Can GDPR save main­stream me­dia?

The Insider - - CONTENTS -

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!

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