Marketing on the Right Side of History

Marketing on the Right Side of History

June 2018 | Digital Marketing

The claim that inbound marketing is wholly consistent with the principles of GDPR has a fundamental flaw. Consumers don’t agree with it.

HubSpot marked the beginning of GDPR with an internal email welcoming the new regulations, calling it the ‘right side of history’. They also noted that it would encourage marketers to switch from outbound marketing to inbound marketing tactics. This is undoubtedly true, and is something that Hubspot are well placed to take advantage of. They have long been one of the leading advocates of inbound marketing within the industry. It is not surprising therefore that they are promoting this message, and the fact they believe that this is positive for all marketing.

The only problem with this argument is that GDPR does nothing to address the primary challenge that all Marketers face when promoting their brands. People just don’t want to be marketed to. The method used to reach audiences doesn’t matter – the default position of any individual is that marketing is an annoyance to be endured, rather than something to be welcomed. There is no distinction between inbound and outbound channels in this.

It’s certainly true that outbound marketing has taken a hit with GDPR trimming mailing lists. The impact of this on budgets and ROI is still unknown. However, GDPR has affected inbound too. Restricting targeted advertising was a key goal of the regulation, as publishers and media companies will attest.

Furthermore, the restrictions introduced by GDPR have done nothing to help address the other major threat to publisher’s business models: ad-blockers. Perhaps, in the days that follow consumers will decide en masse that ad blocking is no longer needed. However, this is vanishingly unlikely. For as long as advertising has existed people have tried to avoid it. One of the attractions of VHS was the ability to record shows and then fast forward through the ads. Email marketing was popular for a reason – it had higher ROI than many other tactics.

Price of Engagement

The truth is that people only seek to engage with brands they trust, and only on their own terms. This has always been the weakness of outbound marketing. The gleeful reaction on social media to the avalanche of opt-in campaigns that hit European inboxes in late May proves this.

Marketers aim, among other things, for engagement and audience reach. However, actually achieving them is far from easy. Demand generation is difficult and always has been. However, the results of a successful demand gen strategy on revenue can be spectacular. Brands wouldn’t bother investing in complex demand generation strategies or major lead generation programs otherwise.

Over the last 15 years, new technology and lack of consumer awareness about this technology have opened up a range of demand generation tactics that didn’t exist previously. The backbone of this has been consistent tracking of consumer behaviour online. This technology has allowed an unprecedented level of reporting and analytics – down to the level of the individual. This has allowed Marketing to become a data-driven science.

The Forgotten Stakeholder

Yet rarely in their planning have Marketers considered the consumer impact of all this technology and the data it generates. There was no malicious intent in this, Marketers are consumers too. It was simple oversight from Marketers eager to achieve results and meet their targets. Instead, pervasive tracking has been taken for granted, with no consideration as to whether usage was either wanted or appropriate.

The backlash against this trend has been growing for some time, as evidenced by the steady increase in the usage of ad blockers and privacy extensions in browsers. Finally, this year the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s reaction to it brought the issue into the mainstream. People are now aware of the imbalance between consumer rights, and the power that technology gives Marketers.

GDPR was drafted to redress this imbalance, and so far it has succeeded. In doing so, it has restricted a range of tactics that marketers took for granted. Fortunately, there are plenty of other tactics for Marketers to adopt. It’s just that many of them are harder, or more difficult to report on. If adopting these tactics increases consumer trust in marketers and the brands they represent then perhaps the claim that inbound marketing represents the right side of history may be proven right.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.