Most marketers were flustered by the new policy, and understandably so. The policy was extremely unclear, few marketers knew what they needed to do to be compliant, and their email lists got way smaller in the wake of GDPR. However, after the initial shock, the impulse seemed to swerve towards belligerence and not innovation.

Marketers are now legally bound to handle, process and store personal data much more securely and transparently – whether they like it or not.

But marketers are not reorienting their strategies to prioritise the customer’s data and privacy. Rather, marketers are trying to find loopholes in policy and haranguing customers to extract data, perhaps now more than ever. Instead of developing methods that innovate within the purview of the policy, they are continuing to intensify the thrust of a strategy that no longer aligns with the current business environment. Rather than forcing a sale on someone, marketers should harness the power of data privacy’s advent to encourage organic engagement, which can be a catalyst for conversion (6).

1. Adapt and be willing to see the upside

It is redundant to fight a battle that has already been lost: GDPR is a reality that is here to stay. Adapting to things you can’t change or control is the best move – one that’s especially important in business. If done intelligently and creatively, adapting can turn into more of an advantage. For example, Lloyds ‘teaches’ its customers GDPR, in that they set out the parameters and requirements of GDPR in layman’s terms while presenting the new law through a positive, consumer-centric lens (5). Lloyds incorporated its GDPR email campaign with its wider digital marketing channel, including a plain-English FAQ landing page on its website for customers to learn more about GDPR (5). Marketers love numbers and ‘growth’, but a smaller number of contacts who willingly engage with your content is probably a lot better than having a million contacts who don’t even open your newsletters (6).

2. Renew your relationship with the customer

The UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has adopted a more conscientious approach to email marketing which is another good example of how innovation can trump a more belligerent, “spammy” approach to marketing. Take a look at the design of RSPB’s landing page. The articulation, as well the layout of the three phrases—“Yes please”, “No thanks” and “Let’s keep in touch – on your terms”—indicate a very clear delineation of consumer choice. This responsible and conscientious approach to email marketing has allowed RSPB to benefit from more engaged subscribers: “Looking at Return Path data we can compare RSPB subscribers from before this was enabled (click rate, benchmark=100), which shows that program performance has almost doubled (click rate, index=190) following the launch of the opt-in process” (5).

3. Own your competitive disadvantage – with a dash of humour

Digital marketer Oana Cristina recalls how a potentially “spammy” email won a minute of her time despite the flurry of emails in the wake of the policy’s announcement: A dash of humour, creativity and boldness can go a long way in jogging a customer’s attention. Sincerity and humble, humorous ownership of a competitive disadvantage—these two qualities can distinguish a successful marketer.

4. Innovation is necessary

There are those who believe that privacy is dead in the digital age, so forget about innovation in the age of GDPR. However, innovation that accounts for privacy protection is absolutely crucial, since a critical market share will refuse to accept and adopt technologies that don’t. 87% of end customers now report changing service providers if they do not handle their personal data adequately (1). Roger Dooley—a breakthrough thinker for today’s business agenda—elaborates:

“In [his] book’s closing chapter, Cialdini cites the example of a gas station which took advantage of a shortage to charge its customers ten times the normal price for fuel. The owner garnered huge short-run profits, but as soon as the shortage abated, customers abandoned the station and it eventually went out of business. Cialdini suggests ways that the owner could have used ethical means that would have made him profitable in the short run [but simultaneously, also have helped him] preserve or even…[enhance] his standing with his customers” (8).

Data anonymisation is one of many innovative strategies that marketers have been hesitant about. It is an urban myth that data anonymization destroys data and makes it unusable (2). For instance, LINC has been exploring the use of anonymized data in projects like CabAnon (3). The results, published in the article, “Can anonymized data still be useful”, demonstrate that in some cases anonymized data can be helpful (3). “LINC’s taxi database contains one entry per ride. Each entry gives the start and end times and locations for the ride. The use cases that LINC focused on use this data. The taxi database, however, contains a lot of other information: the taxi identifier, the driver identifier, the fare and tip amounts, the taxi vendor, and the number of passengers”, that could be dispensed with (3).

LINC put the use data to work to help passengers estimate their travel time in a cab from any location for which enough taxi data exists to LaGuardia airport (3). LINC looked at “three different time periods: the hour from 13:00 to 14:00 on weekends, the hour from 8:00 to 9:00 on weekdays, and the hour from 17:00 to 18:00 on weekdays. These three time periods were chosen to contrast non-rush hour with rush hour, and to contrast the morning rush from the evening rush” (3).

5. What’s in it for the customer?

It is counterintuitive to write an article about data privacy and marketing with a sole focus on businesses. The point of post-GDPR marketing is not to create a façade of trust. GDPR has been painstakingly drawn up over several years precisely to prioritise trust in an increasingly data-driven society and its effects can be profound (4). According to user-first marketing privacy consultant, Duane Schulz, as marketers drudge through GDPR’s different clauses, they will see how invasive some tracking was before GDPR (6). “If marketers had narratives of what each [tracking] tool did, they would step back,” says Schulz (6). This is very beneficial move for the consumer, and that’s something we as marketers should applaud. A benefit for the consumer isn’t a detriment to the marketer. As Lloyds’s approach showed, with creativity, marketers can convince consumers to submit their details with pleasure and trust.


A glass-half-full attitude and innovative strategies that prioritise trust, transparency and consent can help achieve a balance of scales: where both a company and a customer stand to gain.