Sooner or data… the GDPR will be viewed as a positive turning point in marketing

GPDR – four letters that continue to strike fear into the heart of many in the marketing profession.  Marketers have had to re-examine many of their well-established industry practices to ensure compliance.  Pre-GDPR, marketers held a lot of power and could use data with few restrictions and this naturally led to resentment from customers of the “batch and blast” style of direct marketing.  Advances in technology were far in advance of the previous regulations which came into force in a world before the smartphones were even launched and when voice assistants were something found only in sci-fi.

We now have a wide variety of digital channels to engage with target customers; combined with the ability to capture and analyse increasingly huge sets of customer data. Not only about the transaction itself but also of buyer behaviour pre and post purchase.  This allows marketers to position their product or service at exactly the “right place at the right time” by having the intelligence at their fingertips.  The marketing holy grail of understanding both why customers purchase as well as why they abandon their shopping carts looked increasingly achievable.

The introduction of the GDPR has helped to empower the customer.  It is ironic that in the months leading up to May 2018, the regulation that was specifically designed to target unwanted marketing email, actually generated a deluge.  My inbox overflowed with emails from companies that I had not heard from in years telling me it was now or never to stay in touch.  Like many, I used inaction as an opportunity to clean-up my inbox removed myself from many mailing lists.

During those months (and the year before) as a marketer working on a GDPR marketing compliance programme, it felt as if GDPR was haunting me.  Now that marketing emails can only be sent either with the recipient’s positive consent or under legitimate interests (a documented process requiring companies to demonstrate on what grounds they are processing the data); it forced a change in mindset.  In the past, quantity was very much prized over quality. In addition lists of customer emails could be bought and used for distribution with little regulation.  This resulted in huge amounts of and an over-reliance upon lazy email marketing.  You sought to send your campaign to as many people as possible in order to generate clicks and responses, and even a response rate of 0.5% was regarded as good. People forgot that this meant that just one person in 200 was sufficiently interested in your product to respond !. 

Now, under GDPR, marketers need to take a more considered multi-channel approach both on and offline. Whilst the regulation is positive for consumers - who can take back control of their data and reduce unsolicited email - the list brokering industry has been severely impacted by the GDPR.  , The risk of purchasing a list of non-compliant leads can be considered too high for some

As always where there is change in the market, opportunity is also to be found. Royal Mail have capitalised upon GDPR with their campaign to encourage businesses to move from email to postal mail marketing.  This is a reversal of fortune for an industry previously overtaken by technology that has found a significant source of new business from risk-adverse organisations.

Being risk adverse towards the impact of GDPR is also a huge opportunity for brands that fully embrace it rather than take the box-ticking approach to compliance.  One of the key pillars of the GDPR is to ensure that a customer's data is treated in accordance with their preferences.  At the risk of stating the obvious, successful brands should be doing this anyway to retain their customers.  Marketers must ensure that one of their brand values is trust – trust in the fact that consumer data is secure and will only be used for the agreed purposes. Continued compliance is an opportunity for a touchpoint with customers; a way to keep in touch using regular check-in or nudge point with your brand.  Having to include wording such as “why am I seeing or receiving this?” prominently in campaigns brings a personalised element to customer service.

Data protection compliance should be considered as an element of customer service. In fact, in a world of newly empowered data subjects (aka customers) it is one of the most important along with after service or product delivery.  The GDPR significantly increases the rights of customers as data subjects.  Brands need to be aware of this power in the customer’s hands as we all know that poor customer service has ramifications.    As we move into an era of buying experiences rather than just simple products or services from brands, data protection compliance must become part of that experience.

Regulation should not be viewed as an obstacle to creating an experience, instead it can help towards improving campaign return on investment.  Referencing back to the “batch and blast” era, it’s a complete reversal to quality not quantity.  Campaign conversion rates should be  higher if you are only targeting those who actually want to know about your brand and have taken the time to opt-in.

Surely allowing customers to self-manage their data preferences online is the biggest gift that the GDPR gives to marketers as customers are self-segmenting. The data which customers freely provide in a transparent data capture form is much easier and lower risk for brands to control and process compliantly to deliver at scale than datasets permissible under previous regulation.

Before you get too comfortable though, watch out for the ePrivacy Directive which is the next potential regulatory change in the pipeline for marketers!

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