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GDPR – It’s our own fault…4 min read

So we’ve three weeks to go until the big GDPR day of reckoning. A big day for any business involved in any way with data – which is pretty much every business.

Is anyone else as frustrated as me of hearing those four letters? 

During the past six months this topic has taken up literally millions of hours of businesses’ time. I’ve barely seen Kevin Joyner, our Director of Planning & Insight.

Cottage industries have built up around specialists in the space; lawyers charging a fortune to advise businesses on what they should do around GDPR.

And we’re all holding our breath to see what’s going to happen.

And why? How have we got here?

Collectively as an industry we have let this happen, through our lack of foresight and obsession with squeezing as much as we can from the unsuspecting consumer.

Buy this, buy that, talk to me, listen to me, hire this person, have this job, look here, dear Mr Smith. We are quite simply bombarding the general public with messages. Messages that are 95% of the time missing the point and badly unwanted.

We have the technology, but we don’t use it properly. We’re at best clumsy with how we connect, at worst creepy and massively over-intrusive.

The Daily Mail brigade don’t help, instilling fear and loathing into the population at large: ‘Evil advertising giants have all your information and are set to control your life’.

And even if we thought we were helping ourselves, we weren’t. Yeah you can get an ROI from remarketing that is as good as any channel, a conversion rate of 2% which challenges even paid search as the best-performing digital channel. But what about that other 98% of people that we’ve been doggedly following around the Internet; ‘you went on my site, you must want to buy, talk to me, hey come back and buy from me’. How do those people feel about your brand now? This video from our partners at Amigo sums it up nicely…

What next?

There is a much better world – a world that, had we created, I am convinced we wouldn’t be staring down the barrel of this (potentially) majorly disruptive event on 25 May. We wouldn’t have a million emails asking us to re-subscribe from every business we’ve ever engaged with.

A world in which we put control much more firmly in the hands of customers, and give them things they want, that are useful to them as part of the communication transaction. The give to get – and get to give.

Give them something valuable as a reason to watch that advertising – or, better still, make the “advertising” itself the valuable thing, in whatever format makes that possible. Make advertising really, truly relevant to the person and their current situation. Then they’ll give their consent freely for the data sharing that enables the valuable relationship. If you get something out of it, why wouldn’t you?

Make interesting strategies for clients, which engage – rather than enrage – customers. Be smart, have some respect.

Plus make the advertising fun, interesting, challenging and – entertain your audience.

If people perceive some value in their relationship with advertisers, the Internet and data, then it’s much harder for scaremongerers to convince the world that everything digital is bad.

We’ve always had the opportunity to do this, but we followed an easy, lazy route – and we’re all suffering because of it.

Seizing the opportunity

GDPR will happen, it will have some impact – who knows quite how much. But, as usual in the fast-moving world of digital, we will need to be adaptable and evolve. Those advertisers that see GDPR as an opportunity to enact some of the positive changes outlined above and to really engage with customers will be the ones that succeed.

And though the communication industry could have perhaps avoided GDPR in its current form had there been better self-policing to start with, maybe this is also just the natural evolution of things when we push technology to its limits. Through a combination of legislation such as GDPR and learning from customer feedback, a new paradigm will be created, and in time, this too will be challenged – and we’ll probably be talking about another four-letter word ten years down the line…