How to Make GDPR Work for Marketing Teams

Marketers, let’s be honest. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) isn’t going to make your job easier.

Set to go into effect in May, GDPR will formally make customers who reside in the EU owners of their personally identifiable information (PII), which is defined by the legislation as addresses, birth dates, government issued identity numbers, credit card data, bank account information, IP addresses, mobile device numbers and biometric information (e.g., fingerprints, digital facial recognition).

GDPR, among many other things, mandates that organizations obtain “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous” consent from each customer to use their information for most forms of engagement.

For brands serving EU residents, or those with global aspirations, GDPR is going to nullify or curtail some of your go-to moves. No longer will you be able to plant a cookie in customers’ web browsers without their knowing in order to retarget ads well after they have left your site. Nor will you be allowed to purchase a set of email addresses from a third party and e-blast your sales offers, weekly newsletter or catalog to your entire customer and prospect list out of the blue. Gone will be the days where the onus is on the customer to opt out by pressing an unsubscribe button or deselecting pre-checked boxes after receiving uninvited messages. Marketers are going to have to get customers’ explicit opt-in to begin and maintain many forms of communication, including ongoing delivery of special offers.

Yes, it is going to be tougher to get consumers to opt into newsletters and special-offer emails, or to keep their permission to serve ads. However, the hard work that will go into working around these limitations will pay off big time. Marketers have a tremendous opportunity to turn strict consent standards into more powerful customer engagement.

Like a punchline, timing is key—but good customer service is no joke

As it is in comedy, highly personalized marketing that presents mutual value for you and your customer is all about creativity and timing. An airline, for example, might choose to ask for permission to send flight updates just as passengers have ordered an Uber or based on a simple estimate based on boarding times. Or perhaps a big-box department store or specialty kitchen retailer might want to send a shopper reading remodel articles a suggestion to opt into alerts on bulk discounts on groups of appliances.

With the right timing, an initial concession from the customer can lay the groundwork for progressive consent and incremental value gain. That airline could build on the flight status alerts and ask about how to make the rest of the trip pleasant, from whether one prefers an aisle or window all the way down to what type of drink they prefer. Brands could then use that information to refine the product experience and improve it over time.

One of GDPR’s overarching objectives is to make it so communication is on the consumer’s terms. This isn’t such a bad thing. It forces brands to deliver something the customer wants, hyper-personalize communication and build value around consumers’ known needs—all things marketers are supposed to be doing anyway.

It actually isn’t far off of some of today’s most commonly used models. Amazon has used its better prices as the incentive to get people to initially purchase Prime memberships but also to get buy-in to use browsing activity to make recommendations. A food delivery service might similarly see its customers’ need to have dinner brought to their door as a chance to ask for permission to customize discount offers and special-menu option notices based on order history. Or brands can work backwards and let people know that they missed out on a deal for jeans because they hadn’t opted into flash sales notifications.

Social media holds more clues

It is going to be more important than ever to earn consent to access and use the likes, preferences and discussion threads from social profiles through social login, the practice of allowing customers to sign into a brand account using the credentials of a social network or other third party. Survey results have shown that 47 percent will like a brand’s page and 24 percent will share or mention a brand’s post or page in exchange for a free product. Perhaps this provides a clue as to how brands can entice customers to allow them to follow their discussions about products, services, issues, news or gossip?

Ideally, brands would then better personalize communication based on this information, which in turn would yield more granular consents from the consumer. For example, if a magazine publisher sees that a customer’s Facebook and Twitter activity is geared toward muscle cars, it would know to ask the individual if they can send information about free trials to their subscription-based automobile magazines. From there, they can ask to present discount offers within that trial period.

Turning GDPR into a positive

GDPR may create more legwork, but it will also reduce overreliance on tactics that draw customers’ ire—the type that are forcing consumers to block ads at a higher rate, for example. It should also create some efficiencies that will offset some of the additional effort that will be required; an email list of 250 higher-quality prospects will be much more manageable than a 25,000-person database, to which you have likely been using the “spray-and-pray” method to send unsolicited information. Ultimately, GDPR will force you to get to know your customers in greater detail so you can deliver the information, products and services they need.

Isn’t that what good marketing is about anyway?

Bryta Schulz is vice president of marketing at Janrain.

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