How the GDPR Will Lead to New Marketing Opportunities


Marketing to elusive prospects might get easier with a little help from the GDPR PHOTO: Edd’s Images

When I was in junior high, almost every sleepover involved a midnight snipe hunt. We’d traipse around the neighborhood with pillowcases trying to capture the elusive snipe, a very rare bird.  

I don’t know what we would have done had we caught one, but seeing as they don’t exist in the suburban Midwest, the point was moot. 

Turns out my friends and I weren’t alone.

Robert Allen Palmatier describes a Snipe Hunt as, “A snipe hunt or fool’s errand is a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task.”

Searching For Elusive Prospects

Many days it feels like I’m back in those snipe hunting days, though now it’s the elusive prospect I’m trying to find.  

At least now I know they exist — but they are scattered across so many sites and channels it’s becoming harder and harder to uncover and reach them.   

In our Herculean efforts to reach these customers — leveraging advertising and email platforms, marketing automation systems and vast inside sales teams — we are collectively burying our prospects in a barrage of content, email and phone calls. We all complain about the noisy market environment we work in yet we are the perpetrators of that noise. 

Until a new way forward becomes clear we’ll likely carry on until we are forced to regroup.

That mandate to regroup may not be far away.  

Prospects are turning to ad blockers, unsubscribing from emails or using email management tools to siphon off unwanted newsletters, and avoiding phone calls — all in an effort to diminish the noise. eMarketer reports that 26.3 percent of U.S. internet users will use an ad blocker this year, and that most U.S. millennials have installed an ad blocker on at least one device.  

Taking Lessons From Europe for Our Own Marketing Future

We haven’t yet reached a tipping point that will drive a change in how we market, but it’s on the horizon. In Europe, new privacy regulations are forcing marketers to change the way they acquire, manage and retain prospect and customer data. 

Looking to Europe and the impact that these new regulations will have for marketing may jumpstart our own thinking about  how we need to plan for a future where our prospects are proactively taking themselves “off the grid” from a marketing perspective.

Reading Into the GDPR Tea Leaves

As a British ex-pat I have one foot on each side of the Atlantic. Dan Mashiter is a London-based family member and fellow marketer working at In his day to day job he focuses on growth marketing for consumer and technology startups. He is immersed in managing the impact of privacy regulations and ad blocking technology in the UK and European environment.  

I asked Dan for his insight on what is happening in Europe.

Brearton: Dan, the last time we talked you mentioned that ad blockers and the new European privacy regulations were starting to impact how marketers reach and engage with prospects. Give me a high level overview of the new European regulations, when they go into effect and what they mean for marketers.

Dan Mashiter
Dan Mashiter

Mashiter: The General Data Protection Regulations or GDPR is the collective term for a series of data privacy regulations thrashed out over 3 years by EU policy makers that will come into force in 2018. Contained within this 200-page behemoth of a document are some of the most wide-ranging privacy reforms ever penned.

Having only recently been finalized, organizations are still trying to figure out exactly how they will be affected. But undoubtedly the biggest implication for marketers is the requirement to obtain “unambiguous” consent from an individual to use their data for marketing purposes. 

I interpret this as highly specific individual opt-in, where the individual has a clear comprehension of the action they are being asked to take.

Brearton: So what about the Terms and Conditions statements that we all leverage for “consent” that make note of using user data for marketing purposes?

Mashiter: Bundled consent will become a thing of the past. Let’s face it, when a company can claim the rights to your immortal soul in their terms and conditions and nobody notices, something’s wrong.

Brands will need to tell potential customers directly within data collection forms what they plan to do with the data, how they will protect it and how long they’ll retain it. Doing this without impacting conversion represents a huge challenge for marketers and I’d suggest the industry runs to their user experience designers rather than their lawyers.

Brearton: I agree, it will change how gated content is used in a content marketing program, how leads are collected and processed at events and how referral programs work. It seems like the days of filling the top of the funnel with an indiscriminate collection of potential prospects will give way to a more thoughtful approach to targeting and lead acquisition.

Mashiter: It’s common practice for brands to gather and squirrel away as much potential prospect data as they can — even if someone isn’t an immediate prospect, they could be one day. 

