GDPR is creating panic on the streets of marketing… But it shouldn’t be

So, GDPR… it’s looming on the horizon like a dark, foreboding cloud threatening rain. Or not.

Much has been/ is being/ will be written about GDPR, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be – if you’ve been taking the moral high ground… The only difference will be the consequences if you don’t.

GDPR is about exposing the organisations not taking their marketing and data management seriously – and making them pay a price. Those following best practice have little, if anything, to worry about. As the ICO itself says, “The new regime is an evolution in data protection, not a revolution.” If you have protected your databases; kept them clean; run a morta screen regularly; trained staff; added only people who want to be added and you have someone overseeing and monitoring all of this, then put your feet up and watch the rest of the world chase their tails, taking notes where needed.

The ICO’s July 2015 Operation Cinnabar was a warning shot across the bow for a number of very high-profile charities but, alas, where the commercial sector could have taken notes and learned a few things, I fear most didn’t think it related to them… A number of charities have been implementing sophisticated CRM systems over the last 12-18 months, aiming to get themselves ahead of the game. RNLI in particular is grasping the nettle with both hands and recognises the philosophy behind GDPR and the extent of data protection it aims to implement: only contact people directly who want to be contacted… and respect their privacy. If they’ve asked for info, let them have it! If they haven’t then you need to engage with them another way. We’ll come back to that point later.

Where email marketing has pretty much been a free for all until now (for companies with limited conscience), GDPR reigns everyone in. It sets boundaries in law that some companies have already been operating within; there will no longer be a grey area. Data is not just information; contact details; statistics; behaviour. It’s about people. And privacy. And respect. And this needs to be protected. Consumers need to be seen as people again; not commodities. Companies should know what’s happening to the valuable data they hold; when it’s happening and know when something has gone wrong. From next May, they need to know exactly the point of failure and method of breach and they will need to declare it. See Equifax for details… (other coverage is available…)

So with the ‘free for all’ ending, how do we get people to engage with us as companies and brands? Good marketing and data management has always been about the same thing: getting the right message to the right people at the right time. And this doesn’t change. It’s not rocket science, it’s just that soon it will be the law. And our systems and processes need to enable this more holistic and accountable management.

For the next 8-9 months, there will be an emailing frenzy as lists are cleaned and attempts are made at expanding them – I’ve noticed this happening already. Junk email is breeding as people farm for email addresses and engagement with prospects. You unsubscribe from one list; you simply end up on another as your details are passed around. Data scientists are already playing with companies and intentionally testing our database management scruples! No doubt some big names are already on watch lists…

But don’t assume that because you’re not a ‘big name’, it doesn’t apply. This is about protecting us all as consumers – you need to look at this wearing both your business hat and your private individual hat…

Rich and permissive data is already a currency

If you’re one of these companies flying by the seat of your pants, you need to start cleaning up your act quickly (roles, responsibilities and processes for reporting) as there won’t be a period of grace. Governments will seek fouls to set examples to get their message across and the legal sector will seek to set precedents.

So, don’t be the precedent. Be prepared. And find another way to engage and impact your prospects. There will be renewed pressure on marketers to keep on finding and enticing these people. My prediction? A revival in brand building activity: TV and online commercials… sponsorship will thrive… experiential events… influencer and social media engagement… and a re-ignition of ‘press’ advertising, albeit it not printed, perhaps. Ooh! What about DR coupons?! Remember those? Now that was permissive marketing!

Roll on 25 May 2018. I’m happy to help, if you need it…

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