GDPR won’t kill you. It’ll make you stronger

The General Data Protection Regulation is edging ever closer. Columnist John Steinert explains how marketers can use the impending change as a catalyst for delivering marketing ROI.

GDPR won’t kill you. It’ll make you stronger
One thing that’s been both helpful to the companies I’ve worked for and to my own success has been a willingness to do the work necessary to improve processes. It started with asking the question, “Why can’t we do this better?” And sometimes it started by someone telling me, “You must do this better!” The point is, both cases actually helped me do better for my company and for my career.

In the last 20 years, there have been a lot of these challenges that have turned into real opportunities. If you practice B2B marketing in Europe now (but frankly, anywhere going forward), I’m confident that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) represents an opportunity for you, too.

Taking advantage of catalytic moments

Catalytic moments are changes occurring either inside or outside your business that can really accelerate change. (While this can be both positive and negative change, I’ll focus only on the positive side here).

To maximize your business and personal growth, you’ll want to do your best to see these catalytic moments as opportunities and take advantage of them. For me, as a B2B tech marketer, there have been many — giant and more modest alike: the internet, SaaS (software as a service), certainly Y2K, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, social, martech and on and on. It’s been fantastic.

With my global marketer hat on, I’d say the latest catalyst out there is the European Union’s GDPR, which will take effect on May 25, 2018. If you’re a data-driven marketer like me, you’ll want to take advantage of this to improve your team and your company’s performance.

While it’s easier (and maybe “safer” in the short run) to focus simply on compliance, the companies and individuals who’ll out-compete their peers are those who see and act on the opportunities that GDPR provides.

Our uber-catalyst: The data-driven marketing revolution

Over the past 10 years and more, leading B2B marketers have propelled their businesses using a combination of new channels and “experiences” (digital, social and so on), new automation technologies (systems like CRM and MAP) and new “fuel sources” (new funding and business models, together with new sources of information about markets, customers and prospects). While all of this has been packaged as “digital transformation,” for my purposes, I need to take it down a notch and focus only on the marketing part.

All of us marketers are right now at a point along the continuum toward data-driven marketing perfection — the end-game where you’re truly doing everything you can to maximize ROI. It isn’t easy to get there, but I believe that instead of worrying about GDPR, you can use it to help move your team forward toward a much better use of data.

Preparing for GDPR will require you to understand your data inputs and data usage much more comprehensively. And when you understand the ins and outs of data, you’re on the way to putting it to better use.

How to become a better data-driven marketer as GDPR nears

Understand the strategic opportunity

Among the many areas where better data can help a marketer, the strategic piece — where you use broad-reaching information to assess current performance and plan for a better future — will probably be affected relatively little by GDPR. That’s because for strategy, while you need to know a lot about the companies and product categories that affect your business, you don’t need granular detail about the individual role players within them.

The legal environment that protects company information (or, for public companies, makes it available) is already quite mature. That said, if you’re going to use GDPR as an opportunity, it would still make sense to examine how well you’re leveraging data for strategic purposes, and to incorporate your strategic needs in your overall evaluation.

Maximize access to total active demand

A key challenge that most companies face with respect to data is the fact that their inbound information sources only give them a small sliver of the total relevant demand in the market at any given time. To make sure your company has visibility into total available demand (so you have a chance of increasing your share) and to better understand your market as a whole, you need to look outside of your active customer lists and your inbound data sources.

You need to acquire this information in a way that enables you to act on it quickly. The most advanced marketers are doing this on a regular basis. GDPR will affect this process because it will help guide you to the right sources that will aid your compliance rather than increase your risk.

Optimize data usage

Once you’re on your way to leveraging data from sources inside and outside your company, you’re on the path to better overall business performance. Yet for many of us, there’s so much data that it can easily overwhelm our ability to prioritize the actions that grow near-term ROI. Given this reality, the requirements of GDPR will help companies sort through which data to focus on for ROI in the following ways:

1. You must understand why you need better data, both for GDPR and to get funding. 

To leverage data successfully, you need a good understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and what information you require to achieve it — you need to know what data you need and how you will use it.

