When the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is enforced on 25 May 2018, it will represent the biggest shake-up of customer data in over a decade. Yet while many organisations might regard the scramble to clean up their data ahead of the compliance deadline as a headache they could do without, I believe marketers and data professionals alike should view this deadline as an opportunity to improve the quality of their customer data once and for all.
In an era of increasing personalisation, with consumers now expecting a level of service that first and foremost recognises them as individuals, it is surprising how many brands and agencies are still failing to adequately monitor and validate the accuracy of their most important resource – the information they hold on their customers. I’m not even referring to intelligent analyses of how an individual may have interacted with the brand in the past – I’m talking about basic contact data.
When it comes to data quality, our annual research into the use and management of customer data shows that basic data errors such as out-of-date and incomplete information continue to be the number-one problem facing marketers today. Frankly, there’s no point doing great creative, data segmentation, analytics or personalised marketing if the base data you’re using is tripping you up at the first hurdle.
Time to clean up
However, the enforcement of the GDPR means that what was previously just a marketing problem for organisations is set to become a compliance issue unless they take serious steps to clean up their customer data. Article 5 of the GDPR stipulates that information should be "accurate and, where necessary, kept up-to-date; every reasonable step must be taken to ensure that personal data that are inaccurate, having regard to the purposes for which they are processed, are erased or rectified without delay".
Furthermore, perhaps the most significant addition to the existing Data Protection Act is what the GDPR describes as the "accountability principle". This requires organisations to be able to demonstrate how they comply with the regulation – for example, by documenting data gathering and processing activities through audit trails. This should cause organisations to critically assess whether their data management systems and processes are able to adequately perform this function.
Another aspect of customer data that will need to be tightened up in line with the GDPR is permissions. What emerges from our research is a sense of uncertainty about how well customer data is managed and whether permissions to use it for marketing purposes are robust enough. In particular, confidence in third-party data is often lacking.
My view is that the GDPR presents unprecedented new opportunities. It should already be a given that marketers need to be appropriate, relevant and meaningful in how they communicate if they want to deliver a successful customer experience. As such, in encouraging organisations to review their permissions processes, the GDPR can help marketers to refocus and think in terms of "What is it that my customers want?" rather than "What is it that I have to sell them?" Agencies and brands should see the GDPR as a catalyst to shape more nuanced approaches to customer data that can mitigate the effects of churn and ultimately drive more positive customer experiences.
The fact is, the GDPR is ushering in a new era for organisations in which data quality is more important than ever
Marketers have consistently cited the positive impact that good-quality customer data has on campaign response and conversion rates, whether for acquisition, retention or reactivation campaigns. This is why it is important for organisations to have data management solutions in place that are up to the job. If organisations are to get the most out of the data they hold, it is also vital that they enhance it with deeper insight such as interests, preferences or purchase propensity, which are available from specialist data providers.
I believe that the use of GDPR-compliant data from trusted, third-party partners will increasingly become a prerequisite for successful campaigns – the research shows that 50 per cent of marketers already enrich their own data with third-party variables.
We’ve recently published a new Insight Report designed to help marketers rethink their approaches to customer data in light of the imminent enforcement of the GDPR. The report draws on findings from our research and discusses why data quality is such an issue for today’s business, the impact of the GDPR on the use and management of customer data, and how organisations can use the regulation as a catalyst to improve marketing performance.
The fact is, the GDPR is ushering in a new era for organisations in which data quality is more important than ever. As I see it, organisations have a clear choice. Whether to view the GDPR as an exercise in minimum viable compliance, or an opportunity to achieve true marketing excellence. In this regard, the GDPR could be the best thing that’s happened to the marketing industry in years.
Jim Conning is the managing director of Royal Mail Data Services (RMDS)