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16 January 2018

GDPR and the importance of great content

GDPR is fast approaching and while some of the implications for B2B marketing are still being debated, what seems clear is that it will further increase the importance of distinctive and insightful content as a key element in marketing programmes. In this article, we look at the reasons why.

The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is fast-approaching and all B2B marketers need to be alive to the implications. The new, wide-ranging regulations, which come into force across the EU from May 25th, 2018, are designed to improve – and simplify – data protection for EU citizens, residents, and businesses. In the process they raise some important questions about how businesses market their services, and how they build and sustain relationships with their customers.

Putting the onus on delivering value

There has been a lot of speculation, and at times confusion, about what GDPR means for B2B marketers. Some of the practical implications are open to interpretation and will probably only become clearer once aspects of the legislation have been tested in the courts. However, one thing that is clear is that GDPR will increase the onus on businesses to consistently deliver value to customers and prospects through their marketing and communications activities.

A legitimate interest?

The general consensus is that the GDPR rules are less restrictive for B2B marketing than they are for B2C. Whereas explicit opt-in consent is required from consumers, it is not required when marketing to other businesses as long as there is deemed to be a ‘legitimate interest’.

Direct marketing is specifically referred to as a possible legitimate interest in the GDPR, however for that to be valid, there has to be a “relevant and appropriate” relationship between data controller and subject. Which means that continuing to market to existing customers without their explicit opt-in is probably ok as long as the communications is relevant; indiscriminately spamming a load of purchased email addresses probably not.

Consent and transparency vital

Although there may still be uncertainty about how aspects of GDPR will apply in practice, the key principles are clear. Consent is at the heart of GDPR, whether that’s explicitly given through an opt-in, or implicitly given by choosing not to tick an opt-out box. The ability to opt-out must be clearly and easily available to customers at all times. And that opt-out doesn’t just apply to receiving further communications; customers also need to be able to opt-out from having their data processed in other ways, for example as part of automated profiling.

Linked to the concept of consent is that of transparency– it must be made very clear to customers what data is being collected, how it is going to be used, and who by. So for example, when asking for someone’s details to access gated content, you need to make it clear if you intend to add them to your mailing list, or pass their data on to another party.

Increasing the costs of poor practice

In many ways the GDPR reinforces previously accepted best practice, and aligns with the provisions of the existing Data Protection Act (1998) and the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). However, while some of the principles are broadly similar, the impact of not complying is now drastically different.

As most marketers are probably aware by now, GDPR allows for potentially swingeing fines – for some breaches these can up to €20 million or 4% of turnover, whichever is larger. Analysis carried out by information security consultancy NCC Group found that if the GDPR rules had applied to the fines issued by the ICO against UK companies in 2016, the total sanction would have been £69 million, rather than £880,500.

Smaller data sets to work with

For companies already adhering to best practice, GDPR may not require many immediate changes. However it is likely to make aspects of B2B marketing more challenging, with marketers having to work with smaller data sets. It could become more difficult to collect prospect data in the first place, and then retain permission to keep using that data – partly because of the requirements around transparency and opt-outs, and partly because the legislation is likely to lead to increased awareness of the value of personal data and people’s rights as data subjects. GDPR is also likely to make it more difficult to use third party data to fuel campaigns, as any organisation using the data is fully accountable for knowing how it was obtained and ensuring it is fully compliant.

The importance of insightful content

All of this means that businesses need to re-evaluate their marketing activities to ensure that they’re continually delivering value to their target audiences. Indiscriminate direct marketing to purchased or harvested lists should decline. Inbound marketing will continue to increase in importance. And of course, at the heart of successful marketing under GDPR, will be good content.

If you want to persuade people to share their personal data with you, and give you consent to communicate with them on an ongoing basis, then you need to offer distinctive content that is of value to them. If you want to ensure that they don’t then subsequently hit the opt-out button at the first opportunity, you need to make sure that what you’re communicating continues to be well-targeted and insightful.

Distinctive points of view and unique insights

For many businesses this means upping their game when it comes to content quality. A recent survey found that ‘producing engaging content’ is cited as the top challenge for B2B content marketers1. Too many fall into the trap of content for content’s sake. Assets which just rehash accepted wisdom, or trot out generic platitudes, will fail to cut it and will result in customers quickly opting themselves out of further communications.

It’s essential that businesses therefore take the time to develop distinctive points of view and unique insights, which deliver real value to the target audience. This means that content marketing shouldn’t just be a bolt-on activity, managed at a relatively junior level within an organisation, it needs to something that the whole organisation is engaged in, including the senior leadership and the internal experts and thought leaders.

Cutting through the content deluge

The challenge of producing content which engages and impresses customers is only going to increase. 75% of companies increased their content marketing budget in 20162 and the volume of

content being published grows rapidly. Last year there were 500 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 1,440 new blog posts on WordPress. Yet the amount of time the audience has available to consume content is finite. Marketers will need to work ever harder to create content which cuts through.

The difference between success and failure?

Developing great content might not be easy – but it is essential. Without it marketers will find themselves with a diminishing pool of contacts willing to listen to their message. GDPR doesn’t fundamentally change the rules of the game in this respect, but it does raise the stakes. Good content could be the difference between marketing success and failure in a GDPR-governed world.