General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): the end of ‘irrelevant’ marketing?

Thanks to working with clients such as the Credit Services Association (the UK trade body for the debt collection sector), I’ve had to learn quite a lot about General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); a piece of European legislation which comes into force next year.

As a content marketing specialist, I believe that email marketing is still a relevant means of reaching and engaging with your audiences in certain circumstances if executed correctly. But, it has never been a successful means of broadcasting mass messages, and it should never have been seen as such. Why? Because, like your doorstep or your letterbox, your email inbox should not be intruded upon by someone trying to sell you something that you did not ask for, especially now that you can proactively search online for anything you want.

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This useful City AM article argues that GDPR will spell the end of ‘irrelevant marketing’ because of its demand for “active opt-in” for personal data collection. It highlights new Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) research which reports that half of those who have ever received marketing say it is never relevant to them and questions why, in the age of information and personalised data, marketers are getting it so wrong.

The problem is, the more ‘data’ that you gather on your audiences, the more generalisations you make about what they will be interested in. And the more opportunities brands have to superficially get in front of them based on assumptions derived from the data. Just because I looked at a pair of shoes on a website yesterday, doesn’t mean I want to be reminded about them in an ad down the side of my email or Facebook account the next day. In fact, I feel so aggrieved at this level of intrusion, I am less likely to buy the pair of shoes.

We may now be living in a world where people freely post personal information about themselves online, but we are becoming more averse to that information being used by brands to ‘trick’ us into thinking they magically know what we want. I’m sure I’m not the only one who skips over the obvious ads in Google search results because I know they have been paid for and therefore are less likely to be relevant to what I’m looking for than the organic results.

GDPR may ‘force’ brands to get approval for sending marketing to people but regulation won’t stop ‘irrelevant’ marketing. That comes down to taking the time to truly understand your customer – not as part of a mass group, but as individuals. Impossible? No, not if you take the time to listen and ensure that what you have to say has some meaning.

The lesson? Quality over quantity always wins. If you have a small but high quality database of people who want to hear from you and you send them low frequency, high quality content that you know they want to read, you will get a much greater return on investment. GDPR isn’t something for marketers to be scared of; it’s an opportunity for those who are getting it fundamentally wrong to stop damaging their reputation through poor customer comms.

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