’t really help you. Examine all the lead pages you own and are affiliated with to ensure they have compliant Opt-In language. Otherwise, you end up returning the leads or eating the costs. It could also result in a good traffic source being shut off for something easily fixed. If a lead slips by and you do work it, the fines and potential civil penalties could put you out of business.
- Collect all the lead data you can. Some of the basics include:
- Lead Type
- Affiliate Codes
- Referral URL
- Form or Call In
- Customer Data
- Consumer Consent Authorization
- Lead Integrity Data
You’ll need objective data to make good marketing decisions. If you don’t have all of your data aggregated, this will take more time, but it can still be done. Better yet, ask your service providers if they can integrate with other systems.
- Scrub and remediate instead of wasting a lead or a source. By this point you’ve been proactive and tried to ensure all your vendor pages are compliant. You may find many leads come from pages you had no idea exist. It’s not uncommon nor is it something that has to be shut down. You will likely never know all the affiliate, publisher, and traffic channels your lead generators enlist at any given moment in time. Audit the URLs the leads are coming from and if they are not compliant, make them compliant.
Keep your lead channels open if at all possible. If the site is misleading or you see any bait and switch tactics, that’s when you shut it down. Don’t mess around with bad actors. There is too much risk in the current regulatory environment. We have found that 28% of total advertiser infractions are due to misleading content on URLs and 6% contained banned terminology.
Beyond marketing content, it’s also important to maintain customer files. Scrub customer data to ensure contact compliance. Don’t just remove it. About a month before a lead would be scrubbed out, send a notice to see if he or she would like to stay opted in and if so, restart the clock on them. Even if only a small percentage opts back in, sales will know who is still engaged and you maintain as many leads active as possible.
- Make integrated marketing decisions. Direct Marketing is not a magic button. It’s a series of decisions based on metrics using good data and then repeating each day, week, month, and year. Combine the data to look at all channels and their outcomes—both conversions and compliance risk.
Tie conversion metrics to integrity and compliance scores to determine beginning allocations each month. And remember, you can control your risk. Keep the lead pipeline open by being specific and eliminating offending publishers, but keeping the vendor “live” for all the quality sources they use. If a vendor is not delivering, partner with them to adjust messaging to fit the types of channels they use to drive your traffic. One set of posting instructions is easy, but it’s not always effective.
Businesses depend on lead volume and quality to drive sales. The current trend of fear-based decision making needs to become strategic, educated decision making. Implement compliance processes, follow them, and seek solutions before eliminating potential sales. The tools, data, and ability to regulate your marketing exist. With increased vulnerability has come increased control if you don’t shy away from integrating strategies.
Have you ever received a “free” lead in your inbox? Depending on your personal experience, you may initially think it’s a free lead to let you sample what a particular lead generator can do for you. Or you may not even know how you actually got the lead. What do you do? Do you contact this prospect? Your decision on how to handle the inquiry will determine how much the lead could cost you in the end.
There are a few variables to consider before deciding to contact a “free” lead.
- Do you know where the lead came from? Even if the lead source is listed, it’s important to know how it was generated to result in a consumer providing their information. Did he or she know they were inquiring specifically for a product from your brand? While you may not be able to track back the full path, at a minimum, check out the referring URL to ensure no bait and switch tactics were used.
- Did the consumer consent to contact, and in what forms? If you received a consumer’s contact information, it’s important that they consented to be contacted. Because the lead is free, let’s make the assumption you did not provide authorized consent language. You must be able to answer…
- What language was used?
- Did they consent to be contacted by your business or only the lead generator?
- Did the lead get to opt-in for TCPA consent specific to your business?
It’s important to have these answers because fines can add up quickly when it comes to consumer consent violations.
- Can you get access to the data collection of consent? You should also have access to opt-out data as it pertains to the consumer opting out on the lead generator side. This is just as important as knowing if consent language and opt-in were available on the inquiry form. Businesses are subject to fines and potential litigation for not observing opt-out requests. This would also be helpful in opening up the option to email the consumer. Email does not require prior consent, but once someone unsubscribes or opt-outs, a business can no longer email them unless he or she opts back in. Without control of the consent language and the data being collected, emailing could be risky as well.
Businesses hold lead generators to higher standards today and justifiably so considering the regulatory environment. Any source of a lead is subject to scrutiny and not knowing is not a defense. Before you decide to contact that “free” lead, calculate the possible fines and don’t let it costs your brand money or its reputation.[As published on LeadsCon.com]
On August 1, 2016, The FTC’s inflation increases for maximum civil penalty amounts go into effect. You can find the Federal Register Notice containing all of the statutes and amounts here. With penalties increasing, from $16,000 to $40,000 in some instances, it’s time again to look at your business objectively and determine what risks you are willing to take. Here are some areas, business owners and caretakers of brands need to evaluate for exposure.
