How To Talk About Data Under The Impending GDPR


There is change afoot in the way businesses will be able to use and collect personal data. Under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) businesses will have to explain to consumers exactly how their personal data is going to be used, each and every time it is used for a new task. Those found in breach of GDPR come the May 2018 deadline will find themselves suffering a fine of 4% of global revenue, or €20 million, whichever is greater.

To complicate things further, businesses won’t just be able to say that data is going to be used for marketing or staff training purposes; consumers will have to be informed about (and understand) the algorithms working on their data. It’s this understanding that is likely to trip many businesses up – after all, algorithms and data science are tricky enough for those in the industry to understand.

Like any complex subject, understanding your audience is half the battle in getting them to understand what you’re talking about. Under GDPR, it won’t just be adults you’ll have to explain data use to, but children (and their parents) too.

One good way to ensure everyone is catered for is to use examples. These help people visualise what you’re trying to explain. Alternatively, images and videos can help break things down further and make an otherwise dry subject more palatable.

At the same time, it can be tempting to focus in on only the technical stuff, but some people might not be interested in that. Make sure you also talk about why you need to analyse consumer data. Many businesses are now dependent on data, for marketing, sales and improving operations. Explaining that your business will grind to a halt without data may help someone understand why their data is important.

Likewise, many people hate irrelevant, ill-timed marketing messages. With no access to personal data, the amount of irrelevant messaging will increase dramatically. Again, explaining this point to a consumer will help stress the importance of why you need to use their data.

Given the spate of data leaks and hacks that have caught the public’s attention recently, also stressing to your customers that their data is secure can help put their fears to bed. Ensure you explain to them how their data is secured, and who has access to it. Under GDPR you are custodians of your customers’ data, not the owner of it. Creating transparency over how data is looked after and used will help you foster a good data custodian / owner relationship.

Once you know what you’re going to say to your customers, the next step is to get your message out there. I recommend using several different channels to do this. The incoming change with GDPR is going to be so significant, that it’s worth planning an entire marketing strategy around it. That way, your customers will be fully clued up well before the deadline. However, that means you really need to begin your preparations now, to ensure you have enough time and resources to get your message across.

Social media is a good way to spread general knowledge about GDPR to your customers, especially if you’re using mediums like video. Follow these messages up with personalised and targeted emails to prompt customers to fill in their consent. As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to get consent for each and every data use, so setting up a central point, a consent hub, will make it easier for your customers to manage all their different consents.

People will usually need a few prompts before they fill out their consent, so factor this into your schedule and ensure you send a few different emails and reminders. Incentivising them to log into their consent hub, through a discount code, for example, will also help. One word of warning, however, you need to make sure you’re incentivising the filling in of the consent itself, regardless of if your customer gives you consent to use their data or not.

It’s also worth scheduling in further emails once your customer has given their initial consent, as you’ll need to ensure their consent remains up to date. Regular reminders to login to the consent hub will help keep your customer data up to date and prevent a GDPR breach. Likewise, every time you plan to use customer data in a different way to what they have given permission for, you’ll need to prompt them again to fill in their consent for the project.

GDPR is going to be a big change for all of us. As consumers, we’re going to have control over who uses our data and who doesn’t, and businesses are going to have to step up their game in protecting and using data effectively. For many businesses, this is a significant change and will require a considerable amount of time and resources to get GDPR ready. Starting your preparations now means you won’t be left playing catch up as the GDPR deadline looms next May.