The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is set to be a seminal moment for UK marketers. To truly understand what it means, the first step is to forget a lot of what you have already heard about it.

GDPR is not a harbinger of doom nor is it some peripheral ‘technical’ piece of regulation that you can leave to the IT person to worry about. Yes, GDPR will change how marketers do their job and failing to adapt could land your organisation on the wrong end of a substantial fine. It is also true that large portions of the regulation cover processes and governance structures that the average marketer does not need to know. However, the vast majority of the legislation covers the protection, storage, use and retention of personal data. It is a mechanism for empowering people to take control of their data, hold those that misuse data to account, and a game-changer when it comes to transparency and security.

Viewing GDPR as a vehicle for restoring trust and promoting innovation in marketing is the first step to getting to grips with its implications.

GDPR will give a consumer the right to modify, delete and receive a copy of the data any organisation holds on them. Businesses will also have to earn explicit consent from people to use their data for marketing purposes and also receive marketing messages. This consent can also be revoked as easily as it was given, at any time. Consequently, GDPR necessitates a personal data strategy that may involve the purchase or construction of data management infrastructure, the creation of data governance procedures and investment in marketing technology. In short, a data management strategy will no longer be a nice to have but a legal necessity.

Data management, if done correctly, with data harmonised, cleaned, centralised and made accessible, is a huge driver of marketing innovation. It opens the door to complex data science techniques such as attribution modelling, recommendation engines, micro-segmentation and hyper-personalisation. A single customer view is also enabled helping to marry sales, customer service and marketing functions. Put simply, by getting this infrastructure in place, marketers will be able to send more timely, relevant and personalised content to customers, and get deeper insights on the impact of campaigns.

‘Hold on’, you might say. ‘Surely all good marketers should be doing this already?’ That is true, these techniques are not new, but they are far from the mainstream for a few reasons - cost, trust and necessity. However, GDPR changes this equation. With reference to cost, ahead of the May 2018 compliance deadline, all organisations will need to run an explicit consent campaign to their customer base. Inevitably, this will result in a significant reduction in customers opting in to receive marketing material. This is either disastrous or good news depending upon how confident you are of your product and marketing proposition. Both will be tested to the limit. Businesses that offer a desirable product with a good value proposition have the potential to excel. Those who rely on quantity over quality to succeed are likely to suffer.

The availability and access to personal data currently held on your competitors’ servers is also likely to become a hotly contested battleground of opportunity. Persuade your customers to request their data from competitors and consent it to you and you can innovate your products and services in ways we could only dream of previously.

This brings me to necessity. With consumers rightly wielding so much power over their own data and able to revoke their consent at any time, marketing propositions will need to improve drastically. Spamming and spray and pray will be a thing of the past. Repeated mass mail outs, using third party data, non-optimised reengagement or retargeting campaigns will all be punished by more discerning and empowered consumers. We are likely to see businesses entering into an innovation arms race to enhance their marketing. The techniques I’ve listed above will become the norm and marketers will be given the freedom, through competition, to explore more cutting-edge targeting, personalisation and reporting methods.

Of course, none of this will be possible without the final ingredient – trust. 

Businesses will have to priorities the security of the data they hold, clearly communicate privacy terms and inform customers if there are any breaches. This, together with the fact that people are able to make clear decisions on the messages they receive and what happens with their data, provides knowledge and control to customers. As a result, the ‘creepiness factor’ of personalised communications will be vastly reduced. Consumers will be open to more innovative marketing techniques safe in the knowledge they can revoke consent and have their data deleted at the click of a button.

The innovation factor is just one facet of how GDPR will positively impact marketing. Data skills, B2B communication, measuring success, and the principles of marketing strategy will also radically change. If you’re a marketer you need to start thinking about GDPR as the biggest single opportunity to improve marketing performance in decades, not a tick box exercise that’ll make ‘business as usual’ a little bit more complicated. It is a chance to hit the reset button and embark on a radical new path of innovative marketing.