Police Those Who Try to Exploit Your Brand
Your business is not responsible for what others do if you are not affiliated with them. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to keep us off the regulator radar these days. Whether you are the advertiser or the lead generator, understand the pitfalls that can occur when using third parties. Objectively ask yourself, do you know everything your affiliates or publishers are doing to market on your behalf? Take it a step further and question if you think they know everything their network is doing. No one is 100% error free online, all the time. The mere appearance of not “playing by the rules” could shine a spotlight on your business where infractions could be uncovered.
An unauthorized publisher can put you at risk for regulatory scrutiny or lead to an investigation. If a consumer can’t spot a fraudulent representation of your brand online, then regulators won’t be able to notice at first glance either. It’s critical right now to monitor and enforce standards for your brand’s presence on the Internet. Create a paper trail documenting your efforts to discover and remediate infractions.
Every business is unique, but here some things you can do internally:
- Keep an inventory in a database or even a spreadsheet of your proprietary and authorized third party URLs.
- Set up a monthly audit process to review all URLs for brand, regulatory, and consumer consent compliance.
- Review the user path to ensure nothing was misleading up to the form and consumer consent was collected in the correct places.
- Take screen shots with time/date of infractions.
- Email the screen shots along with a request for remediation to the third party.
- Store all emails back and forth concerning the remediation.
- Schedule a quarterly Internet audit looking for domains and URLs not authorized by your brand and follow the same paper trail and remediation process.
Be Proactive Against Those Who Seek and Exploit Violations
From consumer disclosures and consent language online to contact strategies and database maintenance, leave no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring compliance. There are opportunistic individuals who target certain industries and put themselves in a position to file a complaint or take legal action. You need to get ahead of them.
Look for and monitor all forms of disclosures, consent, privacy policies, terms and conditions, and any other industry specific data or content required. It’s a common mistake to only search for where it exists on the web. Yes, we want to make sure what we know and see is unaltered, but don’t forget to look for instances where these forms have been omitted—which is a tougher search.
Contact maintenance strategies need to be reviewed and followed. Reactive responses to violations will result in fines and suits. It may surprise you how easy it is for individuals to create the exact scenarios that equip them to file a civil suit against a business. Do Not Call (DNC) violations under section 5 of the FTC Act have increased to $40,000 per instance. If you weren’t following DNC best practices, it’s time.
Despite your efforts to maintain industry compliance on a daily basis you may feel exposed on many fronts. The regulatory scrutiny has found its way into many business operations and expense columns with seemingly no reprieve. To help mitigate risks everyone must take an active role and reduce exposure. Lead generation as an industry is strong. Remember, you are not only equipped to be successful while being compliant, but you are in a good position to write the narrative.
This spring LeadsCon invited IntegriShield out to their annual performance marketing conference in Las Vegas to present on unauthorized landing pages and self-regulation.
In between sessions, they caught up with our President Gayla Huber to learn more about the state of compliance violations in higher education and other industries.
Watch the interview below to hear from Gayla and LeadsCouncil’s Michael Ferree as they scratch the surface of industry compliance.
To learn more about how compliance trends impact your business, email email@example.com or call 888-547-7110.
Before large financial institutions evolved in the current banking world, it wasn’t uncommon for individuals that had a good relationship with their neighborhood bank to take out a short term loan. By definition, that meant borrowing funds for one-year or less for an unexpected expense or to purchase a needed commodity. Interest rates were typically higher, however banks could make hundreds of loans and earn a small profit on each which added up to a decent profit line. Paperwork was minimal and, because they had established relationships with their customers, the risk remained relatively low.
Today, the need for these loans is just as common if not greater than before. The landscape has changed dramatically following the introduction of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act after one of our nation’s biggest financial crises. Small loans from a community bank now require pages and pages of onerous loan documents and the time involved for the banks to comply with new regulations make the practicability of these offers not worth the risk. In response, the short term lending market has changed with an increase in higher risk payday loan, title loan, and cash advance lenders. This has now grown into a $46 billion industry.
With a mandate from Dodd-Frank, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has responded to this market with a proposed rule to more clearly define terms, limits, and lending practices to help protect consumers. While there are concerns expressed by both regulators and industry, the importance of knowing how this impacts consumers and lenders is vital.
