GDPR in marketing: Strategies to stay compliant

  • by Matt Davis
  • · posted on July 11, 2022
  • · 5 min read
GDPR in marketing: Strategies to stay compliant

The GDPR: Heard of it?

If you’re in HR or a chief information officer, likely so. If you’re in marketing, perhaps not — or at least not as much as you should.

The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is a comprehensive data privacy act forged by the European Union in 2018 to protect subject and consumer privacy, and organizations across the globe are subject to it.

Still, even for those marketers who possess a basic understanding of GDPR, how much do they really know about all of its requirements — including how it affects them?

As a CMO or marketer, your goal is to increase awareness, boost sales, and establish a solid reputation for your company. You do this through efforts like launching creative marketing campaigns or tracking site traffic to understand consumer behavior.

But through it all, it’s not uncommon for the legal stuff to take an unintentional backseat. As long as you’re not falsely advertising and following the basic laws of marketing, you’re doing all you need, right?

Not so fast.

The GDPR is all about data privacy and transparency. The requirements within it are forever evolving, and many of those changes don’t make it on a marketer’s radar. The GDPR, however, doesn’t care whether you knew you were responsible for the customer data your company collects.

For the powers that be, it’s your responsibility to understand and adhere to the GDPR, no matter your job title. If you fail to comply, your company is at high risk for penalties like hefty fees and the inability to continue collecting valuable customer data. This means GDPR in marketing, as it stands today, is integral and unavoidable.

How the GDPR affects marketers

According to the American Marketing Association, the consumer data that marketers collect certainly helps them better understand their customers, but it also creates vulnerability. Whose data is being collected, and where is all that data going? Is it absolutely necessary to collect, and did the customers agree to have it processed?

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The GDPR is complex but clear: Companies that do business in the EU or with EU residents must be sure they’ve demonstrated clear compliance and consent. What does that mean for CMOs and marketers? They must prove that each EU-based customer agreed to let their company collect and process personal data.

More so, GDPR in marketing requires regular database review to ensure that companies are able to identify lawfully granted consent. But let’s define “consent,” because it’s the GDPR’s linchpin. The regulation explains it as:

“The request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent. Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.”

This means marketers must inform data subjects that they’re preparing to collect data before they encourage customer form completion or website cookie activation. Marketers must also explain why they’re collecting said data and give subjects the ability to opt out. For cookies, it could be as simple as a website cookie notice.

Still, even if a customer initially consents, they have the right to later request erasure of the information you collected or that it stop being used altogether; this is also known as the “right to be forgotten.” Additionally, data subjects can ask to see the data you’ve collected about them, and you must provide it in a timely manner.

Bottom line? Under GPDR, data subjects have the control.

The marketing team can be a weak link

As the saying goes, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Even if the CIO is running a tight ship concerning GDPR, the marketing team can put the organization at serious risk if they’re not following all guidelines.

From tags and cookies to embedded forms, digital marketers are continually collecting visitor data, often sharing it with third parties. Today’s marketing teams are on the hook to use personal data responsibly: They must know what data is being collected, where it’s going, who has access to it, and how it’s being collected and used.

Beyond that, they must also incorporate into their marketing strategies a clear way to notify data subjects of the company’s data collection activities. Even though tags can bypass cookie consent requirements, companies must still adhere to GDPR’s cookie consent on their marketing forms.

When it comes to GDPR in marketing, every CMO should set the stage for how their team will approach data privacy. Every marketing campaign should include: a systematic process for notifying data subjects of usage; an opt-in/opt-out feature for both tags and cookies; a clearly defined privacy policy. Additionally, to ensure compliance, marketing efforts should be routinely reviewed.

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Automating GDPR regulations within your organization

Marketers must strike a perfect balance between protecting a customer’s right to privacy and retrieving the data they need to develop effective marketing campaigns. With ever-evolving data privacy laws and differently affected locations, this is no easy feat.

As the need increases, solutions are coming to market that help organizations stay GDPR-compliant without so much effort. Cookie consent tools enable marketers to customize their own cookie consent pop-up boxes specific to a data subject’s geographical location. Because GDPR laws can vary by country, this tool is invaluable.

Paid versions of this solution automatically handle geo-location, even detecting language to ensure data subjects see the pop-up box in their spoken language. It will also track user consents over time, providing reliable cookie consent record-keeping.

The language issue is an important factor: If the consent dialog is not in your visitor’s preferred language, it’s not considered consent. Unless the visitor can read and understand your consent pop-up, their permission is null and your company is liable for non-compliance.

And any website that uses third-party scripts is liable for obtaining those consents, too. The paid version of the automated solution blocks and unblocks third-party scripts to ensure unsanctioned third parties don’t cause trouble for your company. Automating this portion not only saves time; it also prevents penalization.

The GDPR, third-party considerations, and smart solutions

What if you don't know about third-party scripts trying to load on your website? Maybe the marketing team created a new landing page that isn’t searchable; that’s when you need automated alerts that notify you of third-party scripts and hidden pages.

With the GDPR, it’s critical your marketing team (and company as a whole) knows what’s loaded where and who’s provided consent. Only then will your company be able to provide data subjects with their personal data upon request. You’ll also be able to supply regulators with proof of compliance in the event of legal action.

While following GDPR guidelines are critical for a company in general, following GDPR in marketing ensures an extra layer of protection. And by investing in data privacy solutions, you could save your company from severe fines and penalties — without manual maintenance compliance.

Automated compliance solutions are key for spurring visibility and transparency, while also promising peace of mind that your company is a good steward of user data.

Matt Davis

About The Author · Matt Davis

Matt Davis is a writer at Osano, where he researches and writes about the latest in technology, legislation, and business to spread awareness about the most pressing issues in privacy today. When he’s not writing about data privacy, Matt spends his time exploring Vermont with his dog, Harper; playing piano; and writing short fiction.