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Data protection

The subject of data protection is one that few marketers relish dealing with. Yet, says Qbase’s Gary Olive, real opportunities await those who face up to their responsibilities.

By Gary Olive

Gary Olive’s data series 
May/Jun 2004The big idea - first steps in setting up a marketing database.
Jul/Aug 2004Data audit – what you have, what you need, how to get there.
Sep/Oct 2004Data protection - key to a sound strategy.
Nov/Dec 2004Database solution – DIY or use professionals.
Jan/Feb 2005Tactics and strategy - using the database to build business.
Mar/Apr 2005The great unknown - blue skying.

Data protection; two words that elicit fear and loathing in most marketers. But why?

We have to work within a rigid legislative framework, but rather than realise the value that it can bring to the table, we try to work around it or take the minimum steps necessary to accommodate it. It is false economy.

First, let me emphasise that this article does not offer any interpretation of the Data Protection Act or any associated directives. That is for your own legal advisors to do. What this article will do hopefully is create a clear understanding that data protection has a key and positive role to play in any existing or future database marketing strategy. How, instead of your feeling that you have to accommodate it, it can actually accommodate you.

So how does the Data Protection Act affect your business? It places your existing or prospective customers in the relationship ‘driving seat’. They have been given choice - the choice to receive marketing communications from you, or not, as the case may be. You must observe and act upon their stated preference, and that preference applies business-wide which raises the interesting question of ‘Whose customer is it anyway?’

Business-wide compliance

I will be bold and say that the customer’s relationship is with the business or brand rather than a department or division, and in this context you need a system driven solution to help manage data protection compliance business-wide.

Circulation and advertising systems and the like, seldom, if ever, communicate with each other. Enhancing or changing existing systems can be extremely costly and may not be a viable option (although this is not accepted as an excuse by the Information Commissioners Office for your not taking any action). However, as a system issue, we can consider a simple systems solution, that of a ‘bridge’ or ‘common’ system front-end. This would offer a single customer view with regards to data protection compliance for your business. And this is important for a number of reasons.

It will enable you to employ a standard, business-wide policy for administering and managing data protection compliance. Customer preferences expressed to a representative in one part of your business need to be recorded, there and then, and be made accessible to representatives across all of your business, as quickly as possible.

Your customer could choose to ‘Opt Out’ from receiving certain types of marketing communications from you, yet ‘Opt In’ to receiving others. Without a system to manage this, administering your strategy would be nay impossible and planning marketing communications a potential mine field.

You will also need a standard platform to allow hard copy data protection preferences to be recorded (ie. on subscriptions renewals, competition entries, warranties, etc) if you intend to use the data collected in this way for marketing purposes.

Suppression files

In addition, there are considerations when cold prospecting. Whether you are in the B2B or B2C sector there are a number of national preference service suppression files that you need to use in your marketing activity for you to be data protection compliant. The Telephone Preference Service, Corporate Telephone Preference Service, Fax Preference Service and the Mail Preference Service are all readily accessible to individuals and companies that wish to stop receiving unsolicited sales and marketing communications. You may also wish to consider voluntary use of one or more of the mortality screening files that are widely available. Recent figures suggest some 5.3 million people are now registered on the TPS and some 31,000 companies have signed onto the CTPS since its launch in June 2000. (Source: Precision Marketing 5th August 2004).

Again, these aspects of data protection compliance can be easily managed with a clear understanding of what is required, a little planning and some simple but effective systems solutions.

If data protection compliance requires the policing of all aspects of unsolicited marketing communications, the fit of a marketing database in your data protection strategy becomes self evident. It is dynamic and relational, allowing you to optimise revenue opportunities now and to continue to realise those opportunities in the future as circumstances change. And accommodating change is important.

Use it or lose it

The recording of a customer preference is not a ‘once-and-for-all’ event. Preference has a shelf life and you need an auditable process in place to ensure that it is refreshed at regular intervals, and any changes recorded and acted upon. This aspect of data protection forces you to adopt a ‘Use it or Lose it’ policy as part of your data strategy, making your marketing database effectively ‘self cleaning’.

And don’t forget, the Data Protection Act has teeth. You could leave yourself and your business open to complaint and penalty for not getting it right. Responsibility is shared, from the marketing exec through to the managing director, and fines and loss of company assets are just some of the punitive measures that can be applied through the courts.

By accepting data protection as an enabler rather than viewing it as a restrictor, you have the ideal opportunity to turn legislative requirement to your favour and lend greater strength to your business case for a marketing database.