GDPR Is Good For Marketing

Nearly 20 years ago, a book was published which was to change marketing forever.

Before that, marketing* was about interrupting people with messages they didn’t ask for and didn’t want.

“Interruption Marketing was easy. Build a few ads, run them everywhere. Interruption Marketing was scalable. If you need more sales, buy more ads. Interruption Marketing was predictable. With experience, a mass marketer could tell how many dollars in revenue one more dollar in ad spending would generate. Interruption Marketing fit the command and control bias of big companies. It was totally controlled by the advertiser, with no weird side effects.” ― Seth Godin

The problem

Until February 2007, it was fair game for businesses to beg, borrow or ‘steal’ as much information about us as possible and use it to bombard us with ‘buy my shit’ messages.

Leaflets shoved in our faces, mail stuffed through our letterboxes, email spam, ads in newspapers, ads in magazines, ads on the radio and ads on TV. No stone, unturned.

The trouble is, for many, nothing’s changed. In fact, with the onset of social media, messaging apps and mobile devices the problem is worse than ever.

The problem is that we don’t like our personal data being used behind our backs and without our permission.

We don’t want to be force-fed random ‘buy my shit’ messages for stuff we don’t want.

The book introduced a solution to all this. And yet most businesses and marketers carried on as if it had never been written.

The carrot

The book of course is Permission Marketing (Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers) by Seth Godin.

The key point of the book is that businesses and marketers need to explain what they’re about, what to expect and seek permission before pushing any kind of marketing message or communication.

“By talking only to volunteers, Permission Marketing guarantees that consumers pay more attention to the marketing message,” Seth writes. “It serves both customers and marketers in a symbiotic exchange.”

The best marketers got the message, changed their behaviour and made hay.

The rest continued to seek ever more devious ways to spend ever more money on driving the rest of us away.

The stick?

If Seth’s book was the carrot for better marketing, then GDPR is the stick.

In many ways GDPR is merely forcing bad marketers to do the right thing.

If, as Seth has said, “Advertising is the tax for the unremarkable” then GDRP is the super-tax for the unscrupulous.

What next?

Bad and unremarkable marketers who are not taxed out of existence are likely to rely ever more on ads.

Ads of course have their place but there’s a big difference between a ‘buy my shit now’ ad and a subtle push for your latest ‘guide to planning a wedding for the over-sixties’.

Good marketers will know what I mean here 😉 In case you’re not a marketer then I’ll expand a little. We’re all wary of pushy ads. No-one wants random ‘get a cheap loan’ ads pushed in their face. On the other hand, most of us would not object to some timely information on how to solve a problem we’re currently facing – including via email. Being up-front about how you can genuinely help potential customers, asking for permission to communicate with them and making it easy to ‘unsubscribe’ is not just good manners, but good business too. GDPR simply enforces that approach.

For good marketers, nothing changes. Except perhaps that a lot of noise from bad marketing will fade away.

For us consumers, dare we expect less spam email? Easier ways to opt-out of email. Less crap through the letterbox?

GDPR is enforceable from today!

Could GDPR create more room for the good stuff? For the genuinely helpful, educational, entertaining stuff sent by good marketers for people who raise their hands. For those who willingly give their permission.

I believe that GDPR is a golden opportunity for good marketers to do even better!

*To be fair ‘some’ marketing has always been exceptional – even before Seth’s seminal book on Permission Marketing.

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Ben Breen

Ben is a co-founder at NestEgg. He's been transforming the bottom-line for startups to tier one investment banks for over 30 years via digital technology & growth strategy. Tai chi and leaf tea keep him going.

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