Bigger than Beyoncé – why it’s time to listen to GDPR

Bigger than Beyoncé – why it’s time to listen to GDPR

In the weeks leading up to May 25th, I was inundated with emails from people pleading with me not to break up with them.

“IS THIS THE END?” – said Sandro from my favourite pizza chain. “Was that a yes, Anne?” – said another hopeful customer service operator from East Anglia rail network. And out of the blue, “Our last email. Just one click to stay in touch”- from a Ski Chalet host I stayed with five years ago.

When I say people, I do of course mean brands. And when I say break-up, I mean opting out of receiving emails from them.

From 25th May, any brand that handles EU customer data has to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation – AKA GDPR.

If you haven’t heard of the GDPR already then you’ve probably been living under a rock. According to Mashable, the term GDPR was googled more times than Beyoncé in May. Big news, right?

At the heart of it, the GDPR seeks to give people more power over their data. The digital revolution exploded into our lives – and data privacy is still playing catch up. People are starting to realise that data is knowledge – knowledge is power – and power is money. If personal data is a commodity, then we are a commodity, and we have a right to decide what and with whom we are willing to share it.

While there are many aspects to the GDPR, the most relevant outcome for communicators include the need to seek active consent from EU customers before they can contact them (hence the pleading emails), and the ability for EU customers to request data that a company holds on them and how exactly it is being used.

As a Brit, I naturally received many more pleading emails than those who have always lived in Australia. But with the internet breaking down borders, applying these conditions starts to get blurry. That’s why most global brands have enforced a blanket GDPR policy. Those who fail to comply, face significant penalties.

Last week, my attention was piqued by an invitation to attend Firebrand’s panel session in Sydney on ‘Digital Connectivity and Data Privacy’. The line-up was impressive: Atlassian, Oracle, Marketo and Havas. I was keen to understand how organisations were approaching communication in this new era; how brands were responding to the cataclysmic decimation of their databases; and ultimately – did anyone really care?

My key take-aways:

  1. Communicators who care about their craft need not worry. The panel argued that any marketing professional proud of their craft would not be fazed by a depleted database. This is because they would understand that a smaller, yet highly engaged audience will always provide greater returns – and they should only want to communicate with those who want to hear from them. But some comments from the audience did indicate that many are troubled – particularly those working in high-volume, low margin industries where it has traditionally been a numbers game.
  2. Those who succeed will be those who truly seek to understand and appreciate what their customers want. Looking back on those pleading emails, they went straight to the pointy end of persuasion. They needed me to take action, so they needed to think hard about their message. Some promised me money or bargain deals, others did their best to articulate the sort of information I would get access to – sneak peaks, exclusive access. Brands started to really think hard about what it is that would make me remain loyal – and this can only be good news for us customers.
  3. Your customers are your new best friend. You might not be able to reach new audiences in a GDPR era, but there are other ways and means. When you start to consider why you are holding data, it challenges you to start thinking about how you can make the data you do have work hard. How can you build greater brand loyalty among your existing customers – and turn them into your advocates?
  4. The need for a singular data policy. Organisations can’t afford to operate in silos anymore. The panel questioned whether every brand in Australia could – if asked – provide Joe Bloggs with every piece of data on him and how it was being used? The data trail can become sprawling and it’s not only bad for compliance, but also customer experience. From procuring technology through to handling data sets and sharing information among teams – a cohesive approach is required.

As the night came to a close, it dawned on me that May 25th was the start, not the end.

As communicators in Australia wake up to the opportunity presented by GDPR, I will enjoy waking up to a cleaner, clearer mailbox. Yes, I ignored the pleading emails. Because until the brands who want me actually listen up, I’m afraid we will remain “on a break”.

Anne Coleman, Consultant – N2N Communications

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