From data exchange to value exchange

report on GDPR:
report on Disruption:

With the GDPR now up and running, it could herald a switch in the data economy

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in May and most companies survived to tell the tale. A little bruised perhaps, but not broken. Undoubtedly, the GDPR has drawn a line in the sand, causing organisations to rethink how they acquire and use data.

Here, Graham Halling, Director of Consulting at Business and Technology Consultancy technology consultants and IBM partner Bench (, outlines the scale of the opportunity going forward…

At Bench, we regard the GDPR in a positive light and encourage our clients to do likewise. It has prompted consumers to place a higher value on their data and has called a halt to the relentless accumulation of marketing data. In doing so, it will go a long way towards ingraining a much-needed organisation-wide appreciation of just how much customer data is being collected and stored across businesses.

We think this can only be a good thing.

The democratisation of data

Over time, businesses have dumbed down the value of data. With technology making bulk communications easy and cheap, they’ve adopted a broad-brush approach to marketing. All too often it’s been quantity over quality. But why send out hundreds of thousands of emails, just because you can?

Organisations have amassed data, often without asking why it is needed and how it is going to be used and that lack of clarity has been reflected in the value-proposition to customers who share their data. In today’s competitive marketplace, where the consumer may carry around 15 ‘loyalty’ cards, this will no longer work. Communications must be targeted and relevant and the experience personalised to truly win loyalty.

Today’s consumers expect to see value for their shared data. People are usually happy to grant access to their data if their needs are being met. You won’t win hearts and minds with your regular Friday email unless it offers something new, contextually and personally relevant and genuinely special.

The GDPR brings to the fore what has always been best practice: if you can’t tell a cogent, compelling story to justify why you need a customer’s data and explain exactly what they’ll get in return for sharing, then you have no right to ask for it. Companies, in both B2B and B2C, need to rigorously kick this issue around internally first, and gain consensus, before putting their service proposition into words for their customers and prospects.

Storing customer data for the benefit of the customer has to be the new mantra.

Don’t pigeon-hole the customer

If you can drive traffic to your website with your outbound marketing communications, you have the power to intervene and shape the journey by offering a fast, personalised experience. But if you don’t understand the customer’s preferences, how can you hope to achieve this?

Businesses need to move beyond simply looking at the last thing a customer bought, and then suggesting they buy more of the same or an add-on. This is boxing them into a silo very quickly. What I did yesterday doesn’t define what I’ll do tomorrow.

Wearing my consumer hat: when, as the father of a ten-year-old I’m prompted to look at what ‘other mums’ are buying, the company is imposing its own, stereotyped view of the world on me. It’s not looking at the world through my eyes and engaging with me as an individual. I'm a parent yes, so that's a valid value-exchange but don't prematurely seek to advance your understanding of me without my further input and permission or you'll soon dilute that trust.

A fast-track to personalisation

In the short term, forging this individual engagement with customers and consumers will certainly require an investment of time and resources. You'll need to educate them on the benefits of sharing their data.

In the longer term, if your levels of trust are such that your customers choose to share their behaviours and preferences with you, confident that you will protect their personal data at all times, and if you then have the back-end systems to deliver superb service, you're onto a winner.

This is why we’re seeing the inception of self-service preference centres, where customers can choose the channels through which they want to communicate, each having its own benefits, and where they can be steered towards the most cost-effective channels.

If you give consumers access to and control over the data that you hold, sure, some of them will opt-out, but many will correct inaccuracies and potentially tell you valuable things you wouldn’t otherwise discover.

A culture shift

To sum up, now that the noise around the GDPR is beginning to die down, let’s not forget the opportunity it represents. Yes, you can treat it as a regulatory box-ticking exercise but it also represents an opportunity to engage and re-engage with your customers on a more mutually-relevant basis, where the value exchange is clearly articulated at the outset and the bar is set and kept at that level from that point on.

If you go beyond simply complying with the letter of the law and instead embrace its spirit of trust and transparency, you have the opportunity to shape a new, closer relationship with your customers. You'll be blazing a trail and, in doing so will gain a competitive edge over your rivals. As well as customer loyalty and meaningful customer engagements, you'll be well and truly on the road to organisation-wide customer centricity.

Bench Customer Centricity Bench