Cut clutter before GDPR to build lasting relationships

Julie-NielsonAsk most people who’ve been with their partners for many years about the secret of their romantic success, and the majority are likely to tell you it’s based on working hard at their relationship.
We all know couples who have sadly drifted apart because one or both parties stopped making an effort. Personal relationships are dynamic, regularly shifting and needing constant attention. So why should the way brands maintain relationships with their customers be any different?
Ahead of GDPR, marketers should be laser focused on understanding what consumers really want from brands. Most consumers aren’t fully aware of the forthcoming changes, but they do take having control of their own data very seriously.
Woe betide the brands that break their promises, turn up when uninvited, or use people’s data without their permission. To prevent that happening, it’s time to revisit the ‘R’ in CRM.
Too many brands suck up data and spit out noise, turning CRM into an unwanted broadcast channel. Meanwhile, we’ve become comfortable with low levels of engagement and poor relationships. There’s a real danger this will only get worse.
We’ve conducted research around brand relationships among more than 2,500 UK-representative consumers, arriving at some thought-provoking results. The key thing to note is: it’s not just GDPR compliance that should worry brands, but the entire customer relationship.
We’ve learned what consumers really want from brands, as well as the consequences of faltering relationships. The good news is there’s still time to make changes before May 25, and any effort made now will be rewarded in the long term.
Despite all the doom and gloom, GDPR offers a unique opportunity to build relationships. Pinpointing the right people within a database – stoking the fires of those in the ‘I love you’ and ‘impress me’ segments, and not wasting money on those who don’t give a damn (after admitting there are many of these!) – is vital.
So how engaged are consumers feeling and what relationships can you have with them? Our survey showed that a healthy 68% of respondents are willing to share their name and email address; but that also means 32% really don’t want to divulge anything.
Additionally, the percentage of those actively saying they would share nothing, shunning any kind of relationship, increased to 14% from 10% in a similar poll we conducted in 2016. That’s a big jump from one in 10 customers to one in seven. If this trend continues, perhaps a fifth of consumers won’t want to share anything by 2019.
There’s a great deal to do, then, to secure sweet relationships now that can last long after GDPR. Fortunately, we know from our research what’s going to turn consumers on:
Trust matters most. It’s the key factor relating to whether people will be happy to receive and read your communications, and give their consent. Some 56% of people said it was their main issue, rising to 86% among over-35s.
Relevance remains crucial. When you can get someone to look forward to receiving your emails then you’ve cracked it. This means meticulous insight and targeting. Overall, 51% indicated they’re happy to hear from brands making tailored offers, while 70% like offers based on their purchase history.
Use rewards wisely. They’re important, sure, but certainly not people’s top desire. Many companies fall prey to discount addiction: training customers to expect offers, devaluing the brand in the process. Customers do need to experience some reward to feel motivated enough to engage. But those rewards must be relevant and meaningful to deliver genuine value.
Channel preference is key. Email was by far the most preferred channel of brand contact: some 48% said they liked communication through it while a comparatively low 23% disliked it. Despite media noise about the rise of social media over email, in this context email still has significant value.
Direct mail isn’t dead. Mailshots are often derided, yet they remain relatively popular among our respondents; 33% like receiving them. Acceptance of SMS (16% liked), social media (also 16%), app-based (15%) and telephone comms (12%) was somewhat lower but not completely shunned.
Engagement by design. Some 29% were most happy to receive “entertaining emails”, highlighting the importance of great and tailored content and design. The temptation is to throw in lots of content because we can – or because the sales department has one more thing it wants to promote. But attention is short; emails need to behave more like hyper-relevant 48-sheet posters than company brochures.
Segment before content. Truly tailored content begins with a deep understanding of your customer base. Post-GDPR, that understanding needs to go beyond known preferences and purchase behaviour, to recognise how customers want to define their relationships. Do they love the brand? Are they purely there for the discounts? Are we useful to them? We can then deliver value on their terms.
Sending out irrelevant or irritating campaigns ahead of GDPR is only going to make your task harder afterwards. There’s still a huge opportunity. Brands can cut the clutter from their customer relationships and focus on the good stuff. There might ultimately be a smaller audience, but people will want an ongoing relationship if a brand treats them right.

Julie Neilson is principal planner at Amaze One – a St Ives Group company

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