It’s now less than three months until GDPR is to be enforced. We all know that nothing focuses the mind like a deadline and the countdown is ticking louder and louder. However, there is still widespread confusion and (at time of writing) numerous stories appearing about how businesses still don’t know how to prepare for the incoming changes. This is for several reasons including people not taking it seriously enough, soon enough, but also because there are still a lot of grey areas around guidance.
The business I work for has been in the business of consumer data for nearly 50 years now. If we’ve learned anything in that time, it’s two things. One: data protection and ethics is our business, it’s the business of all data-driven marketing. It’s impossible to do one without the other. Two: data is all about the individual, the customer. Whether it is fuelled by consumer sentiment leading legislation, or people simply voting with their wallets, it is the consumer we all ultimately serve. They are our reigning monarchs.
Business that fail to understand that the customer is king (or queen), are likely to fail to understand and implement the GDPR. We recently ran some research, in partnership with the DMA (independently conducted by The Foresight Factory) which takes stock of how consumer attitudes towards data are changing. And they are changing. It may be a slower evolution than some would like, but it should be obvious that changing the minds of many takes time. Especially when some businesses still cannot seem to wrap their heads around the ‘customer comes first, always’ approach.
The research reiterates one simple truth, one that came through so loudly in the same research ran in 2015. Trust and transparency are the watchwords with consumers, they are the two biggest factors among people when it comes to who they share their data with. For the less data-literate out there, I should be clear. “Who they share their data with” equates to “who they are willing to interact with and buy from”.
Of course people are concerned about data privacy. We should find this reassuring. If they weren’t concerned about who has their data and what they do with it, it wouldn’t be as important to us, nor would it tell us anything we didn’t already know. Now while almost two-thirds of consumers are happy with the amount of personal information they currently share, this happiness is a direct factor of trust and transparency about how that information is kept, protected, and used. It is also very clear from the research that while the vast majority of us are concerned about data privacy, how we actually think about it differs. This is akin to the fact the majority of us are concerned about child welfare, education, the health service and the environment, but how we’d approach each differs.
We learn at a young age that trust can’t be bought. It can only be earned, and earning it is a continual process. The fact that so many businesses are still claiming that they don’t know how to implement GDPR is a huge risk to undermining that trust. Countless marketers are now looking at GDPR and thinking ‘hang on, what do you mean I can’t use this data’ and that’s the crux of it, now we’re really beginning to understand the data is the customer and the customer is the data. If you can’t use data you’re decoupled from your customers and prospects.
So, there is still a cautionary end to this tale: rather like preparing for GDPR, building and keeping customer trust is not a matter of once-and-done compliance. GDPR is about respect for the customer data you hold, and instilling a longstanding respect within an organisation for how that information is used, who gains access to it, and how it is protected.
This is the real world, and these are real people. As we ready ourselves and our clients for the new world under GDPR, we should all at the very least be consistent in our approach to building and maintaining that trust. Access to their data isn’t just about protecting business interests and stopping customers defecting to alternatives. It’s also about using that information to find ways to serve them better, all the time.