figure with mask on walking past a wall of surveillance cameras
PHOTO: arvin febry

There is an uncomfortable and usually unspoken tension in the age of digital marketing: when we talk about “delivering a superior customer experience,” it's defined by the marketer, relative to business outcomes, not by the consumer, relative to their preferences. 

Put another way, improvements to customer experience (CX) are measured by business metrics, not by consumer happiness. Yes, there’s a relationship between them, but at the end of the day, if conversions drop on the website, for example, that web experience will be revised.

Time for a Reckoning

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) are a series of laws going into effect on May 25 this year that will come with heavy fines and penalties for non-compliance, which is why most of the business world are so concerned about what they need to do to ensure they comply. 

The text includes a lot of technical requirements, as well as considerable uncertainty about how it translates in practice.

As privacy experts and commentators issue warnings about widespread unpreparedness for something that isn’t entirely clear to what extent one must prepare, absent is the discussion about what this actually portends for marketing: namely, a reckoning between the customer’s preferences and the marketer’s.

A Fundamental Shift in How We Approach Marketing

At the same time that digital channels have given rise to the empowered customer, so too have marketers been dealt a bevy of riches: more ways to communicate (inundate?), more insight to be relevant (creepy?), more budget for integrated campaigns (impressions?). Marketers rarely have asked for permission nor provided transparency about what kind of data they can collect and, perhaps more importantly, the purpose for which it is being used.

GDPR challenges that practice to the core. The question of GDPR readiness for marketers is far more than whether or not they are compliant, or asking permission to collect and use data within a narrow scope, or supporting a customer’s right to be erased from the marketer’s database. Rather, readiness is about fundamentally rethinking marketing to be about delivering value — actual, real, compelling value — to their customers that eases the tension once and for all. 

Such a shift is so much bigger than consent management. For every ask of the customer, the marketer will be required to grapple with the questions:

  • “Do I really need this data to accomplish a goal?"
  • “Why would a customer want to provide this information to my brand?”
  • “Is the message/campaign/newsletter I am providing in exchange for the information going to be seen as an adequate exchange by the customer?”

Done right, marketers who already recognize the importance of basing marketing on first party data will actually have even better data, because it is transparently collected and used. GDPR puts the notion of responsible stewardship of customer data front and center. The marketers who rise to the challenge will be better marketers with more loyal customers over the long term.