How a Marketing Automation Platform Can Help With GDPR Compliance

The personal data economy has been increasing for years. Now with the General Data Protection Regulation ( GDPR) deadline around the corner, data collection and enterprise responsibility will finally merge.

This is obviously great news for consumers, but what about marketers? Is GDPR a burden or a blessing?

On the surface, GDPR is a lot to take in. Nearly three out of every four marketers don’t fully understand the GDPR privacy laws they’ll be tasked to operate within, while one in four organizations say they’re still in initial planning stages.

But for marketers, GDPR doesn’t have to be intimidating. Being GDPR-compliant essentially means building trust and improving customer engagement -and hasn’t that always been the goal?

Let’s take a closer look at GDPR and the role marketing automation platforms will play in GDPR compliance.

The Effect of GDPR on Marketing Automation

Marketing automation platforms have long been a valuable tool to help teams track leads and subscribers via various profile segments, measure ROI, and give marketers a complete view of the customer lifecycle.

These platforms are even more crucial in a world governed by GDPR. Without automation infrastructure in place, companies can end up with disorganized data that leads to costly fines. A marketing automation platform can help you track and verify that data is managed in a GDPR-compliant way.

However, no one said building a solid data foundation to become GDPR-compliant would be easy. Expect the following challenges and changes from GDPR:

  • Current consumer data and email lists may no longer be valid, depending on how they were obtained
  • Less consumer data will be collected than historical norms
  • Trying to get existing databases to fully opt-in will be difficult
  • Consumer consent needs to be properly documented, including when and how it was collected
  • Consumers must be able to opt-out at any time
  • Specific types of consent must be matched with concrete goals
  • Department-wide security standards and best practices must be implemented for accessing and using automation platforms containing customer data

Under GDPR, gaining consumer consent doesn’t mean marketers have free reign to process or control all data they can acquire about a data subject. For example, if an auto insurance provider obtains a consumer’s personal details (such as name, age, address, driving history, and their vehicle make/model), that doesn’t mean the company can collect the subject’s health information, income level, or ethnicity.

In some cases, marketing teams should get in the habit of storing pseudonymous data, or data that cannot be attributed to a specific data subject without additional, separate data points. Setting up systems like this requires thinking critically about how and where you store data (and saying goodbye to the days of data dumps!).

Three Ways Marketing Automation Helps Achieve GDPR Compliance

GDPR compliance marketing offers the opportunity for marketers to learn more about their customers and handle their data responsibly.

There are plenty of ways a marketing automation platform can help, but there are three key points to keep in mind:

  • Setting prospect and customer permission levels
  • Allowing customers to manage their email preferences and information shared with them
  • Separating need-to-know info from nice-to-know info

1. Set Prospect and Customer Permission Levels

A hallmark feature of GDPR is giving prospects and customers the right to change their mind about consent at any time, and not in a black-and-white way. Prospects and customers can choose to give full consent, or they can say they only want their name stored. Whether they provide full or limited consent, they can decide to revoke this consent at any time. The amount of data shared is up to the customer’s discretion, and marketers have to make these data-sharing options explicitly clear.

An easy way to do this is to use unambiguous language (in a UX-friendly way) regarding what customers choose to share. Want to track a customer’s location? A message needs to pop up asking if that’s OK. Want to send a customer special offers and coupons through email and text? Include language like “Would you like to receive special offers and coupons via email or text?” with an unchecked box next to it, and make sure the box is not required to submit the form.

Keeping track of different levels of information might seem daunting, and it would be without marketing automation software. Within your automation platform, be sure to create separate permission lists and update them regularly based on customer withdrawal or updated permissions.

2. Manage Customers’ Email Preferences

With the right strategy, GDPR and email marketing go together quite well. (After all, when has buying email lists and mass spamming ever helped a company win customers?)

Consider a customer who really enjoys a monthly newsletter with curated stories from around the web but absolutely hates the barrage of ‘updated feature’ announcements. This customer can indicate they don’t want to receive feature updates via email, but they still want the monthly newsletter. Instead of continuing to be frustrated by irrelevant emails (and eventually unsubscribing from everything), the customer is much happier and is encouraged to keep engaging with the relevant content.

Allowing customers to manage their email preferences is a win-win situation. Customers get information that is more relevant and interesting to them, and marketers get a more satisfied, engaged, and receptive audience. Putting the power back in customers’ hands can help email marketers improve open rates, deliver more precise messaging, and refine customer segments.

By using your marketing automation platform to create an email preference or subscription center, you can help customers choose the information they receive in a simple, user-friendly way.

3. Collect Only GDPR-Compliant Data

As marketers, sometimes we’re guilty of collecting too much data. It’s tempting to find as much out about a prospect as possible, hoping every collected detail will increase the chances of a conversion or long-term retention.

But unfortunately, the opposite is usually true. Databases become unwieldy and automated features don’t work as well as they could with a sharper data set. For example, think about the auto insurance example above: insurance agencies may want to know the income levels of their prospects and customers, but is it necessary to providing them with insurance coverage? In the case of GDPR compliance, can you prove why that data is necessary to provide the service? Maintaining a healthy and compliant database can yield the added benefits of faster and easier searching and performance and better analytics.

Marketing teams need to be prepared to prove why they need every piece of data they collect. When your customer data is centralized in a marketing automation platform, you can easily analyze this data for GDPR compliance. Within your platform, review the information you collect, match it with a business case, and make a final decision about whether or not it meets GDPR standards.

Taking Steps Toward GDPR Compliance

GDPR can be overwhelming at face value, but at its core, it’s a huge opportunity for marketers. It strengthens consumer data protections and provides a unifying set of guidelines for companies and marketers to follow.

Want to continue learning about GDPR and how marketers can prepare? Check out our comprehensive guide to GDPR for marketers.

Peter Bell will also be giving a talk on GDPR compliance at our annual Marketing Nation Summit.


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