With GDPR In Place, Will Push Marketing Recede?

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Retailers love push marketing. They use the strategy every time they push ads, emails, text messages, and mobile app notifications to consumers. But push marketing relies on consumer data in order to work, and that’s becoming a major problem with the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation firmly in effect.

“At its core, GDPR is changing the way retailers and CPGs think about digital marketing,” says Josha Benner, co-founder of the location marketing platform Uberall. “Before the regulations, everything was collecting as much information about consumers as possible, tracking every move digitally and possibly in the real world, and using that information for targeted mass communication at scale. Brands could send thousands of emails or serve millions of display impressions and hope to see a modest return on their investment.”

Now, with the threshold for opt-in and privacy rising, Benner says push marketing is beginning to recede.

“You can’t simply ‘spray and pray.’ Or you can, but you’ll take your chances on possible complaints or litigation,” he says. “GDPR means marketers must give control over their data back to consumers and have to be more thoughtful about the end user’s digital experience and journey. It’s forcing brands to identify opportunities to engage customers and prospects on their terms. That’s how marketing should work.”

Common push strategies, like targeted emails, banners, retargeting, autoplay video, and full-page takeovers are almost all based on invasive user tracking, explains Benner. While data-driven marketing has made those tactics even smarter and more personalized in recent years, the GDPR now caps the range of data available for targeting.

Since going into effect in May, the GDPR has driven major change in the online advertising and publishing worlds. The regulations were designed to give consumers more control over their personal data, requiring organizations that collect data to protect it from misuse and respect the rights of subjects of data collection.

Although it’s a common misconception that the GDPR applies exclusively to organizations based in Europe, the reality is much different. The GDPR encompasses any business that works with European citizens, and that includes many retailers and CPG brands based in the United States.

Unfortunately, the majority of U.S.-based retailers still don’t understand the potential implications the GDPR could have for their businesses. A survey by the enterprise business software company Sage found that 91% of U.S. businesses lack awareness and understanding of the impact of the GDPR. This could spell trouble, since compliance with the GDPR is expected to be closely monitored, and noncompliance could result in enormous fines.

Benner believes the GDPR is ushering in a new era of retail marketing, where push strategies will take a back seat, and pull marketing will move into the forefront.

“Marketers will need to consider new ways to engage—and on the consumers’ own terms,” he says.

Pull marketing targets customers as they enter the buyer’s journey. That moment of discovery from high-intent shoppers is critical moving forward, Benner says. Search engine optimization and content can draw shoppers to retailers and brands without relying on the collection of personal data and without running afoul of any new regulations.

“As some marketing channels become more regulated, more challenging and less reliable, strategies and channels that hinge on the moment where a customer wants you become more important,” Benner says. “Tactics like local SEO, marketing around customer reviews, content marketing, and business listings are particularly useful here. This type of ‘pull’ marketing is more likely to deliver ROI compared to ‘push’ strategies, like email and display, that are being threatened by GDPR.”

Benner expects pull marketing to become table stakes as retailers and CPG brands put more effort into getting customers to come to them through less intrusive means, while still inspiring consumers through their preferred channels.

“This isn’t a way to get around regulations,” he says. “It’s a set of channels and strategies that retailers and CPGs are likely to lean on to mitigate GDPR’s impact on other areas of their digital efforts.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.