Can GDPR save mainstream media?
Back in 1998, a book was published titled Permission Marketing: Turning strangers into friends and friends into customers. It was intended to help marketers deal with the “attention crisis” happening in America. At that time, the web wasn’t even mainstream, and yet we still had an attention crisis? Interesting.
A decade later, the author published a blog post on the same topic. I don’t know what prompted him to write about it in 2008, but with the rising abuse of consumer data happening by marketers and brands looking to increase market share and profits any way they could, it certainly was timely for him to remind us of what real permission is.
Twenty years after the launch of his bestseller, we have witnessed exponential growth of digital content and the rampant exploitation of people’s personal information. The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR) is trying to put a stop to the abuse, but it won’t be easy. Bad habits and learned misbehaviors are hard to break, so if there is a loophole anywhere within GDPR, it’s almost certain that devious marketers will find a way to take advantage of it.
We’ve seen an opt-in onslaught by businesses desperate to retain the consumer data they have collected over the years. I can’t count the number of emails I’ve received over the last few months presenting me with “exclusive” offers in exchange for my contact details. Do they not realize how that behavior hurts them? I certainly have no interest in engaging with a company who only sees me as just another address in their spam engine.
“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” Seth Godin
Within hours of GDPR taking effect, there was a dramatic change in the publisher-advertiser ecosystem. According to Digiday, ad demand volumes in Europe plunged between 25 and 40% and major US newspaper publishers such as The New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times completely shut down their websites and apps to Europeans.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post did something unexpected by erecting a paywall with a new subscription type — “premium EU subscription” for US$90/year — which guarantees no third-party tracking and no advertising. I can see some people willing to pay for that.
USA Today adopted a different approach by keeping its EU site up, but removing the ads from it. Web performance architect, Paul Calvano, tweeted about the remarkable impact that move had.
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us given the rising use of ad blockers by people tired of the slow load times of adinfested digital properties, especially on mobile. But for some reason, seeing it laid out like this hits home a lot harder — Calvano’s graphic really does paint a thousand words.
GDPR — a cure for what ails us
Although I have studied GDPR at length to ensure we at PressReader conform to it throughout our systems, you don’t need me to give you the lowdown on what GDPR means for business. There are more than enough experts out there who can educate those who need more information. Instead I want to talk about the opportunities GDPR brings to the bottom line of publishers.
Before GDPR came into effect, our industry was like most others, struggling with the mayhem that comes with digital transformation. We expected to be able to just reach out and touch everyone in the digital world with our content and that they would be overjoyed to receive it (If we write it, they will come.). In our haste to address the slump in the print advertising market, we prioritized scale over quality and subsequently lost the respect, trust, and consequently eyeballs of our audiences.
GDPR gives us a chance to reverse that trend and regain the confidence and attention of readers, but only if we embrace real permission-based marketing, value quality more than quantity, and treat people with the esteem they deserve rather than disregard, or worse, contempt.
Let’s start with these five steps…
1 . Never assume; always ask
At FIPP’s Digital Innovators Summit in March of this year, I heard Stefan Betzold of BILD, talk about the need for a US$10/month all-in mass media paid content model. It was refreshing to hear him recommend a collaborative and affordable aggregated platform for news. But he conceded that publishers were not open enough to support such a model because, “We are always trying to keep control of the user data, trying to keep control of our news.”
If he’s right then it would appear that many in our industry still don't understand that they’re not in charge anymore — people are. This was true before GDPR, but not really enforceable. Today, it’s a violation punishable by some pretty hefty fines.
So even if you have people in your database who subscribe regularly to your content, don’t assume they are okay with you using their contact information for marketing purposes. Because, as you may have heard, “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me."
My mom always said it’s a polite thing to ask, so err on the side of courtesy and always ask for permission first before ever using the personal data of others.
2 . Clean house
Over the past two decades we have collected digital data about readers and visitors from all over the webosphere — with little or no idea of its value, or lack thereof. Two years ago, Veritas reported that 85% of stored data is either dark, redundant, obsolete, or trivial — a digital dumping ground that could cumulatively cost organizations over US$3.T by 2020.
We all keep saying we are going to clean up our databases so we can engage more with people who really want to connect with us and/or each other, but we never do. There are so many more urgent things to take care of, like filling the sales funnel with what — more unqualified digital leads? Crazy!
