As the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) becomes law, Robert Rose argues why it’s not an obstacle, but an opportunity for marketers to engage their audiences like never before.

Well, like just about every over-hyped spring rock & roll festival, GDPR’s data apocalypse day of May 25th came and went with varying degrees of destruction in its wake. Some companies got blackout drunk, panicked, deleted their EU citizens from their databases and added even more annoying pop-ups and policy updates. Some (as in the case of a few US newspapers) waited too long to even show up to the show and decided to go dark for EU citizens.

But mostly marketers just bobbed along to the music. Consumer inboxes were chockablock with passive aggressive notices saying, “Fine, we’ve updated our privacy policies. Happy?” And of course, what that really meant was, “This sucks, so we’ve asked our lawyers to fix it, and we hope we’ve done everything they said to make us risk-free.”

Except now we’re all waking up on the festival grounds with empty beer bottles and our clothes wrapped around our feet. No one really knows how we got here, or where we’re going. We won’t truly understand the meaning of the ‘R’ in GDPR until the first lawsuits (which have already been filed) are litigated.

“GDPR is the overwhelming business case for content marketing – and better, different digital customer experiences.”

But, truly, GDPR and the fundamental shift in personal data management isn’t (and never has been) an issue of policy or technology. Looking at the strategy of how marketers deal with consumer data purely from a legal and/or IT perspective is a little like asking the local geologist about the impending disaster from a meteor strike. Instead, marketers must design and createtheir way out of this. GDPR is, at long last, the overwhelming business case for content marketing – and better, different digital customer experiences.

Are you interesting?

Let’s go back to one example from before the GDPR festival. Because the answer to GDPR has been here all along. In March 2016, Dos Equis, the beer brand, retired its ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’ campaign by sending him on a mission to Mars. The campaign was resurrected in September 2016 with a new actor, and a renewed approach. Interestingly (forgive the pun), while they have now retired the campaign, they are keeping the ‘interesting’ theme and adding in new, more topical digital experiences such as a fun, ‘fake news’ site.

But it’s what happened between March and September of 2016 that was most interesting (oh boy I did it again). The brand launched what it called the ‘Interesting Index’ – an interactive tool on the Dos Equis website. This tool let you discover how interesting you really are, by looking at your social media data. It provided you with a score based on the number of times you checked in to interesting places, events you attended, and your thirst for adventure.

“Data given voluntarily has more value because it has emotion built into it. It’s much more likely to be accurate and fresh, because of the emotional context in which it’s given.”

The score you received was then compared to all the other people who had taken the quiz, and returned a ranking to you. The brand even created a television campaign promoting the tool – featuring sportscaster Erin Andrews and actor Luis Guzman (they ranked 5,008 and 8,507 respectively). The awareness alone brought a needed boost and a bridge for the brand, as it readied the relaunch of its ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’ campaign. But, even more interesting (gah – sorry I keep doing it) were the vast amounts of data the interactive tool provided. This first-party information gave the brand insights as it prepared to roll out the campaign. In short, the team connected what could have been a simple, temporary PR stunt into a data-driven initiative to help them optimize all their new marketing campaign efforts.

But the best part of this whole interactive experience was that this data was given, not gathered. People willingly, happily, and trustingly gave Dos Equis the data. Data given voluntarily has more value because it has emotion built into it. It’s much more likely to be accurate and fresh, because of the emotional context in which it’s given. It is, inherently, more valuable because of that emotion. Now, it’s certainly up to the marketers to be good caretakers of that data. But it’s also, by definition, compliant.

The purpose of emotional data

As content marketing and the delivery of content-driven experiences evolve into some of the more powerful ways we can reach and retain consumers’ attention, the asset we are building for the organization can be the audience itself. The richer and more detailed the information we have on the audience, the more valuable the asset.

The one attribute that may be the strongest determinant of value for data lies in how and why the data was gathered.

Even in the era of GDPR – and CASL and other privacy regulations – data, and how quickly it can be acquired, is still the gold standard for many businesses. Data can be what tips the scale to what profitable actions marketers can take. However, the one attribute that may be the strongest determinant of value for data lies in how and why the data was gathered – and this is the new tune that content marketing was built to play.

The key power of content marketing is that it provides valuable experiences where our audience wants to willingly provide us with insightful information. In exchange for entertainment, engagement, education, or true utility, consumers are trustingly giving over accurate data in order to receive something they perceive as valuable. When you compare this to scanning trade show badges into a database, auto-subscribing visitors to a newsletter after gating an asset behind a registration screen, or tossing up some demand for information prior to granting access to a piece of content, you begin to see where the value starts to increase.

Emotional data is simply more valuable than data gathered through some surveillance or restriction-based approach.

The rock & roll of emotional data

Music is one of the most emotional art forms. Most of us love music. We’re moved by it. We’re persuaded by it. We often feel more connected to it than to our material possessions. Music can even influence how we behave in the world.

As marketers, our ability to deliver more emotional, interactive, content-driven experiences will be the key to receiving insightful data from our customers. And this, in turn, is how we rock the music of marketing in the new era of GDPR. If companies begin to treat content-driven marketing experiences with the same priority and care as the actual products they put into the marketplace, they can transform the entire purpose of marketing. It can go from a surveillance-based process of identifying the optimal ‘targets’ for persuasion, to a valuable experience where customers are more than willing to identify themselves.

“It’s up to us to design and innovate our way into competitive advantage.”

When consumers happily, willingly, and trustingly give us data, it’s simply a more meaningful and valuable asset for our business. Delivering relevant, interactive content early and often in the customer’s experience is a key piece of the evolving learning process of a broader content strategy.

But this requires us to rock it out. It requires a new approach to the music we play. We’ll need to create, and jam, and improvise and rock our way into this new era. The now current era of privacy is here. There’s no going back. The meteor has hit. The old show is over, and the new show is upon us. It’s up to us to design and innovate our way into competitive advantage.

We can, and should be, the rock stars of this new era. All we need do is walk out on to the stage, walk up to the mic and say…

Hello GDPR! We’re here to rock you!

Ready to rock?

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