By Ilona Hitel, Managing Director at CommsCo
It’s been three months since GDPR came into effect, yet organisations are still sending out marketing emails to individuals who have not opted-in. ‘Legitimate interest’, the loophole that businesses everywhere are using to continue outbound marketing, has been a saviour for marketing teams. Unbeknownst to many, however, that loophole is about to be closed for good.
Sitting alongside the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR, a new business acronym, PECR, will crack down on the ambiguity surrounding legitimate interest and provide an update on website cookie laws. PECR, which stands for the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, is expected to come into force in early 2019, and will prevent marketers from legally being allowed to contact any individual without prior consent. Simple as that.
Needless to say, when this new European Directive comes into effect, the implications for businesses across Europe will be huge, with marketing as we know it effectively ceasing to exist. Similar to GDPR, non-compliant companies will risk both a £500,000 fine as well as reputational damage – no small price to pay for any organisation.
The Changing Face of Marcomms
PECR is not simply a clampdown on unsolicited email communication, however, with the impending legislation being applied just as much to calls and text messages. In fact, all marketing by electronic means will be affected, with PECR also introducing more stringent rules around data privacy and security. According to the ICO, the only industries likely to be exempt from PECR are national security companies and law enforcement — so yes, HMRC will still be able to chase you for tax contributions regardless of whether or not you opted in.
With this in mind, what will the marketing landscape look like next year? Are we putting too much store by a European Directive that, technically, UK marketers will no longer be bound to after March 2019 (providing we restrict activities to the UK)? Or, in today’s global marketplace, is that a dangerous stance to adopt?
Well, it’s safe to say there will be some uncertainty and a period of adjustment as marketers get to grips with the new rules. Planning ahead will be essential to ensuring marketing momentum does not fall through the floor, and marketing teams should be seeking to identify what they cando well, focusing on the opportunities that remain, instead of the ones lost.
And on the question of Brexit providing a ‘get out of jail free’ card, that’s wishful thinking in an increasingly borderless marketplace where so many prospects and customers are EU based – meaning UK marketers may well have to adhere to EU laws when approaching them.
Invest in Inbound
So, although outbound marketing in Europe will come with greater restrictions than it has before, marketers do have other options. Inbound marketing practices such as PR, social media, blogging, PPC and SEO will likely provide a saving grace for marketers who still need to demonstrate their business value and ability to generate leads.
The fact is, these legislations put the buyer in control of the whole seller-buyer relationship. With 94% B2B buyers researching online first, it is becoming more about searchability, recommendations and intelligent algorithms and tools. Add to that 84% of CEOs and VPs use social media to make purchasing decisions. (IDC) – the answer lies more and more in having the right conversations, content and presence in the channels customers will be looking.
In the short term however, organisations still have a few months to optimise outbound before Marketing’s most seismic shift to date comes into play. Marketers should use this time to continue to build their opt-in databases as much as possible, and where prospective customers are still being approached without explicit consent, the line ‘we are contacting you under legitimate interest’ should be included for clarity.
Interesting times for marketers, and powerful times for consumers – if we recognise this it could be an altogether better outcome for the future of marketing.
Although most of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) provides a guide to PECR, the legislation is still a work in progress. Current guidelines might be changed or added to in the coming months, with the ICO still needing to set a permanent enforcement date.