Whether prepared or not, GDPR is now in force and as we know, with it comes the spectre of punitive damages far more significant than before. Surely by now, we all know it is something any organisation that does business with EU citizens cannot ignore. Change can be uncomfortable but very necessary, after all, it was 1998 when The Data Protection Act, the last significant UK data legislation, came into play. At that time, Google was just starting out, there was no Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram not to mention smartphones.

The world now, is so very different but you know that just by looking at your smartphone and thinking about the proportion of your life that flows through it one way or another. As a result, the data is different too. It’s no longer the case of simply a name, address and phone number with a range of variables but a flood of fragmented identifiable and non-identifiable data arriving in transient and sometimes real-time waves of, often, noise. So, what does this mean for everyone?

I believe that in a world where everything has changed, people, largely have not. I know that’s a bit provocative, people have evolved their habits, how they communicate, work, entertain and educate themselves but people are still people.

GDPR introduces a new regime in terms of data protection. The balance of ownership of personal data shifts from the company to the person, with greater rights for the individual to decide how organisations use that information. The rise of the connected customer forces businesses to up their game. To survive in an increasingly connected world, companies need to put customer experience first and become more responsive to consumer trends. What individual has not wanted this? How few must be the percentage of people who would rather be treated as a stranger when they return to a hotel and not get a room upgrade, as an example. There’s always the personal, human touch but to do that at scale, often requires data, if even to inform the human who can make the actual difference in person.

GDPR is a call out to get the data right and use it the right way. We know, data is still often siloed on several levels. For instance, by channel, online vs instore, call centre vs website, operational vs analytical and so on. Customer Experience or CX is the theme du jour. It makes sense that the brands delivering the best CX will win out and surely unified, actionable data, ethically sourced and used, will underpin that. In a world of disruption, data differentiates.

Data differentiates when it unifies. Consumers do not view offline and online channels as separate experiences of a brand anymore, that’s so yesteryear and imagine for a moment the horror scenario of the right data being within your business but the wrong CX being delivered. For example, one of your best customer visits a different car dealership, your central system should know they have bought your brand for 20 years, but that data is not available to that dealership and for the first time in 20 years, he buys a different brand. Epic fail and entirely avoidable. Unify data to differentiate.

People are people and regardless of era, they’ll let you know when you don’t meet their expectations. Now these expectations, we know aren’t static. Developments in data and technology have far outstripped not only legislation (between 1998 and 2018) but also consumer expectations. Not everyone is a rapid innovator, the first to eschew a boarding pass for the smartphone e-pass but, the early and late majorities are now taking for granted, the best brands get it right. By now, most of us know the difference between a CX where the brand hits the spot versus one where you can hear or see an agent, wrestling with systems and trying to piece together you. We know which we prefer and why. That’s now commonplace and at scale. Again, for me, people haven’t really changed their values, they always wanted this, it’s just the scope has grown.

Data is a more precious than ever before, it is more regulated than ever before, so if you do not unify it, you really are failing to make the most out of what data you do have. We know that the much anticipated and debated ePrivacy Directive may bring supplemental rules that require opt-in consent for email and SMS marketing. There’s far more to ePrivacy than that but again, we marketers face a greater responsibility to get the right ethical data and unify it to market in ethical ways.

In an age where data enables and differentiates, understanding the consumers’ views is critical.  A recent DMA/ Acxiom report, independently executed by the Foresight Factory, revealed that the most important factors for consumers in their decision to share information are trust and transparency with 86% of consumers valuing more transparency. Every business needs a data strategy to work with their sales, marketing and product. One which is focused on how data can be sourced and used in an ethical and GDPR compliant way.

Organisations shouldn’t be living in fear about GDPR but using it as the reason to use data to be customer centric and deliver that much talked about superior customer experience. And, with the data we do have, we must focus on unifying it across technologies and software to help us better identify, understand and engage our customers. By getting data right, we have the best chance of differentiating through a better CX. Do this in transparent ways and you’ll build trust. Do this, and you build business.

Jed Mole

Jed Mole


Jed Mole, Vice President of Marketing, Acxiom.