The CFPB’s proposed ruling is “aimed at ending payday debt traps”. Essentially the CFPB proposes to implement regulations that help ensure consumers have the ability to repay their loans and don’t fall into a cycle of re-borrowing at very high interest rates without the ability to ever repay the original loan. At the CFPB field hearing in Kansas City on June 2, 2016, proponents of the ruling argued that all short term loans are designed to keep borrowers in this never-ending repayment cycle. However, the industry pointed to supporting data to demonstrate that not only was short term lending essential, but only a small percentage of their customers fall into that cycle.
Well before the CFPB released its proposed rule, industry leaders began executing self-regulation efforts to protect consumers. Advocacy organizations such as the Online Lenders Alliance (OLA) and the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) formed to establish best practices, eliminate deceptive marketing and advertising, and work closely with regulators and legislators to provide quality products and services to their consumers.
What does this mean moving forward and finding new customers in this space? The backbone to acquiring new customers has been through the use of lead generators and affiliate marketers. These are companies that advertise products for a lender, gather potential customer information and then sell the lead to a lender. As one strategy to advertise services to a wide audience, this can lead to one of two results:
- Generate a large volume of customers and provide legitimate leads on a potential borrower.
- Unscrupulous companies may use one particular company brand to drive traffic to another company.
In the second case, a customer is deceived into thinking he or she is submitting a request to a particular lender, yet the information never reaches that lender and other companies are provided the lead data instead.
The proposed CFPB rule will undoubtedly place additional restrictions and regulations on this industry, from requiring limits on advertising claims to narrowing the channels available to promote products and services. To sustain and grow the short term lending industry, brands must provide customers a truthful and honest shopping experience that delivers loans to the borrower as intended. As a result, the importance of protecting ones brand from misuse and using technology to remove unwanted and false instances of their brand will be paramount.
Information on the full CFPB proposed ruling can be found here:
Online Lenders Alliance:
Community Financial Services Association of America:
When most people think of attorneys, they envision John Grisham books come to life though the magic of Hollywood. A well dressed, impressive attorney, arguing in flawless form in front of the jury and providing the final “gotcha” moment that turns the case in their favor and creates the perfect ending. But in reality, the work most attorneys do is all about keeping you from seeing the inside of a courtroom.
Think about it. When circumstances arise where clients have been faced with defending allegations or regulatory infractions and the end result is a favorable outcome due to the diligence and research done by their attorney, aren’t those the best cases where the client is spreading high praise and word of mouth about their attorney? It makes the most sense to seek out an attorney that has all the tools and resources available to them to counter allegations with factual data and evidence to prove that you, as a client, have done nothing wrong.
In the case of brand compliance and digital advertising, the key to avoiding litigation is operating in a Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor guidelines afford protection from liability or penalty under specified circumstances or if certain conditions are met. Typically, in the case of brand compliance, documentation and establishing a defined path to remediation is the key to favorable outcomes.
Here are a few considerations that you or your attorney should think about to make sure your digital advertising is documented, verified, and will be remediated in the case of an infraction.
- What systems do you have in place to inventory all your content?
- Do you know who is publishing your content?
- Do you have a technology solution in place to identify infractions?
- What documentation are you keeping when infractions are discovered?
- Are you providing a permanent record of your remediation attempts in order to operate within a safe harbor?
- When an infraction is identified, do you have adequate resources to remediate the issue?
Being able to answer these questions and document your system and process will help prevent that “gotcha” moment from happening to you.
Compliant digital content has become a hot topic in many financial blogger circles. We recently sat down with Phillip Taylor, CEO at FinCon, the peer conference for the financial media community, to discuss the industry’s key compliance pain points. Below are the five topics that bloggers need to manage to maintain compliance.
Ability to add URLs and Editorial Content
Financial Bloggers sometimes struggle managing their entire URL inventory because of tedious manual updates required on each link due to content or offer changes. To combat this process you may minimize the number of URL’s or those with editorial content—limiting the potential to drive additional revenue. This does not have to be the case. By using an automated compliance monitor, you can continue to develop and build on the number of URLs and content. Don’t be a slave to the process anymore. Spend time on what’s important: Increasing your presence and growing your revenue.
Credit Card or Offer Feeds
Keeping up with credit cards and their offers can be challenging. Some blogs have lender feeds incorporated directly into their site. While this makes being compliant easier, it can limit the material they want to present to their audience. Others will manually incorporate the information into their sites, which again requires continual discovery and maintenance as these offers can change on a monthly or even weekly schedule. Top industry bloggers have found compliance automation is the key to spending less time on discovery and more time adding blog content.
