Ageless B2B marketing truths: the hidden point behind GDPR and opt-ins

This article was originally published in B2B Marketing Magazine >

There are some people who might argue that GDPR is shorthand for Ghastly Drizzling Pain in the Rectum. Ignoring for a moment the daunting internal technological and process changes that GDPR is forcing us to consider, many B2B companies are still even struggling to interpret their GDPR obligations in the first place (not to mention those of GDPR’s less well-discussed family members – PECR, the Data Protection Bill, ePR and other laws around the world). But, as we continue to grapple with it all, there is a risk that us B2B marketers miss an important underlying point…

No, not that key point – the other one

Firstly, the key point I want to make isn’t the one about GDPR being our own fault. I’m not going to dwell on the fact that our industry has probably brought this all upon itself. Drowning clients in a sea of boring spam, stalking customers around the internet with hyper-targeted adverts, sharing customer details with list vendors and other creepy stuff like that was always going to force regulators to act. Digital marketing has given us great opportunity but great responsibility and, alas, many in the marketing industry have abused that responsibility. And we’re all paying the price for it.

But no, that wasn’t the point I wanted to make with this article. Hopefully more profoundly, the key point I wanted to make is that, while we’re all in a frenzy to get ‘opt-ins’ from customers, the reality is that earning opt-in from customers is all marketing communications has ever been about. I can explain…

Physical opt-ins aren’t the first target

In my opinion, a key goal of B2B marketing communications always has been, and always will be, to earn a customer’s mental and emotional opt-in. To win a customer’s heart, mind and preference for our marketing communications – ahead of our rivals. For customers to value, enjoy and remember what our brands create far more than they value, enjoy and remember what our rivals create. And that means creating brilliant things that stand out from the crowd (ahead of our rivals), provoke thought (more than our rivals), reframe perspectives (more effectively than our rivals) and/or just entertain people (more than our rivals).

I think the hidden truth of GDPR is that we will only earn physical opt-ins from customers if we first earn their mental and emotional opt-in. Getting a physical tick in a box from a customer is simply a by-product of earning their mental and emotional tick in the box. And that mental and emotional tick in the box will only come from us being more helpful, more interesting, more fun and more additive than rival brands.

As a simple example of that, I have long thought that the challenge we B2B marketers face isn’t getting customers to watch our first video or read our first article – it’s making sure they like it so much they’ll come back for another. And then another. And then another.

Only amazing content and amazing campaigns can achieve that, and I don’t think that fact becomes true in May 2018. I think that’s been true in each and every May since each and every one of us started working in B2B marketing. It’s one of those ageless truths of our profession.

With that in mind, I’d argue that GDPR isn’t a Ghastly Drizzling Pain in the Rectum after all. Perhaps we should all welcome what GDPR is forcing us to remember… that mental and emotional opt-in are always the real target, and that opt-in only comes if we deliver remarkable things that are truly in customers’ self-interest, and that they truly value or love. Because the best brands, with the most resonant products and services, and the most stimulating marketing communications, will always have the best possible chance of winning.

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