Few dates currently inspire as much fear, confusion and procrastination as 25 May 2018, the go-live date for GDPR. The low-level hysteria is reminiscent of a mini version of the Y2K bug panic of the late 90s, that made us all think that all microcomputers would simultaneously implode at the stroke of midnight of the new millennium.
Unlike Y2K however, GDPR will definitely have at least some impact on every business.
And in our post-Cambridge Analytica world, these regulations suddenly feel timely and proportionate; a welcome curb on the way we handle personal data.
But that doesn’t make the sudden review of how we manage CVs, casting material, call sheets and countless other forms of personal data that we previously took for granted any less tiresome. Not to mention the unexpected outlays on IT that have been necessary to make us compliant.
But in one very important way, one place should hopefully get a little better. And that’s our inboxes.
Currently my inbox is an open sewer of untargeted sales messages: some benign but risible, like the tenacious denizens of the highly specialized marketing machine that is Only Lanyards. Or those self-serving, narcissistic newsletters – the corporate equivalent of the Christmas round robins – “check out the hilarious antics at our annual ironic croquet tournament”; the petulant “we simply cannot understand why you have not replied”; and the harangued and recalcitrant “my managing director has asked me to get in touch again.” One recently had the temerity to extol the virtues of physical mail as a sales tool, from a man presumably as yet unconvinced of the value of his own wares.
Ironically many of them are promoting seminars and services relating to GDPR.
Like me, you may well currently be receiving a slew of requests to opt-in to emails. And like me, you may well be experiencing small waves of euphoria as you ignore these invitations, and imagine your inbox gradually start to drop in size.
Could be that our inboxes could soon be just that little bit more manageable? God be praised.
But if you are also in the business of seeking leads, or simply staying front of mind with friends, partners, journalists, employers, clients and potential clients, you have a problem. Those well-crafted emails, packed with insight and great case studies, are also subject to the same opt-in rules. However scintillating the content, who is going to go out of their way to register to receive those emails from you now? That database you’ve meticulously built up and cleaned over the years is going to crumble in front of your eyes.
Well actually, I’m reliably informed that people with corporate addresses are not subject to the same rules as individuals, so maybe things aren’t so bad.
But maybe it’s an opportunity to take a step back.
Perhaps reconsidering how you use email as a marketing tool is the excuse you need to rethink your marketing approach more broadly. What can you do to persuade people to want to stay in touch? Is it high quality think pieces? More tailored material? How can you be entertaining, useful, or both? And is there life beyond the inbox? More events, face-to-face networking, more meaningful contact with your network. How do you engage all your people in the task to cultivate their own networks on behalf of the company? And do they have a razor-sharp understanding of your brand and vision? Are they on message? And is that brand and vision really as clear and differentiating in the marketplace as we’d like it to be?
In short, if GDPR inspires nothing short of a complete rethink of your marketing strategy, not to mention a slightly less ‘snug’ inbox, then the tedium and confusion that GDPR has rained down on us may just have been worth it.
Although I will ever so slightly miss my regular morning epistle from the plucky folk of Only Lanyards.
Ed Palmer is Managing Director of St Luke’s