GDPR Offers a Challenge in Designing Better Customer Experiences to Garner Data

It can foster more opportunities for creativity

GDPR doesn't need to be as bad as many seem to think it is. Getty Images

According to Chiefmartec, there are currently nearly 7,000 marketing technology platforms, a 100 percent increase from just two years ago. The fact is that it’s always been easy to get your data, and it’s also increasingly more difficult to understand what you can do about it.

There exists today a delicate balance between innovation-stifling regulation and lawless, reckless abandon in a powerful industry. Thus, amid an abundant landscape of vendors and specialists, tech data regulation, until recently, has largely operated in a gray area with the implicit understanding that all parties are compliant and aboveboard. Marketers got lazy as Silicon Valley continued to feed them grapes.

And then, with one online personality test, the status quo was upended. Only now does there appear to be serious consequences when data is misused.

What consequences will this have on CMOs under pressure to create superior data-driven experiences? Beyond the technical, legal, cultural, inertial implications, we still view this with a bit of optimism. This is a design challenge.

As Washington lawmakers continue to contemplate stricter regulation, I think the majority of data restrictions won’t be about the usage of data so much as greater transparency around how, when and where data is collected. The actual permission standards, disclosing how they use data to deliver user experiences, will need to be presented in a clearer manner. As I stated on CBS This Morning, with impending data regulations we will also need to re-prioritize designing customer experiences for just how our data is used, stored and monetized.

Terms and conditions are written for attorneys, not people. And the biggest lie on the internet is that we actually have the time to read them.

Enter brands

In this age of heightened consumer data awareness, CMOs and other leaders in charge of digital experiences must challenge their teams to rethink how to gather and use data when designing for simpler, straightforward customer experiences. We should all prioritize how customers opt-in and get onboarded, letting them be our guide without reliance on inferred and surveilled data.

We must design for trust.

Right now, the traditional approach of opting consumers in and helping them understand a brand’s intentions for collecting and using their data is murky at best. No doubt this is largely driven by lawyers demanding to be involved in every step. But is this really delivering the best possible experience to our customers, treating them with expansive legal agreements that warn and obstruct them on our digital experiences?

Terms and conditions are written for attorneys, not people. And the biggest lie on the internet is that we actually have the time to read them.

Foreboding from across the pond

This was never more apparent in May when GDPR somehow forced a lot of companies to tell us what they were already doing. Instead, we should critically think about customer onboarding as a design opportunity. Can we create digital experiences that feel natural to the customer but also has them tell us exactly what they want? Rebuilding consumer trust is a responsibility that comes from everyone within an organization, especially marketing, product and design.

We’re already seeing some early seeds starting to sprout. I appreciate the smart profile of my previous hotel choices based off of data I’ve provided to the business travel app Lola. Spotify’s onboarding experience is refreshingly easy to understand since they’ve re-written their privacy policy in simple, clear language that actual humans (i.e., not lawyers) use.

What marketing and experience leaders should do

What else can brands design to develop new and better experiences for controlling our personal data? To start, brands should think about partnering with major browser companies to create new mobile-specific browser UI and tools that show what containers and pixels are currently on a page you are viewing and an easy opt-out flow to block or remove them. There is a lot of market pressure a reputation-conscious brand can bring to bear on their ecosystem. Just ask Procter & Gamble.

Taking this a step further, advertisers can push guaranteeing supplier/vendor compliance with best security practices like client-side email encryption. This would be similar to Microsoft throwing its economic weight behind not working with any vendors that don’t provide maternity leave, thereby increasing trust like a Good Housekeeping Seal of approval.

On the technical side, proactive periodic prompting of users to reassess what pixels they’re being tracked by and a clear user experience to walk them through the implications is likely a tough but necessary decision.

Finally, new technologies like machine vision offer an enticing glimpse of what ad targeting could look like without depending on personal data. The ability to capture physical attributes and contextualize it into potential display ads, of course in a responsible manner, is an emerging field that holds potential.

What’s next?

While GDPR’s May deadline was an EU requirement, many brands (especially multinationals) treated it as the first major checkpoint in educating users en masse around their data collection practices. But stricter policies aren’t enough. We need to prevent data promiscuity further than what GDPR will do. Brands must be thinking now about how they can become more creative about letting users guide their own data-sharing.

Now is the time to balance between marketing to consumers and creating great customer experiences, while still being good data stewards with an abundance of transparency. I’m hopeful that it doesn’t take another industry disaster before we see a renaissance of brands thinking creatively.

@ashishtoshniwal Ashish Toshniwal is the CEO and co-founder of YML (Y Media Labs).