GDPR: The end of the world as we know it, or a dawn of a new age?

Joel Harrison explores why GDPR is more important as an opportunity to break our bad habits and do better marketing, rather than an immovable obstacle

The GDPR-themed evening networking event that we ran this January, in partnership with twogether agency, unequivocally proved a number of things to me.

Firstly, that B2B marketers (often for the first time) are starting to wake up to the fact that GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a reality, and really is going to happen on 25 May – it’s not something they can put off thinking about any longer.

Secondly, and consequently, there’s a growing sense of panic from many marketers – in both small firms and large global organisations – about what this actually means and what needs to be done about it. Speaking at the event, data specialist lawyer Elle Todd from firm CMS London, confirmed she’s taking calls on an almost daily basis from marketers at firms that are household names who have yet to even start thinking about it.

GDPR an opportunity, not a catastrophe

Third, and I think most interestingly, the event proved that this is a genuine watershed moment for B2B marketing, and it’s a chance for marketers to make a break from the past and potentially completely transform what marketing looks like in B2B organisations. And for many, that must surely be an enormous opportunity.

So, why is it such a seminal moment? Well, as B2B Marketing’s deputy editor Paul Snell so clearly and concisely expressed in his presentation to the tech marketers present at the event, it’s possible to make a case to continue doing the kind of email-centric marketing that most B2B marketing has been increasingly addicted to over the past 15 years, under GDPR. And as he further suggested, it may even be possible that separate legislation may soften the impact of GDPR, the rules won’t be enforced strictly to the letter (at least initially) or that B2B firms will be beneath the radar of a regulator, which is, first and foremost, eager to make an example of high-profile transgressors (most likely B2C).

In other words, to a greater or lesser extent, cross your fingers, keep on keeping on and just hope that everything works out okay. And it might just do that. At least for a while.

A chance to re-think email marketing

But surely not forever. And I think, as most marketers accept, email is a bad habit that we need to break. GDPR represents both stick and carrot to do that. On the positive side, it represents an opportunity to invest in other forms of marketing – to stretch ourselves (and our agencies) to think more creatively about engagement techniques, channel optimisation, AI-driven buyer journeys, laser-focused targeting and generation of content that's both interesting and (above all) useful. Not just churning out another email.

Necessity, as we all know, is the mother of invention – and there’s nothing like a crisis to focus the mind. So, GDPR is your chance to think different – to do the kind of marketing that you really want to do, and (at the risk of overstating it) to be the kind marketer you want to be. I believe it really is as important as that.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t prepare for GDPR – if you don’t have an action plan, now’s the time to create one. And as Elle Todd also pointed out, it’s not too late if you start now.

But don’t just get sucked in to trying to preserve an approach to marketing that’s dominated by email. Use this as a chance to make a change, and to start to think and act differently.

So, to answer the question posed in the title, I believe that GDPR doesn’t need to be the end of the world, and can be the dawn of a new golden age for B2B marketing.

Getting to grips with the GDPR: A B2B marketer’s guide

This free comprehensive guide explains what the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is, how this incoming data protection law will affect your organisation, and the practical steps to take to prepare for it.

Learn how to comply

Getting to grips with the GDPR: A B2B marketer’s guide image