Marketers with oars in European waters are scurrying like rats whose cheese mysteriously moved. It's actually a little funny to watch. While Aimclear's CEO and countless attorneys have been obsessing about new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) for months, as Creative Director and senior strategist, I barely care about GDPR. I see the loss of data tactics as a major creative opportunity.

Here's why many are freaked. With the absence of intrusive permissions and freely given consent, Europe's just-enacted regulations strip away many powerful elements of the data-fueled tools marketers rely on every day. Businesses of all types have been thoroughly confused about GDPR from a marketing perspective. The rules are a labyrinth of do's, don'ts, and can't tells.  

Marketers and brands are experiencing their greatest tech-regression in history. Typically, disruptive change stems from problem-solving innovations. Recall how telegraphs and telephones impacted Morse code usage. Fax machines and FedEx forced the USPS to innovate. Uber and Airbnb crushed taxis and timeshares. Today, however, GDPR strips away capabilities, hurling digital marketing back to about 2011.

Let's simply accept the tragic loss. Who cares? Marketers have dealt with permission barriers for years. I'm can tell you from the front lines, these changes are better for creative marketers. GDPR is as much an opportunity as a liability. Here's why.

When Data Ruled

Most big data marketing is about building, tracking, distributing to, and exploiting, lists. For a few years we've effectually been able to opt users into digital subscription programs (cookies, re-targeting, etc.) without asking permission. We took it for granted that if a user visited a page on a website, it was totally cool to follow that user around the Internet by building re-targeting lists. Retaining data allows marketers to easily track user behavior, associate targeting variables with known humans, verify conversion, study user pools, and depend on Google and other analytics. GDPR calls into question the aforementioned capabilities, easily available to any marketer, without opt-in permission.

Instead of lamenting GDPR, consider pivoting focus to how to gain informed consent under the rule. What value can we offer and how can we create an acceptable online environment to earn permissions?  Permission marketing is not new. The concept of gaining permission to distribute and track marketing information is powerful, proven, and certainly nothing to be afraid of. While competitors freak out over GDPR, be smarter and tap proven methods to gain customer buy-in and earn their consent.

GDPR makes it fairly clear that equal online site services must be provided, even absent data consent. It's possible that Facebook and Google, after protracted litigation, will end up essentially paying a four percent annual tariff to Europe, the highest penalty allowed under GDPR. Deep pockets may simply pay to require users to consent in exchange for any site usage. Also, paid contracts for premium content or tools is separate from consent to track. The marketing challenge is finding legal reasons for users to consent. 

Working within GDPR means working smarter.

1. Find ways to build out premium content, website content, or enhanced tools, without being "detrimental" to the online experience.

Tell users they always have access to everything on the site in their contract. However, if users want support via notifications, alerts, and reminders to flag major developments with content not on the website in any form, consent is required.  

2. Make your site so kick ass that prospects and customers desire to give consent, for the sheer value of your site to them.

Personally, I love Amazon's re-targeting program, because they re-target me with banners highlighting products I've researched recently. The ads remind me that I have not bought my satellite phone minutes yet for fishing season. Be so relevant that users want to subscribe to your marketing program.

3. Market for permissions in the branding cycle and make consent a major feature, a service you provide. 

When asking permission on your site, list the benefits of consent, including marketing new products, upgrades and highly related complementary technologies. Remember, marketers get all the goodies they had before. Creative is king and messaging for user consent is a big deal now.

GDPR is disruptive as hell and not innovative for marketers. Moving from yesterday's unrestricted data to today's GDPR is a massive tech regression, ruining and/or eliminating staples, best practices, and highly effective techniques. We'll remember the gold ol' days, when marketers could retarget, mine psychographic data, and operate on known users to our heart's content. 

For now, consent is the new permission marketing. Remember that permissions and subscriptions are timeless realities in marketing. The marketing world was being taken over by machines tracking users, reducing sales to an algorithm and intrusive lists. Once again, a hot light is shining on providing relevant, compelling websites--so much so that users line up to give their personal information.

Published on: May 30, 2018