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Leaked Review of GDPR regulations reveals it will apply to B2B marketers.

Every B2B marketer's holy PECR is on the chopping block

So, you thought the Privacy and Electronics Communications Regulations, your precious PECR, was going to save you from the new ePrivacy rules. Unfortunately not. The PECR appears to be on the chopping block and there is only one way it is going: to fall in line with the new EU General Data Protection Regulations.

"Oh!" I hear you cry. "But I didn't listen to the GDPR changes because I assumed it didn't apply to B2B marketers!"

Well, I have good news and bad news for you. Let's start with the good news, shall we? You've got the rest of this year and until 25th May 2018 to make sure your marketing data does comply with the GDPR. There are 17 months between now and then, giving you plenty of time to make sure that anyone on your email mailing lists has given you prior consent to email them.

The bad news is, you needed to start yesterday. The new EU General Data Protection Regulations that are coming into force are tough. Tougher than tough. If you email a business prospect without getting their prior consent then you face a €20 million or 4% of your annual global turnover. That's enough to ruin some businesses. In fact, when Canada introduced a similar ePrivacy law a few years ago, many companies floundered because their marketing team either ignored the new regulations or tried to evade them.

Hold on...I've never heard of PECR. What is it?

Right, so for those of you who need a quick recap, let us explain why PECR was the B2B marketer's holy grail. The Privacy and Electronics Communications Regulations gave us a clear indication that B2B email marketing could use a soft opt-out approach. Given that the GDPR didn't say whether it was B2B or B2C specific, some B2B marketers thought they were in the clear.

Then, we discovered that a new ePrivacy Directive was under review and a leaked review was circulated. The Directive informs and directly impacts PECR. And it said it was going to align with the GDPR.

In fact, Article 16 Paragraph 1 of the Directive states, “The use of electronic communications services by natural or legal persons for the purposes of transmitting direct marketing communications is allowed only in respect of end-users who have given their prior consent.”

Now, let's put that into English. A 'natural person' refers to a human being, I.e. consumers. A 'legal person' is a company, plc or public authority. Which means Article 16, Paragraph 1 tells us that the new ruling when it comes to unsolicited email marketing to corporate subscribers (someone from their business address) will need their prior opt-in consent. Which is exactly what the GDPR told us we were going to have to do.

So why did our holy PECR fail us?

It's not that PECR failed us, it's just that B2B marketers were kind of hoping it wasn't going to change. After all, the GDPR didn't specifically mention B2B or B2C but PECR did. The previous PECR gave clear instructions on what was acceptable for B2B and email marketers. What many marketers didn't anticipate was the judges gavel falling like an axe on PECR's head. Which is what appears to be happening. Which is why we're telling you to get your marketing data GDPR compliant NOW.

The fact is, it hasn't been one clean sweep of a blade. It's been more of a hacking motion. The GDPR took the European Commission years to review and agree on the final wording. Then there was the great debate about whether Brexit affects UK marketers having to comply with the GDPR. Now, PECR appears to be in review and there has been a clear indication that it's falling in line with the General Data Protection Regulation.

The proposal for the new PECR, however, hasn't been confirmed yet. The likes of the DMA and other organisations will no doubt lobby against the ePrivacy Directive that looks to amend PECR. Given the timeframes it takes for these proposals to go through numerous amends, it could be months before the final wording is agreed upon.

But while that axe is swinging, you – poor marketer – should not waste time trying to dodge the blows. One day soon that axe is going to fall and you're going to need to be prepared.

Prepare the battle axes!

So, now we know we're going to battle. Our holy PECR is about to abandon us, the GDPR is approaching and here we are standing in the B2B swamp land with no plan. It's time for us to create a battleplan together. We all know the age-old rule of war: there is strength in numbers.

The more data we have double opted-in with their prior consent, the more genuine prospects we will have to market to when the GDPR hits us full force. Imagine this shield of compliance around your marketing lists, if you will. Layer after layer of protection.

  1. Prior consent = check
  2. A record of the consent message stored = check
  3. The security of your storing system = check
  4. The retrieval process in line with GDPR = check
  5. The disclosure process also in line = check
  6. The erasing process sorted = check

With this compliance defence, we won't even feel the GDPR hit us. Well, not initially. The best defence is offense. That means we, as B2B marketers, need a way to make sure we can move forward once the GDPR is in place. Where we can continue to make sure our marketing is feeding our sales pipeline.

Of course, we have already seen how this works in the likes of the B2C world and other countries that have already adopted similar ePrivacy laws. We have an advantage. We know that gated content, social media, website subscription pop-ups and event subscriptions can all drive new marketing prospects towards us. In fact, B2B marketing teams that have already started using this are seeing double opt-in rates between 50 – 75%.

Now, because this is war for B2B marketers, we need to start using these GDPR compliance tactics now. The EU has told us that its regulation is crossing the channel and coming towards us, but that takes time. We have a limited window in which we can double opt-in and get as many marketing prospects give us their prior consent with whatever method we wish. (As long as it complies with current laws, obviously.)

Yes, that's right. Until the GDPR comes into force, we can still use our standard email marketing with a soft opt-out approach. We can still purchase targeted data lists and make sure we capture as many possible leads in our GDPR compliance pool. Now is the time to use every marketing tactic in your arsenal. Make sure you have as much data double opted-in to your communications as possible.

You know the rules. There is strength in numbers. The winners will have the greatest pool of GDPR compliant prospects.

What happens after the battle?

If PECR's review goes through as the current leaked review suggests, consumers are going to see changes to how companies use online tracking and cookies. But for B2B marketers, the main change will be on how we handle marketing moving forward.

Under the new rules, a financial company would be unable to email a small SME to offer their services unless they've already opted-in to their marketing communications and confirmed their identity. This puts both businesses at a disadvantage. The financial company will struggle to contact prospects if they are relatively unknown. The SME will be unable to hear about potential offers that would make them better suited to work together.

It's why we've spoken about how paid and sponsored updates on the likes of social media and search engines will grow more prominent. B2B marketers will, likely, feel some GDPR effects. You'll have a smaller pool of targets to pass through the sales pipeline, but they will be higher quality. So far, we've seen double opted-in data click-through rates go from <1% to 19%. If they want your marketing communications, it's likely they'll want your sales pitch eventually too.

According to the PECR review too, existing customer soft opt-in for email marketing will remain. That means that if you obtain a business or individual email address during the course of the sale, you can use that email address for marketing purposes. The stipulations are that the marketing messages must be used for similar products or services and has a clear opt-out option.

While customer marketing is spared and results improved, we can understand why some B2B marketers are seeing little consolation in this. The new ePrivacy laws are going to change the face of B2B marketing as we know it. But unless you want to be running around like a headless chicken when 25th May 2018 arrives, I suggest you heed this advice and start working on becoming GDPR compliant.

By Expert commentator

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Implications of the GDPR for marketing in UK and Europe

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