But now with GDPR, “important” finally trumps urgent as we are forced to do what we should have been doing all along — cleaning house and putting out the (digital) trash.
3 . Say thank you and say it often
Many parents today worry that their kids might be hanging out with the wrong crowd. All over the web we hear about people leaving their houses in the hands of their teenager only to return to discover the home was trashed by uninvited guests.
In the publishing world, we call these undesirables “trolls” — people and bots that have polluted the internet and our digital experience. GDPR can help rid us of these by ensuring we only connect with people who want to be in a mutuallybeneficial relationship.
So after cleaning house, thank those who explicitly choose to stick with you by throwing them a welcome party. As Walt Disney said, “Do it so well that they will want to experience it again and bring their friends.”
4 . Pay attention and for attention
French philosopher, Simone Weil, once wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
What a wonderful way to describe it, don’t you think? Unfortunately, often our attention is not consciously given, but rather grabbed. Email grabs our attention, text messages grab our attention, mobile alerts and social media grab our attention. Even when we try to focus on a story, trashy banner and video advertising does everything in its power to grab our attention.
These are what author and Columbia Law
School professor, Tim Wu, calls the harvesters of human attention — the Attention Merchants that continually parade diversions in front of us that have been shown to lead to distraction sickness. Attention and time are two precious, limited, and diminishing commodities that we should only dish out to people and things that really matter.
As we saw with the USA Today’s EU website, GDPR can help us significantly reduce the digital noise we normally experience on news sites, allowing us to pay attention to content in a clean and uncluttered environment.
What The Washington Post is doing with their new EU subscription plan is a blueprint of what the whole industry should be doing — offering quality content at a fair price in an engaging environment devoid of data tracking and ads.
Because as Frederic Filloux wrote recently about subscriptions versus advertising, “Publishers can’t have it both ways; people paying for content should be spared advertising, period.”
Acknowledging that it’s every person’s right to privacy means that if we want someone’s attention, we need to pay for it. Not with cold hard cash, although there are blockchain efforts underway to actually pay users to consume content. No, we need to pay them with what they consider valuable, not what we want to give them because we think it’s in our best interest.
We know what people want; it’s what we all want — quality content and experiences at the right time, in the right format, through the right channels, at the right price.
5 . Spread the love
Being compliant with GDPR in Europe is the beginning of a better internet for all, but it is not enough to sustain our industry. To really benefit from its full potential, we must comply with GDPR’s mission everywhere, especially in countries where privacy regulations are lax. That includes North America.
The next few months will be a challenge, but in the end GDPR could be the best thing that ever happened to publishing. GDPR will help us:
• Put quality before quantity so we can focus on building mutually-beneficial relationships with those who actually want to hear from us
• Become more transparent in how we handle user data and demonstrate how we really do care — opening up new opportunities to instill trust and loyalty with readers
• Provide users more choice so that they can analyze the cost/benefits of sharing personal data versus not sharing it
• Transition our digital properties into “venues of value” in terms of content and experience
• Shed our dependencies on disruptive advertising technologies that are an obstacle to engagement and an impediment to sustainable revenue
Looking back at Seth Godin’s book on permission marketing, the subtitle was, “Turning strangers into friends and friends into customers.”
In his subsequent eBook, Flipping the Funnel, Godin realized that he forgot one important thing. Once you’ve turned strangers into friends and friends into customers, you need to turn customers into salespeople. Because loyal customers are your best marketers.
So instead of looking for ways to drive unqualified traffic to your website and apps, focus on differentiating yourself, not just with unique content and experiences, but with unexpected tokens of appreciation for your steadfast supporters. In today’s digital marketplace where people are getting better at ignoring prospectors, you need all the help you can get in spreading the love.
Delighted customers often share their good fortunes, so focus on earning their trust and loyalty day-by-day, and watch as they put reciprocity into play by inviting their friends to join your party.
Let’s just do it!
It’s interesting that control of one’s personal data in the EU is coinciding with blockchain technology’s move to decentralize the internet and provide better security for users. And as much as I am excited about the potential of blockchain, its benefits won’t be felt in a significant way by most internet users for a few years.
Until then, we need to put personal data control back into the hands of those who should had never lost it in the first place. It won’t be easy, but it may be our last hope to save our industry from itself.
Together we can do this. Let’s talk!