Under GDPR, this will no longer be such a straightforward decision: First, the cost of obtaining a prospect will increase as consumers self-select into marketing programs. Second, brands will need to justify up front to prospects why they need their data and, if this appears purely self serving, it’s likely to have a negative impact on the individual’s perception of the brand, at the beginning of the prospect relationship. 

Brearton: How will this impact brands and marketing companies that share or sell their prospect lists and customer data? 

Mashiter: It’s likely that brands will decide it’s no longer worth selling their customers’ data, or sharing it with partners, because they’d need consent first. Even if brands try to get this consent, given the clearer wording and shift to opt-in, far fewer people will give it.  

So, all in all, there will be less available data and marketers will need to adapt to data scarcity.

Brearton: Do the regulations also cover opting out?

Mashiter: Within GDPR exists “the Right to Erasure.” At any time, consent to use data can be withdrawn, and save a few exceptions companies will then be required to delete any data they hold on the individual. It essentially allows for a clean break — let’s face it, it’s sometimes for the best anyway.

Brearton: If the goal of these regulations is to give control of personal data back to the individual, do they also provide an environment where consumers can monetize their own data and in effect, ask brands to pay for their information and the right to market to them?

Mashiter: This is certainly an interesting area. Data is no different to any other commodity — as the supply of data falls, while demand continues to rise, the value of data will increase. 

The amount marketers will be prepared to pay to reach qualified prospects will create an environment in which it’s more attractive for consumers to realize the value of  their own data. A number of startups, included, are entering this space, hoping to be the platform that enables this value exchange.

Brearton: What are the implications of ignoring these regulations?

Mashiter: The penalties for failure to comply are significant — 4 percent of global annual turnover or €20 million, whichever is greater. 

It’s also worth noting that the regulation applies to businesses that market their goods or services in the EU. Any organization that collects and stores the personal data of an EU citizen needs to comply. U.S. companies are starting to respond, with Facebook recently signing up to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, the transatlantic method of conforming to GDPR.

Brearton: So how do you think about marketing in light of these new regulations ?

Mashiter: There are two ways to look at GDPR for a marketer: as a threat or as an opportunity. 

As an industry, marketing has a history of embracing new ideas and rapid innovation. Shifting control of data to the individual and openly asking for it will only improve the quality of the data we have at our disposal. Better data should mean better marketing. I’m excited for this new age.

An Opportunity in Snipe’s Clothing

My first reaction after having this conversation was yikes, what happens to my advertising, email and social programs?  

But the more I think about it, the more I agree with Dan’s assessment: the GDPR will lead to new marketing opportunities. 

We’ll qualify genuine prospects earlier in the sales cycle and start work sooner to develop a long term relationship based on mutual respect and prospect preferences. If we give consumers more control over who markets to them and how, then we’ll start to solve the problems associated with information overload and unwanted calls, which in turn will create space and time for a better marketing/prospect match and interaction.  

In many ways, this is another refinement of Account Based Marketing. 

So as the snipe becomes even more elusive, we’ll have to step up our game, improve our targeting and eliminate the one size fits all marketing content that we use to acquire email addresses and top of the funnel leads.  

My takeaway is this:

  1. It’s time to address and pay attention to the implications of ad blockers and email management tools as they relate to our current marketing programs, and to focus on figuring out how to reach a smaller, more qualified set of prospect customers.  
  2. Prioritize staying abreast of account based marketing technology and keeping an eye out for new platforms that provide new ways to engage prospects and acquire good consumer data.
  3. Let Europe be our canary in the goldmine (couldn’t resist a second bird reference). Watching what happens in Europe as privacy regulations go into effect will provide insight into how we might evolve our own strategy and programs.  My guess is that we’ll see new technology innovation coming out of Europe as well as new ways to connect and engage customers.  

Let’s embrace change, look for the opportunities and head out to find that snipe.

(Editor’s Note: Anita Brearton will take part in a roundtable discussing investing in marketing technology at CMSWire’s DX Summit this month in Chicago. The conference takes place Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua. Learn more about the agenda here.)

Anita Brearton is Founder/CEO and Co-CMO of CabinetM, the world’s largest MarTech marketplace and collaboration platform for marketers and marketing technology companies. Anita is a long time tech start-up marketer and has had the great fortune of driving marketing programs through the early stages of a startup all the way to IPO and acquisition.


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