Marketing Revolution Ahead As Era Of 'Explicit Opt-In' Looms Large

Times really are "a changing." Trust me -- the John Lewis spam fine case is just the start. Marketing is marching on to an "explicit" opt-in phase and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Technically we're already there, but we haven't quite taken onboard the full spirit of what opt-in means.

This will change within a couple of years when the EU produces its new all-encompassing legislation on General Data Protection. One point to note it that this is legislation -- it is not a Directive. That means the moment it is passed it becomes binding law with no need to be ratified and translated by each country. The big takeout is that just as consumers are empowered to ask Google to "forget" them, they are similarly entitled to tell a brand to stop marketing to them.

The key phrase going around Brussels is "explicit opt in," meaning that brands will no longer get away with assuming that because a customer does not untick a box, they are consenting to be contacted again. The confusing double negatives of ticking "yes" to not receive follow-up messages will also be gone.

There will simply be a box that brands will ask consumers if they want to be contacted. Furthermore, the feedback from those involved in negotiations is there will be a requirement to let consumers know who will be able to see their data. A large company, for example, will have to list which of its divisions will have access to their data and may get in contact before a tick in the box can be registered.

It's a fundamental shift to "explicit" and fully explained consent.

I was chatting to the Direct Marketing Association about this very recently and it is keen for the message to get out there to British brands that they need to be getting their marketing spot on. Not only do they need to consider the full implications of "explicit" opt-in and be ready for it in advance, they also need to pay attention to customers. They need to establish time of day, content, relevancy and frequency because soon enough, if you get anything wrong, customers are going to find it a lot easier to switch you off.

The fine for John Lewis assuming that somebody not unchecking a box constitutes consent really is just the start. Many brands out there will be thinking along the  lines of "there but for the Grace of God go I." It's a tactic many companies use but it has now been proven to land a brand in hot water.

So, the best advice available is get your marketing right today. Don't wait for the EU to further clarify that opt in really does mean opt in, in the fullest sense of the word. Make people want to keep in contact with you and, at the very least for new signs up, ask for a "yes" tick and do not allow non-refusal of pre-ticked box equates to permission.

The nature of direct marketing is about to change. Best be prepared.

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