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A GDPR Primer for U.S. economic developers

By now you may have heard of the letters ‘GDPR’ being discussed in the industry. Wait, bear with me - don’t get bored just yet! What if I told you that the impact of complying with GDPR regulations could double your marketing email open rates and increase click through rates by 1.6% or more? Currently a huge topic of discussion in the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation may not sound exciting, and seem pretty daunting, but it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s also extremely important for businesses looking to expand or work with companies internationally.


'https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/illustration-of-computer-data-security_2945075.htmEnforced on May 25 2018, GDPR imposes strict rules on controlling, collecting and processing personal information of individuals. It also puts limitations on the period of time you should store data for customers that are not engaging with you. Engagement is measured through a number of metrics, including a visit to your website, opening an email, a phone call, attending an event etc., so you have plenty of touchpoint opportunities. Failure to abide to these regulations could result in huge fines - 20 million Euros or 4% of annual global turnover - so it’s serious business.


Best practice is to be as clear as possible with customers on why you are collecting their data and how you will use it, as well as giving them the opportunity to change their preferences at any time. You must also give customers the right to request all of the information you hold on them, as well as the right to erasure.


So how does this apply to economic development organizations in the US? Be aware that American companies are not outside of EU jurisdiction and can still be penalized. You can’t carry on sending email blasts or conduct cold calling to contacts in Canada (they have an equivalent policy called CASL) or the EU without the customers’ consent. They need to have opted-in to receive your marketing by phone, email and post. You also need to be careful not to share anyone’s personal information if they are based in the EU and Canada. Marketing to contacts in the US within the US can continue as normal, for now, but this could and is changing. California are following suit with the California Consumer Privacy Act, a privacy law that will come into effect on January 2020. So it’s best to start preparing now.


What does this mean for marketing campaigns? It means we can no longer be careless about scraping email addresses and spamming users with content. Believe it or not, we should actually be more proactive in doing our research and getting out in front of our target audience by using ‘old-school’ methods such as face-to-face meetings, trade shows and events. Of course, email is still fine as long as they have opted-in, and social media, webinars and podcasts are also fantastic digital channels to showcase your content, increase traffic to your website and promote your services or location. Gated marketing content offering useful, practical information is a great way to earn those marketing opt-ins. But there are also more strict rules around these channels that you need to watch out for, so make sure you read up before you start promoting. As long as your content and messaging is relevant, timely and targeted, then consumers will be happy to engage with you and share their information. Being targeted and tailoring your messaging to ensure your customer is at the heart of what you do is essential.


Will deleting contacts from your database damage business opportunities and pipeline? In terms of purging data that hasn’t engaged with you for the past 14 months, well, this is simply best practice. It may seem daunting to purge your list, and in some cases companies have had to delete up to a third of their contacts or more. But why would you want to keep these contacts when they appear to have no interest in what you do? It makes much more sense to have a smaller volume of highly engaged contacts. This will also ensure your marketing and lead generation campaigns are more effective, producing higher click through and open rates for your email communications and thus resulting in a higher volume of responses. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article,  I have seen some great results from purging unengaged data with average e-campaign open rates doubling, and click-through rates increasing by 1.6%. Only relevant audiences who are interested in your business will be reading your content, now that’s ideal!


Summary Tips:

    • Take care and put in the time - do more research on your target audience
    • One size doesn’t fit all - don’t spam people with generic content, personalize your emails and InMails to ensure your content is targeted to your audience’s needs.
    • Purge your data, ideally every 14 months to ensure your contacts are engaged and your campaigns are efficient
    • Collect consent - it’s not only polite it’s best practice, and essential for anyone in the EU or Canada
    • Do your GDPR homework!

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer! The above is based on my own research, opinion and experience and you should always seek legal advice when conducting your own business decisions and, if necessary, appoint a data protection officer.


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