With the vast number of contracted publishers, affiliates and free publishers in the market, many bloggers struggle with maintaining an accurate inventory of their content and where it is located. Unlike larger companies or corporations that may hire compliance teams to review and maintain content, bloggers often are on their own to manage this task. Don’t be a slave to spreadsheets anymore. Identify strategies to automate your search for URL lists containing specific brands, content, or links.
Search Phrases and Link requirements
There are many variables on how content can be presented to stay compliant. Do you include links to drive traffic to other URLs? Creating an efficient system to display content regarding links and where they point creates additional challenges to the blogging industry. Compliance automation will not only pick up the link copy as shown on the URL, but can also display where it being directed. To assist with requirements for certain language before and/or after a link, seek technology that is smart enough to search and flag instances of potential deviations to the required content.
Bloggers must be mindful of exact wording and phrasing mentioned with offers. Include additionally required disclosures from other regulatory bodies such as the FTC, FCC, CFPB and State Attorney Generals. A good compliance monitoring partner will have rule sets to help you navigate policy and guidance to mitigate your risk.
Considering these five areas will help bloggers maintain compliance in this growing industry. Take control of your digital content to avoid compliance infractions and protect your brand. As you develop a process to manage this content, remember: consistency is key.
For more information on compliance monitoring, contact IntegriShield at 888-547-7110.
You could be missing tens of thousands in missed revenue every year.
Unauthorized publishers are taking advantage of your brand and your inquiries. Put a stop to it. Watch the clip below to discover what this “free” advertising is really costing you.
We often get to come up with great characters to play during mystery shops to admissions representatives. I have done some of the mystery shops myself. I’ve done them for a couple of different reasons. No, it’s not in my job description, but as the President of this company, it’s my responsibility to know how each product works and how each are performed. Yes, I have even used my handyman skills to fix a toilet at the office. In a small company, everyone has to do what it takes to get things done. I have some fun stories of things I have heard while performing mystery shops, and wanted to pass them along for your enjoyment.
I called into a school posing as a local employee of a Walgreens. The rep was very personable and helpful. Of course, we are trained to ask about employment post-graduation and the cost of attending the school in question. This is usually where it gets interesting. This particular gentleman asked again where I worked. I told him I worked at a local Walgreens that was close to the school. His response: “Oh, girl! You could probably go to school here free!” I was excited for my pretend alter ego. We had to immediately report this back to the school and that became his last day. I hope he’s back on his feet with lesson learned!
Let Me Call You Back…
Admissions reps usually know that all of their calls are recorded for quality and auditing purposes. When we pose as potential students, we also record the call on our end to report back to our school clients. On one occasion, an admissions rep was sure she pulled a fast one on the school. I was on the phone with a very nice and helpful person who was truly looking out for my best interests as a person. I told her I was a single mother and might be unable to get transportation to the school for classes. She asked if she could call me back from her cell phone. I obliged. Once we were back on the phone, via her personal cell, she informed me that with the grant money offered by the school, I could buy a new car and get to class every day. With the call recorded on our end, it was a rough day for this otherwise very sweet lady.
Do You Really Want To Go There?
Another way to get a call into an admissions rep is by online lead generation. We fill out forms, and wait for them to call us. It helps us determine the speed of the admission department, the quality of the lead generator and the behavior of call center based operations. I placed my lead information on what seemed to be the school’s landing page and waited. A few minutes passed and I received a call from a call center based rep. She went through the information I provided to make sure it was accurate and then asked what I was interested in. I had filled out a form for a particular school, but once we spoke about my interests, she pointed me to 3 others schools, none of which were the school I originally posed interest in. Yes, she was helpful to me as the person, but did she help me find the best school for me, or was she encouraged to find the school that would pay the highest lead amount? We will never know. https://integrishield.com/behind-the-lines-short-stories-of-mystery-shopping-admissions-reps/ https://integrishield.com/behind-the-lines-short-stories-of-mystery-shopping-admissions-reps/ https://integrishield.com/behind-the-lines-short-stories-of-mystery-shopping-admissions-reps/ https://integrishield.com/behind-the-lines-short-stories-of-mystery-shopping-admissions-reps/The school, however, was notified that potential students were interested in their school and being directed elsewhere.
I hope sharing some of these stories was helpful. We certainly learn something new with every call!
Questions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the past year, for-profit schools in Minnesota have been coming under increased scrutiny. The state’s Office of Higher Education has created a new watchdog which sends out “secret shoppers” to monitor whether schools are misleading or dealing honestly with prospective students. Schools giving misleading information about job-placement rates or how much money graduates could earn in their field are just a couple of examples that would raise concerns with these shoppers.
