Presented by Marketo


Like two locomotives rapidly converging on the same track, marketing personalization and personal privacy seem bound for a collision. Can we avoid the train wreck, or are CEOs going to continue responding to legislators’ questions a la Mark Zuckerberg and the U.S. Senate? The good news is, yes, the collision is entirely avoidable, and a mechanism is just now falling into place to ensure that is the case — the General Data Protection Regulation, known as GDPR, which goes into effect in Europe on May 25, 2018. The question now is: will all marketers around the world embrace it?

Personalization feeds on personal data. There’s no question about that. And most people are happy to provide such information and consent to its use if there is a quid pro quo, such as better service or more favorable pricing. But there has to be a balance, and there has to be assurance that the data will only be used as the customer intends it to be used. No surprises, please.

As marketers, there are things we all want to do to deepen personalization and speed its adoption. Done well, it’s good for our customers and good for the business. But far too often, the necessary approvals and funding are difficult to secure, which means the job ends up only half done. The result is dumbed down or just plain creepy personalization, where customers are placed in the wrong demographic pools, pitched on the wrong products, or bombarded with online ads for big ticket items that they just purchased. Frankly, I and many other buyers walk away quickly from companies that do this, and when personalization is not done right and not aligned to my interests, it can be worse than if it were not done at all.

Time for an intervention

For marketers, GDPR is a very timely intervention, with significant penalties in place to discourage bad behavior. GDPR provides us with the ultimate recourse as we have to show good progress on data privacy and prove that our customers’ personal data is used only as intended and as stated.

To me, that sounds a lot like “the right message, to the right people, at the right time.” That’s a very good thing. Marketing nirvana, in fact. As a basis for personalization, GDPR could not be more useful as consent is the centerpiece of GDPR, just as it needs to be the centerpiece of personalized marketing.

Because GDPR will have a global and not just European impact, businesses need to decide whether or not to apply the same set of standards to their entire marketing database. From an operations standpoint, having one set of processes system is simpler than having two. But more important, adhering to GDPR standards across all customers will result in a better value exchange and a better marketing environment.

How personal is too personal? That’s up to each customer to decide as, under GDPR, companies are responsible for obtaining consent. Suffice to say that companies that don’t adhere to GDPR globally will have to face those that do, and they will be beaten through superior privacy policies and controls (i.e., no negative surprises) and better personalization.

Raising the standards of marketing

The thing that disappoints the most these days is how easy it is to come up with examples of poor personalization. I’m talking about such things as personalization that creeps out potential buyers, and that floods in-boxes with messages that are annoyingly off base. Customer who share their personal information deserve better. Ultimately, GDPR will raise the standards of marketing and help customers get the best value for their personal information. Much more than simply dry European legislation, it is a framework to make marketers everywhere better at their jobs, compliant companies more competitive, and customers more delighted.

To learn more about GDPR’s impact on marketing, join me at Marketing Nation Summit, April 29th – May 2nd. Register here.

Peter Bell is Senior Director, Marketing at Marketo.


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