GDPR: the value of ensuring interest is legitimate

Legitimate Interest is about expectation, which differs between individuals.

Unless you've been living on a different planet for the past few months, it's been hard to scroll though your inbox or social media without seeing 'GDPR', '25th May' and 'Legitimate Interest', being used together in the same sentence. Yes, the deadline for GDPR is fast approaching but many organisations appear to be quite relexed about how it will affect how they contact their customers, believing 'Legitimate Interest' will make it permissable to carry on as normal.

In the past few months 'Legitimate Interest' is a phrase we've all become familiar with, but is it really a free reign to carry on contacting customers in the same way as you were prior to GDPR?

(Let's get one thing clear before we go on too far, for the purpose of this blog, we're talking about direct mail. Other rules apply to other channels, but more on that another day.)

But what does Legitimate Interest actually mean? As most of us will (and should) be aware, GDPR demands there is a legal basis for contacting customers. This can either be with consent or Legitimate Interest. The latter is the approach most companies will apply given it offers the chance to contact greater volumes of an audience than the 25-50% success rate you might expect when asking for consent. The base for a Legitimate Interest approach is the customer's 'reasonable expectation' for their data to be processed for the purpose it is used. However, what one person deems as reasonable will be different to someone else's expectation.

Therefore, it’s important to consider what different individuals deem to be reasonable, rather than looking at an activity in isolation. Failure to do so may result in a complaint leading to lack of trust, respect and damaged reputation (and a fine!).

Market research leaders fastmap have recently undertaken some really interesting research into this for the charity sector. They found there are several factors that can determine how open supporters are to being contacted, and how they are contacted. Factors include gender, age, channel or most recent communication and recency of most recent action. Getting to know what influences customers/supporters will enable you to target them in a clearer, less risky way.

This information can create a benchmark in which to set a risk assessment. For their research, fastmap worked to an assumption of any activity that less than half of supporters find reasonable is defined as high risk (ie is very likely to result in a complaint being raised), whereas the higher the number of supporters who find activity reasonable, the lower the risk of a complaint. Benchmarks can be set as appropriate to each organisation.

Understanding your customers is crucial to communicating with them, and helping to understand what their reasonable expectations are in order to help you plan your Legitimate Interest approach.

This type of research is available to every organsiation, and different benchmarks may be set as appropriate. It can ultimately support not just a GDPR strategy, but also your DM campaigns, in exactly the same way as you would do with customer profiling or segmenting. The more tailored your campaign, the more successful it will be, both in terms of costs and ROIs for you, and relevance and and interest to your customers for greater brand loyalty, respect and reputation.

So, don't stop mailing, just look more carefully as what Legitimate Interest does mean to each of your customers.

fastmap's Legitimate Interest Industry Report is endorsed by the Institute of Fundraising and international law firm DWF. Click here for more information.