The new EU data legislation: change is coming. How can your business rise to the challenge?

eu data

Kevin Williams

Posted on August 20, 2015

The ways we can legally gather, manage, share and store personal data are changing.  That means although direct marketing isn’t dead, it is going to have to change too. Many marketers have known this for some time, but announcements on new EU data law may prove to be the final confirmation we all needed.

Changes may be unpopular, but they are due. The new data law is designed to replace and update the 1995 Data Protection Act, and it would be hard to argue that isn’t necessary – the old Act is twenty years old, after all. In that time, technology has changed, the way we use that technology has changed, and people’s attitudes to marketing have changed – people simply don’t want their time wasted or to receive unsolicited approaches. The data laws that have been proposed are in direct response to these changes; designed to better fit and protect modern consumers and audiences.

The hard truth is that what’s now seen as best for our audience and their interests may no longer match our business ambitions in the most convenient way. It is us that will have to adapt, and not always comfortably so.

All is not lost, though. Once you’ve got your head around the proposed changes, you may find that it provides opportunities for positive market growth that you hadn’t yet considered.

The changes

At their simplest, the new EU data law is about one thing: instead of holding data till people opt out, all personal data can only be legally held and used if a person has actively and positively opted in.

This covers every type of personal data – names, private addresses, personal phone numbers and named email addresses included. If someone hasn’t explicitly said you can use it, you won’t be allowed to record it in a database or initiate direct communication using it.

The remainder of the law will be about protecting that – maintaining audit trails and ensuring regulators can prove you’re only holding opted-in data. It will also be about creating safe systems that protect held data and allow people to legitimately opt out any time.

The EU legislation outlining all this has been drafted and will likely be approved this year, incorporating a grace period for businesses with nothing enforced until late 2017.

For marketers that rely heavily on direct marketing and prospect data approaches, purchase lists and cold, scatter-gun approaches to sales, this is obviously going to have a huge impact.

What to do now

The end of 2017 feels, admittedly, a long way off, and with an impending referendum there are many arguing that a ‘wait and see’ approach to these changes is best for now.

We disagree. Now is the time to act. Even if we’re no longer in the EU by the end of 2017, updated data protection laws in some shape or form are inevitable at some point, and the earlier you can start preparing for that, the more resiliently your business will thrive.

Here are four ways to respond now.

1. Make the most of what you’ve got

It makes sense to benefit from the old data laws for as long as you can. Start a new opted-in database now, with all appropriate audit trails, and see how you could convert some of the people on your old database to your new one.

Identify who you already have a relationship with and the most valuable potential leads that you’d like to hold onto. How could you start creating opportunities for them to opt into future communications? Think about referral schemes, too. Who could you incentivise to help you generate opted-in leads?

And remember, at this stage, you can still approach and ask people personally and directly, so make the most of that.

2. Begin integrating new data practices

Now’s the time to educate staff and start safeguarding your data handling. Drill it into your staff to make sure opting in is built into every future communication opportunity.

Talk to your IT department to review or improve the protections in place on your data storage and start creating the systems that will ensure that you can be positively accountable for all the data you hold. Under the new proposed law, all larger organisations over 250 staff will also need to assign a Data Protection Officer, so bear that in mind and plan ahead for the training and resources this may require.

3. Invest in your inbound marketing

The best way to encourage people to opt in, whether they’re existing clients or new leads, is by providing useful content and resources in return. Content marketing, also known as inbound marketing, is about creating attractive opportunities and rewarding relationships that encourage clients to come to you and offer their details, rather than you chasing them. This is exactly what the new law is trying to promote. What’s more, and most importantly, inbound marketing is also cheaper and more effective than older direct marketing approaches.

It’s worth stressing: adopting inbound marketing strategies will not only see better results for your business, it will naturally work in harmony with any new data laws that are passed and make it much less stressful to adapt.

4. Make use of analytics

Analytics platforms such as Hubspot and WOW Analytics make your digital marketing go further and help negate the need for purchase lists and cold calling.

Analytics tools can help you see who uses your website and what they do there, and then alert you to hot leads demonstrating buying behaviour. This is especially useful for people in the B2B market – analytics can identify the ‘keen’ organisations looking at your website that might be open to a call or an email, so you can target your energies on businesses that are already warm and receptive.

Remember, it’s only personal information that will be restricted – there will be nothing stopping you contacting a business and asking to speak to ‘the IT manager’, for example. Observe who’s interested, and then be proactive.

Change is never easy, but to be good marketers we need to put our market first. The new laws, like it or not, do that too. We market well by not ignoring and bulldozing over people’s attitudes to technology and marketing, but by listening, adapting and not being too stubborn to change.

The way we respond to the changes in data laws could say everything about us, as professionals and as brands. It’s time to stop our resistance or pretence that change won’t happen and, instead, rise to meet it.

If you need help integrating a commitment to inbound marketing within your business, come and talk to us. We’re a financial marketing agency and inbound marketing is our speciality.