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GDPR, Bad Marketing Come Good? by Jenner Carter

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On the 25th May, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into play; after almost two years of discussion and preparation, a new wave of laws will be put in place that will change the way we, this events industry, deals with our customer data.

There is a host of outstanding information out there on GDPR, created from within the industry, that is empathetic and understanding to the needs of events businesses. These resources are numerous and can help guide organisations through the new processes that they need to be aware of to continue to act legally when it comes to data.

However, as a brand that prides itself on the quality of its sales and marketing practice, we wanted to put our own oar in, and share some of the wider strategic sales and marketing ethics that should govern how businesses should approach this subject. The below are just some of the key aspects of GDPR regulation, we’ve chosen to focus on these because they land at the heart of what GDPR is all about; good marketing.

Do sales and marketing well

Economists have been tracking the cost of a person’s data for some time. A few years ago, the average cost was just under $1; it was predicted that by 2030, this could soar to over $30. The did an interesting calculator, based on more detailed personal information, that allows consumers to work out the cost of their own data which is fascinating. Equally, a survey among readers of The Daily Telegraph quotes that the average consumer puts the value of their data as £3,241. What is not for debate here, is that data has value. 

Have you ever been to an exhibition, handed over a business card, and then been entered onto a database that means that you will be sent a weekly newsletter, without permission? When you fill in an online printed form, do you have to double check the boxes for the exact wording on what you are subscribing to, or not, in terms of future ‘marketing’ or third party information? Do you often get e-mails or printed literature that you never remember asking for? If you can say yes to any of the above, then GDPR has been created for you.

Each of the above examples is a demonstration of the value attributed to your data being misused. Taking each one in turn; it is common practice for the information taken from exibitions to be added to marketing databases. When we fill in online forms, it is so the business has the information it needs to deliver us a product that we have shown an interest in; the idea of having to read small print to avoid getting additional information is an unnecessary and unwelcome intervention. Lastly, no one wants unasked for mail, its intrusive and breeds mistrust.

In short, in pretty much all of these cases, data is being prioritised over trust and relationship; the very definition of poor marketing, especially in a digital age, and even more so to a millennial or centennial audience. Millennials, and the coming Centennials, can be categorised both by their love of personal, authentic relationships, as they can by their mistrust of mass marketing. As with much regulation, for us, GDPR is a chance for our industry to revaluate how it sells and markets, and should be used as a stimulus to kick itself out of some lazy and bad habits.

So, how does this breakdown? Below are a few useful reminders, of where GDPR can help us create some new, good habits …

Transparency from the Outset

Transparency is one of the most important concepts of marketing to a new, more sceptical generation. Marketing used to be the act of raising expectations that a product can often fail to deliver on’ the old adage ‘we can only sell a product once’ is exactly that, old. Modern marketers need to tell as well as sell, they need to set expectations in the right place and speak truthfully to their publics, why? Because all good relationships are built on trust, and what marketers prize more than anything is a relationship with their audience, not just a transaction.

GDPR helps to instil this discipline when it comes to data. From the outset, the business or brand needs to be completely honest with what they are going to do with the data they collect. Where will it be used, where will it go, to who, and how. What are the consequences of the consumer passing over their data, who will contact them, who will get the data afterwards. Once they have agreed to those terms, the terms can’t change; if you have data that the customer is happy to be shared with e.g. an event agency, that’s OK, but you can’t then pass it on to badging company as well, if you didn’t ask in the first place. Basically, its incumbent on the marketer to know exactly what they want the data for, and what they are going to do with it. Kind of makes sense, right? A good marketer should know what they want before they ask for it!

Opt in Opt Out

This tone is replicated in the opt in opt out scenario. First of all, this means complete transparency and clear definition of the opt ins on shared or ‘third party’ data. No more of the double negatives, the switching between ticks ‘on’ and ‘off’ of boxes, when we agree or disagree to allow our data to be passed on. Let’s face it, we all know it, these tactics are used to confuse customers into ticking the box they don’t want to tick; again, this can’t be clever marketing, if we want relationships, they need to be built though being up front and honest.

