How GDPR Makes Marketing Sense – Embrace It!

In my last blog I put my case forward for investment in General Data Protection Regulation Act compliance, but didn’t explore what I believe may turn out to be the most interesting aspect of GDPR. Of course, “the most interesting” is personal preference. There are many out there who are fascinated by data protection, including Informatica’s Data Security Team, who are turning their fascination into award winning data security products.

However, my interest lies in how data is used to empower consumers and improve their experience with brands by inviting them to participate in data infused business processes that deliver value to consumers and organisations alike. Many of the current industry trends put a high value on consumer’s personal data:

  • Consumer goods companies and retailers are pivoting to ‘put the consumer at the centre’.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are moving ‘beyond the pill’ to ensure medication is taken in the context of a complete treatment.
  • Organisations that are digital natives are creating intelligent assistants to listen to and learn from our every move.

These initiatives run complex analysis, which rely heavily on personal data. The personal data underpinning marketing analytics is of course the very subject of the GDPR. As of next year, every European citizen has the right to know which of their personal data is being stored, what it is being used for, and has the right to access their data, request their data as an export or be forgotten.

This is where the GDPR begins to work in Marketing’s favour. If personal data is generally of poor quality the entire initiative to deliver highly relevant services and offerings at an appropriate time will fail to reach its full potential. Poor quality data will either cause inaccurate results, or contribute to an inability to contact people in a timely manner – if at all. Nothing new here so far. However, from 2018 organisations will be required to get consumers’ specific, knowingly and voluntary consent to the use of their personal data. If marketer’s do nothing, they risk losing their key asset in their digital transformations.

But what if brands could open a dialog with individuals? What if brands, by providing consumers with more information and choice and highlighting the benefits, could encourage consumers to contribute directly to the accuracy of their personal information? What if a consumer request about their data becomes an opportunity to build trust and loyalty and improve overall data quality and richness?

I have a ‘consumer data portal’ in mind – which could look a bit like this[i]:



This consumer data portal should have some minimum features:

  1. Available on demand and easy to find from a brand’s online presence.
  2. Ensure confirmation of identity before allowing access, and enable secure delivery of data.
  3. A summary of everything known about the consumer, allowing them to edit fields, and delete values if desired.
  4. Inferred data clearly highlighted – allowing them to update if the inferences are wrong.
  5. Confidence that changes made will permeate throughout the organisation.
  6. Documentation of all consumer consent given – and the right to withdraw it.
  7. An ability to initiate a ‘right to be forgotten’ process.

Using these features, the consumer can exercise their rights and to directly contribute to the quality of their data. If organizations are transparent about what information they gather, how they use it, and how consumers can exercise choice, consumers receptive to marketing will help organisations focus on their needs; consumers who are not receptive to marketing will withdraw their consent or invoke their GDPR rights to be forgotten. Marketers who can provide value to consumers have nothing to fear from empowering consumers to make this choice. A comprehensive study by Microsoft on building terms of engagement for data found that[ii]:

It’s harder for consumers to resist the logic of willing data sharing once they understand more fully what is involved – and what they stand to gain.

Consumer gains to date have primarily been financial, with personal data exchanged for discounts or money. This is not a sustainable model, given the rapid increase in types of data that are being used in marketing analytics and the right to be forgotten at any time. Keeping consumers informed of the benefits of data sharing is a far more cost-effective way to encourage data sharing over an extended period.

A consumer data portal is an excellent place to inform consumers of what they get in return for allowing their data to be analysed. More advanced features can contribute to the information exchange:

  1. What is my data being used for?

Not just the name of an algorithm – which would be hard to fathom – but what is the end goal of this data usage. For example – “A direct contribution to our goal of customer centricity by ensuring only relevant outreach and offers are delivered to our customers”. This should include links to data policies to improve trust levels.

  1. Demonstrate how you help your consumers.

Life is complex enough. Build trust with customers by becoming transparent in what you are doing: we did x because of y. The insight (y) we gained was a direct result of your feedback and what we could discern from the data we collect. Ultimately, x was a direct result of our desire to make your lives simpler and happier.

  1. Fun facts – what has the organisation discovered by analysing data.

People like anecdotes and insights that are delivered from data – so why not share them here. Crucially, it will also provide working examples of benefits achieved through data analytics, especially if corresponding improvements to the consumer experience are also shared. Examples would be better store layouts, more accessible ‘buy now’ buttons or changes in social media engagement patterns.

Boston Consulting Group found that generating trust can increase access to consumer data at least by five times[iii]. The same study showed that on average 70% of consumers would use simple tools to manage their data, if they were available. Other studies, including Microsoft’s, have similar findings – good signs that that a consumer data portal would be a welcome addition to marketing’s toolkit for consumer centricity.

In my experience, most companies don’t understand the state of their data; nor can they explain how they use it. Not too surprising since it has traditionally been hard to secure funding for master data, data governance and data quality projects as the relationship between high quality data and business benefits has not always been well understood. The benefits of high quality customer master data are now better understood and has been shown to boost revenue and conversion rates by 20%, streamline processes, and optimize and sales across channels.

With the struggle to improve the quality of personal consumer data ongoing, the General Data Protection Regulation Act is not the end of personalised marketing, but rather a gate thrown wide open to new possibilities. Marketers who embrace the GDPR can secure compliance budget to further their knowledge of, and relationships with consumers. They will be well placed to gain a step up on competitors in terms of ensuring their brand is the most relevant and ubiquitously accessible to consumers.

If you would like to find out more about GDPR, please join us in Amsterdam on Wednesday June 7th at the EMEA Data Governance & Compliance Summit.

Our EMEA MDM 360 Summit on Thursday June 8th has a specific focus on innovative data management supporting digital transformations and customer experience management.


[i] If this looks like our Customer 360 application, nobody should be surprised. MDM is designed to consolidate and distribute data about entities – including personal data. It is anticipated that a consumer data portal as described here would sit in front of Informatica’s MDM software.