Regulators are working on defining what kinds of data use will actually be considered “legitimate.” So you’ll probably need to be able to clearly explain why you need the data you intend to use. The reality is, for your own planning and budgeting, being able to explain your needs well will help you both with GDPR and with getting the funding you need.

2. Understanding where your data comes from (for GDPR) will help you streamline your sources. 

Here’s an example: To be able to achieve higher conversion rates, you need to target more precisely. For maximum precision, you need information about specific individuals and their buyer’s journey behavior.

Great data — the kind that makes it possible to see contextually relevant behavior, associate it correctly to the time it occurred, and to the real person who exhibited it — is at least partially available in your inbound systems. (You can capture it with good inbound forms and require it of your CRM inputters.) But there are also a lot of data threads where you only get a fraction of this information. To leverage these, you need to try to weave it all together so you can reconstruct a real targetable person from the many disparate fragments of information about them that you may be able to find. But that’s a lot of work!

An alternative approach that takes less effort and is therefore likely to deliver better ROI in the near term (at least from a resource-use perspective) would be to look for ways to get the most complete picture possible from the fewest possible sources. That will make it easier for you to use the data instead of having to build data compilation capabilities into your processes.

So, how could GDPR help you with this? GDPR will likely help here because it could force us all to prioritize approaches that get us to use data as easily and quickly as possible.

3. GDPR helps us think more clearly about data sourcing.

This is especially true with the third-party data providers you are using. Here’s how this could play out: GDPR is partly about evolving our own ability, as private individuals, to control how data about us is used. So the regulators are now looking at exactly what should be done to properly protect each of us from unscrupulous data vendors.

If you’re working with vendors whose own data acquisition methods are unclear, to be in compliance, you may need to follow those data threads all the way back to their origin to be confident that there’s understanding and (possibly) permission. This isn’t likely to be an easy or efficient undertaking. It’ll add time and maybe cost, which will both reduce ROI.

Putting GDPR into process: 3 clear ROI optimization opportunities for B2B marketers

Recently, McKinsey published a paper about the rise of the data industry called “Fueling Growth Through Data Monetization.” They noted that acquiring data to maximize ROI is already commonplace in marketing.

It’s a fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations that are happy to supply data they say will increase my marketing success: I get three solicitations like this every day. Using GDPR as a catalyst, we have the opportunity to make sure our companies have processes in place to identify, govern, manage and leverage the data we need. Here’s why:

1. Better data sources provide a more direct path to value.

Better data sources originate from reputable suppliers. They are created in ways that you can clearly understand and assess with reference to your needs and regulatory requirements. Furthermore, they’re likely to be a faster path to more scalable ROI because their completeness creates a more direct path to value and potentially easier usage within in your own systems and processes.

2. GDPR should help you reduce wasted data spend and get more leverage on what you buy.

Because the expected regulations will likely require you to know a lot more about the data that’s being acquired by teams within your company, you’ll have to gain much more visibility into who’s buying (or capturing in other ways) what. You’ll want to centralize oversight of this to more easily manage what should be bought and what shouldn’t.

Even before GDPR goes into effect, you should begin by issuing some guidance so that affected colleagues can begin to understand the key concepts and exposures. This will help jump-start the prioritization process with an eye toward eliminating those data sources that clearly add less value and pose greater risk.

3. GDPR will make you a better marketer and a better businessperson.

The bottom line is that as data-driven marketing continues maturing, the best practitioners are accelerating their advantages over the also-rans. If you feel that you’re doing well in this race, focusing on GDPR should help make you even better. If you feel that your company is lagging in how it leverages data, you owe it to yourself to try to seize this opportunity — to make the case for acting more aggressively now.

GDPR gives you a great chance to build a robust business case that will help your company become compliant, and at the same time propel you toward a more capable data-driven marketing future.


[Article on MarTech Today.]

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

John Steinert is the CMO of TechTarget, where he helps bring the power of purchase intent-driven marketing and sales services to technology companies. Having spent most of his career in B2B and tech, John has earned a notable reputation by helping build business for global leaders like Dell, IBM, Pitney Bowes and SAP – as well as for fast-growth, emerging players. He’s passionate about quality content, continuously improving processes and driving meaningful business results.


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