Hey, guess what, it may be that the customer sees value in hearing from third parties, especially if vetted by a responsible business or brand that have earnt their trust, and that give them the opportunity to save money, gain additional perks or find out about new products or services that will enrich their lives. If they add value, they will be chosen, it’s actually a really nice way to create loyalty and trust with a customer, so let’s do it right.

Also, let’s not threaten our customers either. We’ve all seen it before, tick the dreaded boxes and only then will we allow you to access the event or buy the product? That’s sounds like a threat right? A customer looks to buy a product, come to an event, but can’t unless they agree to be spammed or ‘marketed’ to for the rest of their lives? That’s just bad business practice, let alone marketing practice. So, all opt ins and outs must be completely clear and not be used as a gateway to the primary product the customer is looking to buy.    

Data Protection

Data protection used to mean something a bit different, making sure that no one was hacking our computer, or stealing personal information or files. It was something that lived more in your own house or office. Now its spread wider than that. The reality is that there are some companies who, while they understand that data is valuable, do not put it in the proverbial safe!

Once a company has data from its customers, it is incumbent upon them to treat it with care and consideration. This is after all the deeply personal information about their key business stakeholder and again, the customer has the right to know that the right checks and balances are in place to ensure that their data is well looked after.

Many commentators in the industry are advocating the end to the age old excel spreadsheet as a way of keeping hold of data. The argument is that these can be easily hacked, misplaced, lost, given away accidentally, and are not able to stand up to the security that many other formats have. Whether the information is kept in a cloud or a safe, it is up to the business, brand or event to have the right security around it. Remember, one of the rules around data is that the consumer has allowed it to be used for specific purposes, if someone accidentally shares it with another company, this blows a huge hole through that promise.

Wiping the slate clean?

So, what to do now? We’re aware that for many businesses within the events industry, data and information is rightly prized as one of the key assets and values of the business. Yet, this data is kept in hard drives or on a series of archaic spreadsheets, maybe the lists have grown so big that they can’t be managed or cleaned without a huge amount of expensive resource.

The reality is that for many, GDPR is a massive upheaval to their businesses, and for many the last two years has been a long process of putting themselves into the position where they can be GDPR compliant. It has been expensive both in money and time. But, there are also still businesses who are yet to grapple with this new world, and are still faced with spreadsheets and lists, and the threat of losing contact with their customers.

The consequences of not being GDPR compliant are both damaging in terms of money and reputation. So some in the industry advocate the need to ‘wipe the slate clean’, to get rid of all previous data and start a fresh. Wow, a large ask! The value of many event businesses is in the data they keep on their audiences, and throwing this in the bin could be business suicide. Still, the idea comes from an ethic that what is past needs to stay in the past, and that new ways need to be sought.

For us at Lime Venue Portfolio, we’re starting from the bottom up. Who are our customers? Do we have a relationship with them? Do we know who they are, and where they are? Are our lists full of meaningless names and numbers, or is it more of a virtual address book full of people that we have formed long running business partnerships with. If we don’t know them, we shouldn’t have them, if we do, we can have a conversation about them afresh, using GDPR as a stimulus to ask them what they want, tell them what we want, and agree some mutually beneficial agreements.

The reality is that when we talk to our customers we do so with the idea that what we tell them adds value to their business lives. We want them to tick our boxes because we think it will give them access to ‘good things’. We do of course acknowledge that they may disagree, what is a lovely hand wrapped bunch of goodies to us, may be needless spam and annoying communications to others; so we give everyone the chance to tell us to shove off. It’s only fair.

Marketing is about relationships, business is about people and relies on trust and transparency. We’re going to try and use GDPR for the good of our customers. It seems that the majority of the events industry is following suit, our research shows that the industry is approaching the subject with a real maturity, befitting of a well-established and credible market. Hopefully we’ll be seen as a best practice example, not a problem child for the GDPR police!

In the meantime, if you are looking for more information on GDPR, see below a list of really brilliant, helpful resources that go into much more detail than this report does. But as you do wade through the world of GDPR, do think about business relationships, good business practice and the ethics and values of you and your brand. 

Disclaimer: Lime Venue Portfolio are not lawyers and the content within this document should be viewed for information purposes only. We strongly recommend everyone seeks their own specific legal advice regarding the impact of the GDPR on their organisation.


by Jenner Carter, Haed of Marketing, Lime Venue Portfolio

HBAA Marketing Chair