As the countdown to the impending General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) continues, so do the media conversations seemingly intent on creating panic in the marketing industry. There is much speculation around how the new rules will impact brands' abilities to understand and communicate with their customers. After all, data has fast become the foundation of marketing and brand relationships in today's digital age.
One of the most crucial changes for marketers to prepare for is that of 'consent,' the permission given by an individual to allow the processing and use of their personal data. Draft GDPR guidance issued by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) this month indicates that marketers will have to be far more transparent when it comes to asking consumers for this permission. For example, things like pre-ticked opt-in boxes will no longer be a valid means of obtaining consent. Instead, businesses will be required to obtain unambiguous consent from consumers with active opt-in protocols, and must provide granular details into how the data will be used upfront. Consent requests cannot be tied up in other terms and conditions or be a precondition of signing up to a service. And for each channel through which a brand can communicate, consumers must be given separate consent options so they can pick and choose what ones they do and do not agree to.
The new rules are fundamentally a good thing, putting consumers at the heart of marketing and promoting more transparency and trust in the industry. However, much tighter regulation on consent could mean that marketers lose the ability to target new consumers to the brand and the ability to profile their customer data to enhance marketing campaigns and provide relevant offers. The question is: with increasing scepticism around sharing personal data, how can marketers win over consumers and ensure they are maintaining relationships with them post-GDPR implementation in 2018?
Marketers for big, well-trusted brands such as Amazon, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer will have little difficulty securing consent from consumers. They recognise the value exchange in sharing their personal data with these brands in return for a personalised and rewarding customer experience. Brands that will inevitably have more of a struggle will be those less established, less trusted or with less of a natural appeal.
Insurance companies, for example, may well have a battle on their hands when it comes to securing consent, mainly because insurance is perceived by consumers as a pain purchase. Utilities companies may have a similar challenge. The fact is, consumers often simply don't want a relationship with insurance and utilities providers, and don't see the value in their products being marketed to them. As far as consumers are concerned, things like utilities and insurance are necessary purchases and provide little incentive to offer up their personal data for.
That said, there are steps that can be taken by marketers across all industries and sectors to maximise their chances of securing data consent in the wake of GDPR. Executing highly targeted marketing campaigns to source consent from consumers in the run up to the regulation is a great place to start. This would require profiling customer databases to identify different consumer segments, and developing highly personalised strategies to convince them to maintain an ongoing relationship with your brand through consent. Each target audience will already have different relationships with your brand, underpinned by their individual lifestyle factors, attitudes, purchasing behaviour and communication preferences. Segmenting audiences and analysing these attributes will enable marketers to build a detailed picture of their customers and understand how best to persuade them of the data value exchange in a way that is relevant.
Targeted marketing campaigns around consent will ultimately yield the most valuable customers and enable brands to further refine their marketing approach. Inevitably, some consumers will choose to withhold personal data permissions but it's likely that those that do would probably not be open to ongoing communications anyway. After all, why invest in consumers that are not willing to engage with your brand? Your marketing efforts and budgets are much better spent on those that have actively requested contact. These consumers will also appreciate the open, honest and transparent foundation upon which you intend to build the relationship going forward.
There is no denying that it is critical for brands to secure the ability to continue using consumer data from May 2018. Though there will inescapably be consumers that opt-out from providing consent, a transparent approach to data collection will ultimately lead to better quality, more valuable customer data and more profitable customer relationships as a result. The new age of consent should not be feared. If navigated effectively, it will be a very profitable step forwards for marketers.