GDPR: Four letters that could change your world. In a good way.

By Mark Walker, Strategist at Keko London

The chances are that in the last few years you will have heard someone, somewhere, say the words: “data is the new oil”. Whether they knew it or not, they were quoting the architect of Tesco’s Clubcard programme, Clive Humby – and in the context of the imminent changes in EU data regulations, it’s worth looking at his quote in full: “Data is the new oil. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc. to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity; so must data be broken down, analysed for it to have value.”

He was right, of course. It’s been over 20 years since Humby and Tesco transformed the way we shop, and in this time, the ability of corporations to analyse and exploit customer data – to refine the oil, in Humby’s parlance – has grown exponentially.

There was no data revolution
Today, Facebook shows us news stories attuned to our political leanings, Netflix recommends different TV programmes for every house in the street and Amazon knows when we need new razor blades.
The potential for misuse of all this data is clear. From PPI nuisance calls to manipulation of presidential elections, we see it every day – and that’s without the security concerns. Identity theft and large-scale hacks are already commonplace, after all. The frightening thing is that all this happened before our eyes. As we moved to a digital lifestyle, we happily handed over our personal data in exchange for the use of ‘free’ social media platforms. Regulation, meanwhile, remained in the Dark Ages.
The 1995 Data Protection Directive dealt with primarily data processing. Due to its age – it was written in the Clubcard era, after all – there was little focus on personal data, never mind punitive measures for infringements. The data landscape came to resemble the Wild West – yet no one complained as things gradually got worse. Nobody took to the streets.

Enter the EU
On May 25th, 2018, this is set to change. On that date, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) becomes fully implementable. But what exactly is it? And why should we all become familiar with this ungainly acronym? On the face of it, GDPR is a document written by lawyers for lawyers. The layperson will likely find it impenetrable. But those four letters stand for something of critical importance for any business. That’s because, while previous data laws have been limited in their ability to levy punitive charges, GDPR is not. For serious infractions, a fine of up to 4% of global turnover can be imposed. In short, these new regulations exist not to protect the industry, nor to allow the tech giants to bypass laws, but to protect the individual. The headlines speak for themselves.

The end of the numbers game
Traditional business has long struggled to comprehend data and its power. For many, it was a simple numbers game, in which the aim was to increase the size of an ever-growing list of leads. It took time for many to understand it was the quality of those leads – how they engaged and interacted – that matters more. And that’s where the GDPR opportunity lies. The data held by brands will have to be cleansed and, as a consequence, many databases will be diminished; some largely obliterated. That’s a good thing. Because GDPR gives us all the chance to start with a clean slate, to truly understand customer needs and forge deeper, better relationships.

A brighter future beckons
The post-GDPR world is in our hands. Without changing the approach taken to personal data and working cultures, innovation will stall and creativity will stagnate. Consumers will become harder to engage. But if we go ahead and hand back control to the customer, GDPR will help build confidence in brands at a time when trust is largely absent in many walks of life. There is an irony that this catalyst for change is coming from legislation, but GDPR is just that start. A knock-on effect will be the implementation of new technologies and data governance policies, which will improve marketing performance. Customers will naturally come to expect a more transparent relationship with the brands they advocate and, to meet these new expectations, marketing will become more personal, contextual, and valuable.

There is a crossroads ahead where we can see the world only in the context of past behaviours and outmoded practices, abandoning data-driven solutions. Or we can use GDPR as a springboard into the future. So maybe it’s time to face up to the new legislation and embrace it. Our industry will be better for it.

Mark Walker, Strategist at Keko London
Mark Walker is the Strategist at Keko London, an independent Soho-based agency who specialises in finding, influencing and selling to affluent consumers globally. With more than thirteen years’ experience working in and around data-driven marketing, he’s seen the days of sending bulk-and-blast emails evolve into data-driven, customer-centric ecosystems. He is a progressive practitioner and now has a firm belief that the future of our industry is data shaped. At Keko London, Mark works with some of the agency’s luxury and premium clients, including Bentley Motors, De Beers’ Forevermark and Triumph Motorcycles.

 

Photo © Lorenzo Cafaro from Pexels
https://www.pexels.com

 

 

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