The purpose of this paper is to propose that consumer goodwill can best be understood as a limited, but potentially renewable resource. Like a renewable natural resource, consumer goodwill can be over‐exploited. A review of the rise and rapid fall of the business‐to‐consumer (b‐to‐c) telemarketing industry in the USA provides evidence that over‐exploitation of consumer goodwill is precisely what happened. Using telemarketing as a case study, the paper aims to argue that direct marketing practices ought to be managed in accordance with principles of sustainability. If they are not, the consequences may be sudden and near‐permanent declines in consumer responsiveness.
The paper interprets the rise and rapid fall of b‐to‐c telemarketing in the USA through the theoretical framework of sustainability. The rise of telemarketing began in the early 1990s with the adoption of predictive dialer technology. Its demise can be marked by the passage of the Federal Do Not Call Registry in 2003.
It was found that the framework of sustainability does, in fact, seem to adequately describe events surrounding the rise, then near‐collapse of b‐to‐c telemarketing in the USA during this timeframe.
Being a conceptual paper, the principal finding is that there exists a real, but yet‐undefined threshold of consumer goodwill towards consumer telemarketing. How can that threshold be determined? How can industry self‐regulate to remain below its threshold? Can an industry that has over‐exploited its consumer threshold of goodwill ever recover? These questions are raised, not answered.
The paper applies the concept of sustainability to direct marketing. It will be of interest to any researchers or practitioners who seek to comprehend what worked so well then went quickly so wrong with b‐to‐c telemarketing in the USA. The findings may help to prevent similar consumer backlashes in other countries where b‐to‐c telemarketing has only begun to become common practice. These findings may also have value for practitioners who rely on consumer goodwill in other direct marketing channels, such as e‐mail and catalog marketing.
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