data sinner

By Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group

Many have likened the impending GDPR to a data apocalypse and the end of marketing as we know it. Certainly, if you have been brazen enough to ignore the new regulation altogether and failed to prepare then it is most likely a ‘data hell’ that beckons. However, your actions in the final days before the changing of the guard from DPA to GDPR (and beyond for that matter) will determine whether it’s an apocalypse that awaits, or a nirvana.

There have been countless examples over the years of companies committing data blunders and ‘bad data’ seriously affecting consumer’s perception of a brand’s image. Indeed, research carried out in 2016 found that two thirds (66%) of consumers said that they would boycott organisations that continued to send mailings to a loved one that was deceased [1].

Given recent events surrounding misuse of data and growing unease and distrust from consumers around how their data is used, it seems likely that this figure will only have grown.

In 2014 a woman in California received a credit card offer from Bank of America addressed to ‘Lisa is a…(well, let’s just say a rather offensive word that rhymes with mutt…) McIntyre ‘. A photograph of the offending letter was shared on Twitter and subsequently went viral. While this is perhaps a fairly amusing example of inaccurate data backfiring – and luckily for the bank in this case Lisa saw the funny side – it certainly highlights the importance of ensuring that your database is clean before running a campaign.

Similarly, there is the infamous ‘Dear Rich b**tard’ incident, which has now passed into marketing urban legend. After doing my own research into the origins and validity of this story I discovered that this particular gem of a blunder was carried out by a small UK based company in the early 1990s. After a programmer classed poorly formatted data under the placeholder phrase ‘Rich B**tard’ this was never updated, resulting in mailings being sent out addressed ‘Dear Rich B**tard’. A small mistake to make, but one that could have been far more serious, and costly. Interestingly the company was later contacted by a prospective customer who was indignant that he had not been contacted in this manner as he felt that he qualified for such a title!

I remember a bank a few years ago who mistakenly mailed all of their suppressed records (including deceased and goneaway contacts) instead of suppressing them. As you can imagine they were inundated with complaints from angry consumers…but at the same time received an amazing response rate!? Rather than advocating this mistake, this merely promotes the argument for keeping track of relocated consumers and looking at new occupiers.

Perhaps one of the most distressing and horrific mistakes related to inaccurate data happened in 2014 to a recently widowed woman from Cardiff. After her husband passed away she was bombarded with mailings from her husband’s mobile provider demanding overdue payments and offering new tariffs and deals. Despite attempts to inform the company that her husband had passed away, the mailings continued and became less friendly in tone. Following three visits to a branch, on one occasion bringing her husband’s ashes and death certificate with her, the matter was finally resolved after a huge amount of unnecessary distress and anguish to her and her family had been caused.

This is an extreme example, but the brand damage and bad publicity such an error could cause is enormous – the coverage of the story was incredibly widespread at the time. But it could all have been so easily avoided.

With data cleaning solutions readily available, and with the advent of DaaS (Data as a Service) allowing data to be cleaned in real time, there really is no excuse for having data that is not accurate and up to date.

Article 5 (d) of the new Regulation states that data must be kept accurate and up to date or deleted. This is not something that is up for debate or a nice-to-have, but something that will be enforced in law. Failure to comply with this aspect of GDPR will result in potentially hefty fines from the ICO.

We are now just over a month away from the big day, and as the clock continues to run out you must ask yourself the question – will you be a data saint, or a data sinner?

 

[1] Wilmington Millennium, The True Cost of Mailing the Dead: Brand Damage, 2016

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