Un­like Y2K scare, new EU data rules are set to cause havoc for mar­keters

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

ANY­ONE who re­mem­bers the scare­mon­ger­ing that took place in the build up to Y2K in 2000 and the so-called Mil­len­nium Bug, will prob­a­bly re­call the apoc­a­lyp­tic sce­nar­ios that were trun­dled out by the har­bin­gers of doom and gloom. We were told that stock mar­kets around the world might col­lapse, util­ity com­pa­nies would be forced to shut down the na­tional grid, there might even be a run on the banks and of­fice and home PCS would sim­ply give up the ghost.

In the best tra­di­tion of ter­ri­fy­ing the be­jay­sus out of Mid­dle Eng­lan­ders, break­fast TV pre­sen­ter Richard Made­ley even threw open his per­sonal ‘mil­len­nium cup­board’ to show view­ers how he was stock­pil­ing tins of food, can­dles and med­i­cal sup­plies. He warned them that they faced a New Year with­out wa­ter, gas and elec­tric­ity and rec­om­mended that they should stock­pile enough pro­vi­sions to last 10 weeks.

Any­one work­ing in the mar­ket­ing in­dus­try in Ire­land who re­mem­bers Y2K can be for­given for feel­ing a sense of deja vu at the mo­ment. With less than a year to go the in­tro­duc­tion of the EU’S Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR) panic but­tons are be­ing primed, mar­keters are break­ing into cold sweats and un­cer­tainty is the only cer­tainty.

But un­like Y2K, how­ever, mar­keters have ev­ery rea­son to be con­cerned as the EU has ef­fec­tively lobbed a mas­sive hand-grenade into an im­por­tant in­dus­try and done a run­ner. In a nut­shell, the GDPR af­fects any com­pany that col­lects and pro­cesses the data of an EU cit­i­zen. A wide-rang­ing reg­u­la­tion, it’s sup­posed to im­prove and sim­plify data pro­tec­tion for EU ci­ti­zens.

It’s im­pact will be deeply felt through­out the busi­ness com­mu­nity, from your lo­cal florist or hair­dresser who sends you a text to let you know of an of­fer, a re­tail chain or air­line com­pany that has you as mem­ber of their loy­alty pro­gramme, right up to the dig­i­tal giants like Google and Face­book and other par­ties in the dig­i­tal ecosys­tem that use peo­ple’s data to gain a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage like serv­ing ad­ver­tis­ing into your per­sonal so­cial me­dia feeds.

Not sur­pris­ingly, many mar­keters are to­tally un­pre­pared for what lies ahead. In a sur­vey un­der­taken by the World Fed­er­a­tion of Ad­ver­tis­ers two weeks’ ago, for ex­am­ple, 70pc of brand own­ers said that they felt mar­keters in their or­gan­i­sa­tions were not fully aware of the im­pli­ca­tions of GDPR. Only 65pc said they ex­pected to be fully com­pli­ant be­fore the rules come into force in May 2018 and just 41pc said they al­ready had a strat­egy in place.

The knowl­edge gap was more se­vere among mar­ket­ing teams based out­side the EU, with 56pc of the re­spon­dents say­ing that their Euro­pean teams, some of which are based in Ire­land, were more aware of the chal­lenge. This is im­por­tant be­cause the rules ap­ply to any com­pany which of­fers goods or ser­vices to consumers in the EU or mon­i­tors the be­hav­iour of peo­ple lo­cated in Europe, re­gard­less of where they are head­quar­tered.

Given that Ire­land is the EU home to many of the dig­i­tal com­pa­nies that use per­sonal data to gain com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage, it’s en­tirely con­ceiv­able that many high-pro­file case stud­ies will emerge from these shores in the fu­ture and our data pro­tec­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties will be un­der con­sid­er­able scru­tiny.

But the con­fu­sion that reigns within the mar­ket­ing com­mu­nity is go­ing to cause all kinds of prob­lems for mar­keters when it comes to in­ter­act­ing with their cus­tomers ac­cord­ing David O’sul­li­van, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Dublin-based mar­ket­ing agency Ig­ni­tion. It works with a range of blue-chip clients that use cus­tomer data as an in­te­gral part of their day-to-day op­er­a­tions.

“At a time when consumers are look­ing for more sub­stan­tive value and re­ward­ing re­la­tion­ships from com­pa­nies and brands, GDPR will po­ten­tially be­come a cre­ative log-jam for mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions that ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit consumers,” says O’sul­li­van.

“No­body dis­putes the need to pro­tect peo­ple’s per­sonal data from fraud, mis­use or com­pro­mis­ing their pri­vacy but the is­sue for most mar­keters is di­vin­ing whether this will be at the ex­pense of not be­ing able to use data at all when it comes to com­mu­ni­cat­ing brand ben­e­fits and value to cus­tomers. That is the level of con­fu­sion that’s out there,” he adds.

He says that the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem for GDPR is one of ap­peal and, as it stands, there’s noth­ing in it to set the hearts of mar­keters and their agents aflut­ter. “GDPR has al­ready lost the PR bat­tle, as a cul­ture of fear has taken root within the small­est part­ner­ships, SMES and lum­ber­ing cor­po­ra­tions.”

When com­pa­nies start to as­sign in­ter­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity for com­pli­ance with GDPR, it will start to get messy, says O’sul­li­van. While big com­pa­nies will ap­point data pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers, the grim re­al­ity is that smaller firms don’t have that lux­ury and level of ex­per­tise.

“Avoid­ing the poi­soned chal­ice of as­sign­ing com­pli­ance re­spon­si­bil­ity to finance, IT or mar­ket­ing, has be­come more like fight­ing for a place on Noah’s Ark,” he says. Con­tact John Mcgee at john@ad­world.ie

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