Contrary to the gloomy auguries of many, I believe that GDPR represents the biggest opportunity for marketers in a generation. However, seizing that opportunity demands that we think in a new way about the value that brands offer customers.
If it’s possible to sum up the meaning of GDPR in one line, it’s this: customer data belongs to customers, not brands. Like any good and sane law, GDPR therefore simply formalises a principle which any right-thinking person would file under "The bleeding obvious".
Brands have no natural right to data. It is not a free commodity that is there to be ‘gathered’, ‘collected’ or ‘harvested’. It is a personal possession, one which will soon be seen to have real and quantifiable value to its rightful owner.
Data has had real and quantifiable value to marketers ever since mail-order pioneers first traded lists, or canny business owners asked their bankers to account for the value of their database when making a market valuation. But GDPR means customers will soon see that it has value to them, too.
The ‘Monetised self’
First, we had the "Quantified Self". Soon we will have its natural evolution: the "Monetised Self". In fact, it’s already here. The CitizenMe app allows users to sell their personal data to researchers for up to £50. US start-ups Datacoup and Datawallet offer much the same service – although such things remain a minority sport for now.
How might the phenomenon of the Monetised Self go mainstream? Here’s one possibility.
In the style of PPI claims firms, an industry will be built on helping consumers gain compensation for illegally obtained data.
A data proposition is simply the value a brand offers in exchange for customers lending it their personal data
Next, a second wave of personal-data brokers will appear, competing to help consumers realise the value in their data by trading it to the highest bidder. Credit-reference agencies will be in a perfect position to lead this movement. Surprisingly quickly, the Monetised Self will have become what young people call "a thing".
Thanks to the data portability provision of GDPR, businesses will be obliged to let customers transfer their data to competitors, either wholesale or piecemeal. Like everything else that people own, people will have the right to sell, rent or move their data around at will. So where does that leave brands?
Brands have been offering value in exchange for things that customers own since the year dot. We have learned to call a brand’s offer of rational or emotional value a proposition. Now it’s time for a brand to think about another kind of proposition: the promise of value it offers in exchange for customers renting it their personal data. Its data proposition, if you will.
Whether they know it or not, most brands have had a data proposition for a while – except they probably call it their "Data Protection Policy". This has been sufficient until now, but in a post-GDPR world it will be about as compelling as promising that their product won’t explode in the customer’s hand.
Invest in building trust
The first step to a true data proposition is to embrace GDPR’s provisions on rectification and erasure. It’s time for brands to actively encourage customers to take control over the data they have kindly loaned them. This will terrify many dyed-in-the-wool direct marketers, but it could be the biggest trust-building investment a brand has ever made.
The next step is to use customers’ data to create shared value with them. Not merely the familiar value exchange of points for data prizes, but the delivery of products, services and prices that are dynamically tailored to each individual customer’s evolving needs.
Far from being the ominous cloud that heralds a new dark age for marketing, I believe that GDPR could create new opportunities for enterprising brands to create more market distinctiveness and greater customer loyalty. And that’s surely a data proposition to which we can all subscribe.