The new state watchdog has started to compare notes with Minnesota State Attorney General’s Office. This this office can suspend or shut down a school that gives students misleading information, including institutions that a court or government proceeding concludes they have engaged in fraud or misrepresentation.
Monitoring your staff can shield your institution from potential fines and penalties. Some areas to proactively monitor for compliance may include:
- Scripts: Providing scripts for your representatives to follow enables them to touch on key benefits of your institution and direct the conversation toward enrollment.
- Citing Statistics and Job Placement: When a prospect inquires about job placement or expected salaries, statistics provided must be accompanied by an official source such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment can never be promised.
- Financial Aid: Not every student will qualify for financial aid. It is important to provide this clarification and transfer prospective students to a financial aid representative to receive further information.
Get more tips for analyzing and improving the performance of your admission staff, email Shawn Graybill or call 888-547-7110 today.
Institutions are under strict scrutiny surrounding their online advertising efforts. But, it’s also imperative for the institution’s website to be in compliance with the standards and regulations set forth by the Department of Education (DOE), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), your accrediting body and industry standards. Below is a checklist of points to consider when reviewing the information provided on your website.
Compliant Website Checklist:
- Visibility of accreditation statement
- Representation of accreditation – full and complete accreditation information – acronyms and banned terms omitted
- Easily navigable – at least within one click of the homepage
- Provide all required criteria expected to be completed prior to enrollment
- Include all educational requirements
- Contact information provided for prospective students
- Detailed and clear explanation of offerings that the Career Services department provides
- No job placement guarantees
- Omission of banned terms, such as “career placement”
Gainful Employment Disclosures
- Clear presence of disclosure information
- Disclosure information is in the required Gainful Employment Disclosure Template developed by the DOE
- Qualification rules
- How applicants can learn about qualifying
- Financial aid eligibility disclaimer present
- Timeframe for completion listed correctly
- Program length disclaimer
- Listings are accurate and approved by the DOE
- Acceptable states for admissions
- Citations provided for statistics listed on the page
- Consent language present on lead form
- Language must include all components within the FCC definition
- Must be actual statements
- Some accreditors do not allow institutions to use testimonials from current students on their website
Stay tuned for our next webinar where we’ll cover this topic in more depth! Get early access to webinar information.
One of the prominent marketing uses in the education industry today is the use of testimonials to endorse a school. The power of a testimonial shows that success at a particular school not only can happen, but that it has happened. Using case studies to show the effectiveness of an institution’s training program certainly speaks volumes to individuals considering the lengthy commitment of returning to school.
Testimonials can go so far as to endorse a school that they can easily be used to mislead and entice individuals with exaggerated or false claims. Due to excessive use of testimonials the FTC has written guidelines on the dos and don’ts to shape education marketing compliance. Here is a list of guidelines to comply with when using testimonials in marketing materials:
- If a testimonial endorses a service and the result for that endorser was not a typical result, the advertiser must disclose the expected results of that service
- Any transaction that is made between an advertiser and the endorser must be disclosed in the advertisement
- Endorsers not representing “actual customers” must be adjoined with a disclaimer stating the testimonial is not from an actual customer
- Testimonials have timetables. If an endorser provided a testimonial at a time when they were an actual user, the testimonial must still reflect a “current” opinion of that endorser
- Wording cannot be distorted to endorse an advertiser
Testimonials are important as they serve as a connecting point between a successful user and a potential user. Staying in compliance for use of testimonials is just as important and can be followed given thoughtful consideration.
Knowing where and how your school appears is virtually a full-time job in and of itself in the vast community of online marketing. Whether or not your school contracts with a third-party vendor for the purpose of lead generation and online presence, the unauthorized use of your brand is a consistent problem.
Many schools are typically unaware of the extent of their brands’ presence on third-party websites and lead forms. Even institutions that do not buy leads still exist on the web and lead forms are readily available when paired with certain key terms. Unauthorized use of your school name allows room for the possibility of bait and switch techniques.
You might ask yourself:
- We don’t work with this website, so how heavily is it actually trafficked?
- How many potential students per month or per year are utilizing the lead form found on this page?
- Since we don’t purchase online leads, who receives this information?
- What is done with lead information after it is submitted by the prospective student?
Deceptive advertising is a growing problem in the EDU space, and it is important to stay ahead of the game. A prospective student’s information in the hands of someone else or a competitor is of no use to you and can serve as a direct cut to your company’s revenue.
In order to prevent the possibility of baiting and switching of your brand, it is important to employ routine monitoring to identify how and where your school is being advertised. If you buy leads from online vendors, confirm that sites you find are part of their affiliate networks and that they’re meeting compliance regulations.