GDPR - An opportunity for business clad in regulatory clothing

Sarah Hooper, council member for digital trade body BIMA and director at Amaze One, explains why marketers and their agencies need to get their heads out of the sand about GDPR before some really clear opportunities pass them by.   

Like Brexit, GDPR is another EU challenge that businesses are about to face, feel they don’t know enough about and are unsure of the consequences. While I can’t speak for Brexit, what I can say is that GDPR - with the right mindset - shouldn’t be the harbinger of doom some are making it out to be. 

Certainly, there are plenty of headlines that suggest businesses are right to be worried. “Tech sector struggles to prepare for new EU data protection laws” warns no-one other than the Financial Times. Director of Finance magazine also seems very worried about the implications for cash reserves: “GDPR: Could the threat of harsh fines spell the end of big data?” 

But, as someone at the coalface of the digital and data world, I am trying not to get too stressed about GDPR. If you put in place some logical steps you can protect yourself, your staff, your clients and their customers from any future data mishandling.   

There’s no question that many have been scared of the implications of GDPR. It’s the reason there’s been a bit of a head in the sand attitude. They are confronted by stats that suggest 75% of the UK’s current marketing data will become obsolete after the legislation is enacted and the risk of not complying could be as high as €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover.   

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of businesses haven’t started any sort of implementation and a quarter are under the misapprehension that Brexit means they won’t have to bother. Short answer: they will. It’s definitely time for some clear thinking on the matter.   

While BIMA currently has no fixed guidelines, along with other groups such as the ICO and DMA, we’ve been formulating what we believe is a good, foundational best practice advice that will help carry businesses forward into a GDPR age.   

The first thing to note is that yes, the power over customer data is very much passing from the marketer back to the customer. Does this make it a challenge to gain and manage that data, so very necessary for building customer relationships? Undoubtedly. But since that insight is essential, companies have to get down to building transparency and value into their customer communications. That means opting in to sharing data is just one more endorsement of that relationship, rather than a reluctant transfer of power.  

Next it’s time to clean the house. Out with the old, outdated customer data and in with the new - a thorough cleansing of the stuff that can stay. Are permissions in place? Is data held in areas where the right staff with the right permissions can access it? The much vaunted single customer view is the next step but it’s useless if you’re trying to build it on a house of cards consisting entirely of shoddily acquired, inaccurate information.   

Like the best precious stones or rarest artworks, with data, provenance is key. If you can’t explain how you got it, where you got it from and what you’re allowed to use it for, you’re going to go down at the first GDPR hurdle.   

Operating in this new era of transparency can be uncharted territory for businesses. It’s not to say they deliberately set out to be the opposite in the past. Instead, it means revolutionising how they work with clients, going far beyond taking the brief and making it work. Getting on board with GDPR becomes a far more collaborative process between service provider and client.

With your collaborative house in order it becomes all about technology. Where working with, and not just for, clients might be a tougher mountain to climb in some relationships. Happily digital businesses tend to be in a much better place when it comes to tech readiness.   

The single, unified customer view is going to be essential - there’s no debate about that - but for the majority of agencies to function in even a pre-GDPR world, getting their data and tech working together in perfect harmony shouldn’t be much of an ask, if at all.     

If all this work towards GDPR is starting to have a bit of a ‘Millennium Bug’ feel to it, it shouldn’t. The byproduct of that frenzied panic about planes falling like stones from the sky as the result of a confused BIOS clock was just propagated by lots of briefly wealthy but not very good IT consultants.   

The byproduct of GDPR should ideally be a tighter-knit, more efficient and effective way of working in a world that is already pushing to have customer experience at its core. Its series of intended consequences touches every part of the marketing industry.   

Perhaps far more indicative of brand trust than a net promoter score or five star TripAdvisor rating will be your customers’ willingness to share their data.   

And if you think this is just a brand issue, think again. As customers judge which brands to buy from by they cut of their data jib, those brands will select their agencies on the degree of confidence they inspire when it comes to data guardianship.   

GDPR may seem like a piece of legislation brought down from above but it’s perhaps more helpful to think of it as the catalyst for a more cooperative, collaborative working relationship between all the parties who come together to serve the customer.   

Sarah Hooper, BIMA council member and director at Amaze One 

Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock