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Regulators Can Help Build Trust in Data-Driven Marketing


The Data & Marketing Commission’s (DMC) chief commissioner, Amerdeep Somal, considers the main challenges facing the data and marketing industry over the next 12 months from a regulatory perspective

Regulators Can Help Build Trust in Data-Driven Marketing
Marketers, by their nature, like to push the boundaries. It’s an industry that thrives on creativity and innovation. However, even though most marketers work hard to improve the customer experience and act ethically, there are certain players who push these boundaries too far.

To help keep a watchful eye, the Data & Marketing Commission (DMC) presides over many important decisions affecting the data and marketing industry. The DMC is the body which oversees and enforces the Data & Marketing Association’s Code to the 1000+ membership. The Code and DMC exist to give effective protection to consumers, recipients, users, and practitioners of the data-driven marketing sector.

We ensure organisations observe the highest standards of integrity, and trade fairly with their customers and with each other. We do this by investigating complaints against Members of the DMA, and scrutinising general marketing issues and practices. The DMC owns, adjudicates and publishes its judgments, operating independently from the DMA. 

We serve to improve customer confidence and build trust in the industry, and to minimise harm to consumers, especially those who may be vulnerable.

Regulators and industry bodies like the DMC also have a key role to play in enhancing the reputation of the industry – we have observed several key challenges that continue to inhibit public trust.

Regulatory challenges impacting public trust

The global flow of personal data is something we all take for granted in today's digital age. There are rules in place like the GDPR to protect European citizens’ data privacy rights. There are several issues here troubling businesses and will have a huge part to play in building public trust: What will our relationship with Europe be like in relation to the flow of personal data post-Brexit? Who will really be driving the underlying elements of the Government’s digital strategy?

In the past week, there have been reports from Brussels that the European Commission is on the verge of recommending a positive Adequacy decision. In these uncertain times, UK businesses need opportunities and data adequacy will ensure EU markets are more accessible. The UK’s Data Adequacy status will ensure that our global position is clear on the need to maintain the exemplary regulatory standards we have adopted over recent years, which have been key to building trust in the UK marketing industry post-GDPR.

The National Data Strategy is also in the development phase. The extent to which it will support consumers and their interpretation of how the data industry operates will be another challenge facing the industry – the DMC and DMA are working closely with the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on this. It is imperative that this initiative helps to increase consumers’ understanding of what happens with their data and what it means for them if organisations hold it. We must find ways to enhance the reputation of the data economy and encourage more engagement with consumers.

Another key challenge is boosting industry knowledge surrounding grey areas of the GDPR. For example, regulators continue to receive complaints from consumers post-GDPR about service emails, which should exist to provide key service updates. But there is still confusion about whether a service email is just a masked marketing email. Some marketers are ‘creative’ around what constitutes a service email, but a minority are using them to outright promote a product or service to recipients, which is a breach of the GDPR if there are no valid grounds to do so.

The use of AI is growing fast and as we increase automation and allow AI algorithms to run critical services, this will have a significant impact on individual wellbeing and liberties. None of us wants to be inaccurately judged or unfairly favoured based on our gender, race, or beliefs, but these unwanted biases exist. Regulators have a huge role in holding organisations to account, but alone the lawmakers cannot drive change and make organisations act ethically. It is up to people and organisations to collectively tackle these injustices and it is here that we can help to educate them on their responsibilities.

Building trust in an ethical industry

Responsible marketing, transparency, and ethics are key drivers for building consumer trust in the data and marketing industry – regulators and industry bodies have a huge role to play in promoting, educating, and enforcing these values across the industry.

To further enhance the reputation of the industry, we need to create open dialogue between the UK Government, businesses and consumers – this is more important than ever, with AI, machine learning, algorithms, digital and e-privacy issues bringing new challenges. 

If regulators are able to bring education to the forefront and share learning from our work to improve industry practices, this will help create an environment where businesses and marketers are encouraged to learn and increase the flow and exchange of information. We must only resort to punitive measures as a final option when a business has repeatedly failed to uphold a duty of care to its customers.

The DMC already has a working relationship with the ICO and other regulators of different industries. We are keen to further strengthen those relationships and, using the powers of our sphere of influence, to engage in discussion with them and act as a sounding board for organisations and consumers. Ultimately, we are all striving to improve trust in the industry and build a better experience for the customer.

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