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The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) have reshaped the way businesses can use personal data for marketing purposes. For businesses to ensure they have effective digital marketing strategies in place, compliance with data protection is key. This doesn’t mean that businesses can’t contact their customers. It just means that how they store their data and how they make contact must be in the customers’ best interest.

In this article we’ll outline what GDPR is and what it means for your company’s digital marketing strategy.

What is GDPR?

GDPR stands for the General Data Protection Regulation. This is a comprehensive set of data protection regulations introduced by the European Union. It came into effect to protect individuals' privacy and ensure their personal data is processed lawfully and securely.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing starts with creating a digital strategy to promote the business’ products or services. This strategy can include activities like social media marketing, email campaigns, content marketing, paid adverts and more. In digital marketing, personal data plays a significant role in targeting and engaging with the right audience.

For example, various digital marketing channels can be used to reach the same user. These include things like social media platforms, google ads or more traditional marketing like email. 

Think of the last time you heard someone joke that their phone was ‘listening’ to them. Without an understanding of digital marketing, it can feel that way when you’ve been bombarded with online adverts.

This happens when your data is being used to target you with specific online advertisements, across digital platforms, based on your actions online. These could include social networks, affiliate marketing or use things like video content to get your attention.

Often, when these targeted digital marketing techniques are deployed properly, you may not actively notice them. Or you might be pleased to see an advert for something that you are genuinely interested in. But the important thing is that it’s your choice how that data is used.

Your customers need to be able to ‘opt in’ to marketing messages from you. This means giving them a clear understanding of what they’re receiving and why. You cannot simply opt them in to receive advertising anymore.

How can GDPR have an impact on my business?

GDPR means that digital marketers have to be diligent in how they store and use customer data, and how they advertise to their customers. Businesses are required to be fully compliant in their communications efforts.

Customers are more aware of their digital footprint and rights regarding personal information usage. They are also more eager to protect their privacy. This has led to a shift in the types of digital marketing practices used. 

It's no longer possible to run a business without an awareness of GDPR. If you are asked about your practices and you have nothing in place, you could face significant fines. Becoming GDPR compliant doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can take some time to set the processes up correctly. You can always check these with a legal expert if you are unsure.

What GDPR practices do I need to put in place?

To ensure compliance, small businesses in the UK need to focus on three key areas:

1. Data permission

Obtain explicit consent from individuals before collecting and using their personal data. This includes having clear opt-in mechanisms and allowing users to easily withdraw consent. Including an unsubscribe link in promotional emails is an example of withdrawing consent easily. It also means using clear language to let the customer know what they will be getting if they opt-in.

2. Data access

Individuals should have easy access to their personal data and the ability to manage how businesses communicate with them. It also means that customers should be able to easily request removal of their personal data.

3. Data focus

Marketers should only request information that is genuinely necessary. Relying on 'legitimate interest' may not be sufficient, especially in the business-to-consumer (B2C) environment. Activities like buying data lists and using third-party data sources are less attractive under GDPR. This is because businesses need to ensure any list is accurate and information was collected fairly, and that the consent is specific to cover their marketing. 

Legitimate interest means the information you send the customer (offers, marketing material) is in line with what they originally requested. An easy way to consider this is: would my customer be surprised to receive this marketing email? If they would, it’s probably not in line with their interests.

Companies are also obligated to store data only when it’s necessary. Holding on to an email list of customers from five or ten years ago, if you don’t have a long product life cycle, is probably not GDPR compliant. 

What is the risk of not dealing with GDPR properly?

Failure to adhere to GDPR regulations can result in severe consequences. Non-compliance may lead to substantial fines, with penalties reaching up to 4% of a company’s annual turnover.

Companies can be reported for GDPR failures, especially if consumers feel their data isn’t secure. This is why simple things like including unsubscribe links in emails, offering clarity around opt-ins and storing data securely is so important. 

In case of a data breach, businesses must notify the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) within 72 hours.

Here are some examples of the penalties when it comes to failure to comply with GDPR:

  • Financial penalties – can receive fines up to 20 million Euros or 4% annual turnover
  • Reputation damage – loss of trust from customers when breaches are discovered
  • Legal action by data subjects – individuals can seek compensation for damages
  • Suspension of data processing activities – can impact business productivity
  • Mandatory corrective measures – implement new policies, security measures etc

It's essential for organisations to prioritise GDPR compliance to avoid these potential consequences and to demonstrate a commitment to protecting the privacy and rights of individuals whose data they process.

How can I make sure I am GDPR compliant?

To ensure compliance, marketers should shift their focus to quality data practices. Only request information that is genuinely needed, and focus on transparency and accessibility. Seeking legal guidance is crucial, and you can download our Complete Guide to GDPR for Small Businesses if you’d like to learn more.

Having at least one person responsible for GDPR compliance in your organisation is a smart approach to ensure you stay up to date with data protection. This will make sure you have processes in place to protect your company.

Is GDPR changing in the UK?

As GDPR is an EU regulation, there has been some question as to how the UK will continue to interact with these processes post-Brexit. UK GDPR seeks to cover any issues that arise in the move away from European laws. The Data Protection and Digital Informtation Bill (No 2) is going through parliament currently and will outline how UK businesses need to protect customer data in the digital age.

Despite the updates to GDPR, businesses should view it as an opportunity to commit to quality data practices. GDPR compliance not only protects businesses from legal consequences but also builds trust with customers. Data collection will likely continue, but businesses should focus on compliance, transparency and accessibility.

Get legal assistance from LawBite

It's crucial to understand that GDPR is not designed to hinder businesses from communicating with their customers. Fully embracing compliance can have numerous benefits for organisations, including enhanced customer trust and loyalty.

Learn more about our data protection guidance by booking a free 15 minute consultation with one of our expert lawyers or by calling us on 020 3808 8314.


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In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

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