The Government’s announcement earlier this week on plans to overhaul UK data protection legislation will send shivers down the spines of some marketers. This is understandable, but what they are missing is that this represents an invaluable opportunity to reset customer relationships for the better.
The proposed changes are not surprising for the most part – they have their origins in the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and are intended to bring UK data protection law in line with EU standards.
The most notable shifts include expanding the definition of personal data, a requirement that consumer consent should be both unambiguous and easy to withdraw and the "right to be forgotten", whereby individuals can ask businesses to erase their personal data. What’s more, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will now be able to levy fines of up to £17 million or 4 per cent of global turnover against companies that breach the new laws.
So what action do marketers need to take? With GDPR coming into force in May 2018, data audits should already have been undertaken and action plans set in motion. Although this latest announcement from the government brings some further clarity to proceedings, there is undoubtedly still some vagueness on the practical implications for UK businesses.
However, at this stage, a ‘back to basics’ approach cannot steer any business far wrong. Make sure you understand what data you already hold, what you are currently collecting, how it is being used and where it is being stored.
The legislative changes will give businesses responsibility over not only their own practices, but also those of their data supply chain. It’s no longer enough to receive data without a thorough understanding of whether or not it was collected ethically, so make sure you are using accredited suppliers at every stage. This is particularly pertinent for marketers using data from social media platforms – in this case the Data Protection Bill actually goes slightly further than GDPR, stipulating that companies delete all of a person’s posts from before they were 18 upon request.
Once you know where you stand, think about the changes you need to make. Approach your data overhaul as you would a brand redesign: you won’t get the outcome you need by simply making small tweaks here and there. In many cases you need to return to your strategic objectives and then think creatively to design what you need from scratch.
For many marketers this will actually be incredibly freeing: we know that 50 per cent of brand-side insight teams are not using the data they collect to its fullest extent, so take this opportunity to push the reset button. With compliance as your starting point, the three big questions to ask are: what do I need, what will I do with it and what will the reward be for customers who choose to share their personal data? If you don’t need something, don’t collect it: the more data you hold the greater your risk of non-compliance.
Throughout this process, keep reminding yourself, your team and your supply chain that personal data is just that – personal. It belongs to the individual, not you. With this as your guiding principle, you are far more likely to behave with an appropriate level of respect.
Part of that is ensuring a grown up conversation can take place with consumers. Make sure all privacy and consent statements are properly designed, and then test customer journeys to iron out any points of tension. The "grandparent test" is another useful method: if your grandparents or the man and woman on the street wouldn’t understand the terms and conditions you’re drafting, they need to be rewritten.
There can be little doubt that the Data Protection Bill will revolutionise the way marketers do business, but such a step change also brings boundless opportunities to better meet the needs of your customers. After all, these laws respond to what we know consumers already want: a respect for their privacy and control over the personal data companies hold about them and what they do with it. As ever, the most successful marketers are those who respond to the needs of their customer base, rather than railing against them.
Jane Frost is a former marketing director and the chief executive of the Market Research Society