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Roundtable discussion

Talking ’bout a revolution

7th July 2017 • Features

Database Marketing convened a roundtable of some of the industry’s leading lights, supported by The REaD Group, to take a deep dive into the biggest topic in data.


The word ‘revolution’ is one of those much-abused clichés that find their way into too many press releases and marketing conversations, but when it comes to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) it is forgivable to resort to the infamous ‘r’ word. It’s only a mild exaggeration to say that, for data and insight-driven marketers, GDPR changes everything.

The genesis of GDPR has been a long and convoluted one, however, prompting a vast amount of rumour, scare-mongering, misinformation and worse. As the GDPR was only published in the Official Journal of the European Union on May 4, 2016, many have argued that it hasn’t given marketers enough time to digest the contents and understand the profound implications in time for the implementation date of May 25, 2018.

It was only relatively recently that marketers could actually start making concrete plans, safe in the knowledge that their strategies had a decent chance of delivering the outcomes they sought in good time for the deadline marked in red pen in the 2018 calendar of every data marketer in the UK.

A quick look through the mammoth GDPR document is enough to see that truly understanding the content and setting in place structures to guarantee compliance beyond any reasonable doubt is a truly significant undertaking, particularly for organisations that routinely rely on data and insight to fuel their business.

Question time

How well do organisations understand the obligations that now lie upon them? How far advanced are they in their preparations? How have they gone about breaking GDPR into manageable, actionable chunks? All these questions and more were behind a roundtable convened at The Gherkin in London by Database Marketing, with the kind and generous support of The REaD Group, the UK’s leading independent data communications agency.

We were keen to discover how some of the UK’s biggest and best businesses and charities were faring in their race to May 18 and how traumatic (or otherwise) that journey was proving to be.

The agenda for the day was extensive but covered a range of important topics including:  the key challenges facing marketers in complying with all GDPR regulations; the profound implications for customer engagement and retention; the likely impacts on the customer relationship and how these can be managed; and the increased complexity of managing omnichannel marketing under GDPR.

In order to canvas as wide an opinion as possible from the key industry verticals, representatives from a number of leading charities, business and organisations were invited to attend, including Ageas, Age UK, AIG, ASOS, Domestic and General, News UK, Photobox, Rank, Swiss Re and Talk Talk.

While the vast majority of what was said on the day was off the record, for obvious reasons, it is worthwhile to examine the topics that cropped up during the conversation and the general feeling of the group around the table with regard to these issues:

Not a box-ticking exercise

Interestingly, the overwhelming feeling around the table when asked about how far down the road to compliance they were was met with the response that this wasn’t simply a compliance, or ‘ticking the box’ issue, it was all about customer service and ensuring that customer service improves through GDPR, rather than suffers.

Fine mess

The increasing power and increasingly sharp teeth of the Information Commissioner’s Office were warmly welcomed by those in attendance as a positive step towards wiping out those who have historically been able to play fast and loose with the rules, often at the expense of the play-by-the-rules majority.

Consent challenges

The GDPR states that consent must be “freely given, unambiguous and informed” and a small debate ensued around incentivising consumers to give consent. Some believed consumers understand the value exchange they get for providing data in return for a benefit of some kind, while others questioned whether incentivised consent can truly be viewed as “freely given”. The ICO’s advice on this area is not as clear as it could have been.

The issue of generic third-party consent was another contentious issue, having long played an important role in data marketing. A case study was cited of a major publisher wishing to “wipe out third party data” entirely, stating that “GDPR didn’t go far enough” with a focus entirely on first party opted-in data as the only way forward.

Legitimate interest

The topic of “legitimate interest”, as defined in the GDPR document, aroused some enthusiastic discussion. It remains extremely unclear what may or may not be defined as legitimate interest and there will certainly be interesting cases that arise post May 2018 as prosecutions serve to clarify exactly how the ICO views legitimate interest.

Generational evolution

There was consensus that millennials have a far better grasp of the risks and potential rewards of offering up personal data in return for a benefit, although one or two dissenters said their experience shows that older consumers are increasingly savvy and even go as far as contacting them to ask why they are not being sent offers that others have been receiving.

It was also pointed out that consumers have historically shown themselves willing to evolve and adapt with the technology, as was the case when cookie legislation was introduced.

Language barrier

An interesting section of the discussion centred around the language employed in and around data and data marketing. Even the word ‘consent’ has a legalistic, formal air that is perhaps not contributing positively to the nature of the activity being carried out – and can be intimidating for consumers and put them on the defensive from the off.

The often-prosaic form that many existing consent forms take also helps confuse the matter and is clearly not consistent with the spirit of the GDPR regulations.

Volume and value

As the amount of fully consented marketing data inevitably shrinks in the wake of GDPR, the value of the remaining data will consequently rise in value. The implication here is that retention marketing will increase in importance.

Charitable challenge

With charities represented, a portion of the discussion centred around the new Fundraising Preference Service, meaning charities now have two significant sets of compliance challenges, not just the single GDPR challenge that non-charities face. Both sets of regulations are highly likely to make a massive negative impact on charity donations.

Mark Roy, Chairman of The REaD Group, closed the session with an enthusiastic thanks for an insightful and thoroughly interesting day.

“There’s no question that GDPR changes everything and we have been privileged to gain some invaluable insight today from some of the UK’s finest data-driven businesses and charities in some very pleasant surroundings,” he said. “For our part, The REaD Group is proud to have been able to support the event today and we look forward to helping the industry navigate what promises to be an interesting and challenging but potentially extremely positive future.”

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