Successful Marketing in the world of GDPR and Walled Gardens

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Published Oct 25, 2018 | Written by Keith Errington

Imagine a world without data.

A world where advertisers and marketers have no details about their prospects and where the first data they can collect is the buyer’s name on a purchase order.

With GDPR, which severely restricts what data the marketer can collect and how they collect it, and the so-called ‘walled gardens’ of Google, Facebook and Amazon, which only allow access to their customers on their terms, we may be headed in that direction right now.

As a marketer, does that fill you with fear? Surely that would mean that all marketing and advertising would be ineffective and nobody would sell anything? Let’s just think about that for a moment.

Before the data revolution

Let’s look back to a few years ago when we actually lived in such a world. Big data was unheard of, AI was the stuff of Science Fiction films (actually, it still is), and CMS systems did not exist.

Did nothing get sold? Did companies fail due to lack of sales? No, of course not. Companies were still successful without all these modern, data-based methods we have today. So it is possible to be successful without an abundance of data – but how?

A sense of data entitlement

Well, before I get to that, why is it we are so obsessed with data? Let’s face it, having data helps. The more information we have, the easier it is to target the prospect with marketing messages and offers. And the easier it is to track them through the process.

Instead of having to spend time creating content that will attract anonymous prospects, we can simply spam identified individuals with sales messages until they eventually buy.

Now, maybe that’s a bit strong, but as a marketer who is also a consumer and a technical consultant, I am often amazed at the attitude of other marketers. They seem to think they have a right to a customer’s data, to their most intimate details and buying habits. They act outraged when they are denied access to them on the grounds of privacy.

Okay, so that may be an extreme description, but there is definitely a sense of entitlement in the marketing industry that we need to shake off. I find it surprising when you consider that the industry has broadly accepted inbound marketing, which attracts customers, and has rejected old-style marketing, which interrupts and shouts at customers. This data entitlement attitude definitely sits with old marketing.

The customer is king

That has never been truer than today. And if as marketers, we do not realise and accept that, we are dead in the water. Customers have all the power. They consult with their friends, family, colleagues, peer review sites and independent sources before even contacting a business to make a purchase. In fact, only 11% of consumers actually visit a brand website when looking for a product.

Keeping customers happy at EVERY stage of the buying process and after is the key to success in today’s Internet-transformed, buying landscape. If customers aren’t happy before they buy – they won’t buy. If they are unhappy after they buy, they will tell others not to buy.

Do you remember the old saying that an unhappy customer will tell 10 people? Well with the Internet that number can now be a hundred, or a thousand, or even ten thousand via Amazon, Facebook, peer review sites or their extensive social networks on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Customers are the force behind more data protection

Let’s go back to the data. Who is driving the push towards GDPR and walled gardens? It’s the customer. They are fed up with their data being misused and marketing messages pushed to them when they are not interested. Frankly, I’m fed up with it. In fact, I do everything I can to deny marketers my data.

Can you see the irony here? I’m a marketer and I don’t want to give my fellow marketers my data. I wonder how many marketers do exactly the same thing; use customer data but are very private about their own. That’s hypocrisy, isn’t it?

If the customer is king, then surely we should respect their wishes? Surely we should respect their right to privacy? So here’s the million dollar question: how do we deliver the best possible experience to the customer whilst still respecting their wishes on privacy?

Content is the key

Well, I mentioned inbound earlier, and that’s the key. Instead of trying to hit people over the head with random advertising and interrupt their daily business with marketing messages, we should be attracting them. Getting them to want to come to us. It’s all about publishing useful, relevant and timely content that the buyer will come across when doing their research and that will draw them in.

We know that 94% of online shoppers say that product information is important or critical to their purchasing decision and that on average B2B buyers will spend up to 20 hours on research before contacting a salesperson.

So good content can attract the buyer – but how do we take that further when buyers value their privacy? When I go to a website and I see an offer of an eBook or a competition, or any other promotion, I look at how much information I am being asked to give up and weigh that against the benefits I am likely to get. Because, ultimately, all information has a price.

For example, if I see a £5 meal voucher, but I have to give up a dozen details about me, I’ll pass. I am sure some people would be happy to accept that trade-off though. If I am doing some research, like for this post for example (yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but I do research!) then I might download an eBook with the latest statistics – but only if I have to give up minimal information. Now, although I am very careful with my data –you can see that even I will offer it up if the value I get in return is worth it.

Trust is important in the equation

There is one other factor I consider when deciding whether to give up my information – who is asking? If it is a reputable company I trust, I am more likely to give up my data. On the other hand, if it is Facebook or Google, I would fight tooth and nail to keep my data private, as I really do not trust them with it.

I also imagine what the business might do with the data – a reputable company that sells a product or service is only likely to use my data for that purpose and that purpose alone. Whereas businesses like Facebook and Google are likely to sell my data to all and sundry – or at least sell it so I can be advertised to – that’s their business after all.

You may be thinking that not everyone is like me – and that’s true, not everyone is as careful with their personal data, but the trend is clear. More and more people are becoming more and more aware of the issues and are taking steps to protect their privacy.

GDPR is just one consequence of this and it certainly has a massive implication for marketers. But other signs are there too; in the UK 41% of people are using ad-blockers when surfing the web, and even on mobile where ad blockers are more of a challenge to install mobile ad-blocking has increased fourfold.

DuckDuckGo – the search engine that doesn’t track users - has seen its growth rise exponentially over the past year. Although it is still only used by a small percentage of people, it’s growth is symptomatic of the backlash against Google (who not that long ago received a record $5 billion fine from the EU for uncompetitive practices – including suppressing rival search engines). This is the same Google that has chosen to shut down Google+ rather than deal with a data breach that affected half a million users.

And Facebook is even worse, having disclosed over 50 million accounts were exposed by a security flaw. Given these headlines, it’s perhaps not surprising that people are getting twitchy about sharing personal data.

The trend towards walled gardens makes things worse for the marketer in other ways too. Facebook and Google are closing down access to third parties, which means that the only source for statistics about marketing campaigns comes from Facebook and Google themselves. Can they be trusted? The answer seems to be no. Facebook has been caught out on its social video statistics – it’s currently being sued with plaintiffs alleging Facebook pumped up statistics by as much as 900%.

So it seems, even when you have the data, you might not be able to trust it.

Now I’m not advocating we ignore data altogether – absolutely not – customer data is one of the key ways we can understand the audience and therefore deliver content that is relevant to them. But that data should be honestly collected, fair-traded, and ideally, gathered by your business rather than a third party or from a walled garden. And we should, perhaps reduce our reliance on it and spend a little bit more time and effort on attracting customers rather than digitising their every personal detail to use to sell to them.

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Published by Keith Errington October 25, 2018
Keith Errington