GDPR uncertainty remains a year on

Hospitality businesses can take opportunity to build more effective marketing databases, writes software developer Patrick Clover

Software developer Patrick Clover

I SPEAK to a lot of pub and bar owners in my line of work and, one year on from the introduction of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), it’s still a source of confusion and frustration for many.

Most are trying to do the right thing but don’t know what that is; and frankly I don’t blame them.

The hysteria and misinformation surrounding GDPR caused many businesses to freeze digital activities for fear of falling foul of the regulation; some saw doing nothing as the safer option.

But it’s clear now that continuing to stand still in such a competitive industry represents the far greater risk.

As such, businesses clearly need educating as to their GDPR responsibilities, but they should also rethink the regulation as an opportunity, not just a risk.

Under GDPR, building email marketing lists, sending digital promotions and encouraging people to leave reviews is still possible.

It’s also more important than ever. Our research shows that most people do not try new venues without a prompt, be it a recommendation from a friend, special offer, event, promotion or review – most of which are searched for online.

It’s a myth to think you cannot do any of these things effectively under GDPR.

It is time consuming to rebuild email databases manually, but there are workarounds and it’s a unique chance to do it differently and do it better.

The truth is that most venues had large ineffective databases prior to GDPR, full of expired contact details for people whose tastes, interests and personal circumstances had changed. This situation made it impossible to measure the success of digital campaigns and promotions in real terms – frustrating many business owners and convincing them that digital wasn’t worth the time and effort.

Enter GDPR, which changed a few important things in this respect. It made businesses clean up their marketing lists and empowered consumers with more digital rights.

This may sound detrimental to marketing but it should be seen as good news.

If someone subscribes to a list now, they are probably a far more valuable contact than those old names. They actively want to hear from your brand and learn about deals and events that are relevant to them today – under GDPR you simply have extra responsibilities to:

1. Only collect data you need.

2. Only use and share this data for the reason(s) it was first collected.

3. Keep this data safe and ensure any software in use is GDPR-compliant.

4. Ensure you can delete this data if requested and/or share it with the customer who requested it.

I also think it’s important to note how these four GDPR responsibilities can help you get to know your customers better, communicate with them more effectively and build loyalty:

1. By only collecting the data you need, you are encouraged to think about the information people are willing to share AND which can help you build better promotions eg. their birthday, email, favourite drink, postcode (useful data) vs full home address, phone number, mother’s maiden name (do you need this and will people really want to share it?).

2&3. More people will share their data if they know how and when it will be used, and if it’s kept safe – it’s as simple as that.

4. Responding to requests for data to be shared and deleted means your list stays up to date and helps you keep track of campaigns that turn people off to your brand. When this inevitably happens you should think about the frequency and content of your promotions and ask yourself if you know your customers well enough.

I realise that many people preached best practice a year ago, but this is a friendly reminder for any businesses that chose to stand back and see how GDPR would shake out, who might be ready to dip their toes in the water of digital marketing once more.

Ultimately the GDPR has been a force for good, but if you did freeze your digital marketing efforts as a result of the extra responsibilities, it’s never too late to defrost them.

Patrick Clover is the founder of guest wi-fi service BLACKBX.