Marketing Automation for Small Business Without Sacrificing Customer Data Privacy

Even for newbies, building a website can be easy with today's tools. Turning it into a successful online business is a whole different challenge. You can have the most visually appealing site with great functionality, but still struggle to attract users and customers. That's why marketing is such an important skill and practice in every modern industry.

The power of technology has radically shifted how marketing is done in today's world. No longer do companies have to invest a lot of money on television or print advertisements that might not prove successful. Instead, the internet allows for marketing to be targeted at specific demographics so that people see ads that are as relevant as possible.

However, small businesses are now coming up against a crucial dilemma. Online privacy has become a major discussion in recent years, and large amounts of personal data are required to run a successful marketing platform. So how can small businesses keep automating their advertising and marketing efforts without sacrificing their customers' trust? Good question.

How government regulation and compliance affect marketing automation

After seeing serious data breaches become almost a daily occurrence due to new hacking threats or negligence, some governments have begun taking steps to regulate how personal data is handled online. A prime example is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was instituted by the European Union in 2018.

GDPR affects any small business or organization that operates a website within its boundaries or caters to customers from Europe. In order to stay compliant, you must adhere to a strict list of policies that could change how you collect, share and analyze data about individual people.

Failure to stay compliant with GDPR comes with hefty fines, and the same is true if your organization suffers a data breach and does not notify affected users in a timely manner. Many governments across the globe are now looking to institute new regulations that are based on the standards set in the EU's GDPR.

Start with transparency

As an online company that relies on data-driven marketing strategies, regulations like GDPR may seem like a roadblock to your goals. However, in reality, it is an opportunity to review your data retention policies and consider the level of trust you are looking to maintain with customers.

The key priority when it comes to preserving user privacy is to be as transparent as possible in every situation. Collecting user data is not inherently illegal or bad. But you need to be upfront with people about when it is happening and what the ramifications will be for them.

For organizations that need to overhaul their marketing strategy to be aligned with government regulations, the best place to start is probably with a new privacy policy. This document should be accessible from your homepage and should be written in a simple format. The goal is to help customers understand what their data is used for and how it is being safely stored.

Transparency also means giving individual users the option to remove themselves from marketing distributions or tracking. The best practice is to use an opt-in approach, which means that data storage will not begin until a user expressly indicates that they want to participate.

Email marketing in a GDPR world

For almost any online business, email marketing is an indispensable part of the overall strategy and one of the areas it's easy to run afoul of GDPR and similar regulations. Today, at the heart of the best email marketing software services lies automation. You can set up a series of autoresponders that will automatically be sent at specific intervals depending upon a particular link or sign-up form a potential customer clicked or filled out.

The thing to keep in mind is that it is in these services' best interest to make clients like you feel happy and secure that privacy laws are being followed. There's a good chance they'll do their part where needed to update wording, function, and format related to templates, policies, features, internal processes, agreements, and more. But you have responsibilities also independent of your email marketing provider.

Read about the term "data controller" and understand that you're probably one according to GDPR. This is particularly important in countries like Germany, U.K., and Canada, which had strict data controller laws for email marketing platforms and other small business software prior to the ratification of GDPR in May 2018. 

Rest easy, No one is going to ask you to stop using email or social media posting automation. What you do need to do is understand which are the dangerous spots in the marketing process that could get you in trouble with GDPR. You need to know the proper way to collect, handle and store customer data, and also correctly respond to requests from the owners of that data.

Audit your marketing systems

For online businesses, one of the big challenges in prioritizing user privacy is getting a full understanding of where user data resides and how it is being managed. Cloud environments are often quite distributed and may involve several third-party platforms. This means that responsibility for compliance is spread out and can be difficult to control.

Businesses should perform a thorough audit of their marketing systems and ensure that each one meets regulatory standards. The best vendor tools will offer to assist in these audits to verify compliance status. Avoid any third-party product that is offering to buy user data from you for marketing purposes.

Stress the benefits

Many people across the globe have become skeptical about sharing any sort of personal or sensitive information with online companies. In order to keep your marketing automation systems running effectively, you need to build consistent trust with these users. The best way to do that is by emphasizing the benefits they will receive from smarter marketing campaigns.

The reason most internet users get annoyed with advertisements is not because they take up too much space; it's because they are trying to sell a product or service that is of no interest to them. Segmented and targeted marketing is the solution to this dilemma, but the only way to make that possible is to leverage key bits of user data.

To help put customer concerns at ease, companies should consider making all marketing data anonymized and encrypted whenever possible. For example, let's say, John Smith adds two tennis rackets to his shopping cart. That information can be tracked in your marketing database to target relevant ads to him, but the data should be tagged to a randomized ID number and encoded so that hackers will not be able to steal it.

Bottom line

Modern small businesses rely on automation platforms to make their marketing strategies smarter and more effective. But these systems require a huge amount of user data, which can feel like an invasion of privacy to your customers. 

As the owner of a website or online business, it is your responsibility to store all private data in a secure manner while still leveraging its value in marketing campaigns. That might be a tall order but that is the reality in today's intrusive online world.



* This article was originally published here

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