Social media = broken capitalism

Many areas of capitalism have become broken in recent years, such as when we had to bail out the banks after the 2008 crash, or the way unscrupulous companies tried to cash in on early stages of the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak.

Social media is an element of our daily lives that is all-pervasive, and most take it for granted as being positively useful or benign. However, it is fast becoming more of a curse than a benefit in many aspects of our society, particularly when it is used to try and influence critical areas of democracy like national election results.

Sophocles said “Nothing vital enters the lives of mortals without a curse”, and this applies to products and services too. Back in the 1990s we were all used to buying software and PCs, simply to make workeers more productive, communication easier and to make businesses more efficient. But “if you’re not paying for a product then you are the product”, and this is where we are with social media. It has become an online marketplace that trades in human futures, designed to covertly influence everyone that engages with it.

The goals of social media are actually threefold, and very simple:

  1. User engagement to drive up the social media platform usage
  2. Incentives to get you to invite your friends on for platform growth
  3. Advertising on the platform to make as much money as possible

All of these goals are managed by sophisticated algorithms that can selectively ‘dial up’ each one of these goals on an individual basis, and in all social media companies this is managed with close precision.

For example, a social media goal might be for you to invite 7 new friends to their platform within 10 days. This is achieved by using ongoing massive scale ‘A/B testing’, where hundreds of different news, picture or post options are put in front of social media users until they decide to click on them. And click on them they do. The reason is that it’s been shown that in clicking on something that vaguely interests you, it’s possible to keep getting regular dopamine hits that make you feel a twinge of visceral pleasure.

This is where we come down to the difference between a tool, like a PC or mobile that is physical and visible, or a technique, like the algorithms used in social media for mass manipulation. Ask any top technology creator if they are just as susceptible to the draw of social media, and they’ll admit they are. Like with any drug, they are just as addicted to social media, with its regular hits of the release of that pleasurable dopamine into the brain.

Gaining your ongoing attention and time is key, for advertising that encourages you to you buy products and services. But social media is also all about creating a persuasive technology to change and modify your behaviour as an unconscious habit too, something that is called ‘positive intermittent reinforcement’.

That might sound fairly harmless when you’re trying to sell adverts for consumer products, but this algorithm method they use also allows social media companies to affect more major personal decisions, like how you might vote in an upcoming election. And all without most people suspecting it’s even happening. The Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 showed how a US political party bought Facebook user data and then segmented voters into 30 groups, based on their ‘likes’ and clicks. The aim was so they could target them with slight variations of a range of political adverts that were directly designed to influence their future voting aims. And it worked.

To see the true long term effects you can look at what has happened since 2010, when social media became prevalent across all western society. There has been a rapidly increasing rate of teenager suicides, and teen social interaction and positive behaviour dropped since Generation Z teenagers started turning to social media whenever they were lonely or afraid, rather than talking directly to their friends. In effect we are already training a whole  generation that social media is the ‘digital pacifier’ that people can automatically turn to whenever they are unhappy, with potentially disastrous consequences

And this is a major challenge, as social media is all about giving people information they might like, rather than what they really need or might help them. Computer processing power has gone up a trillion times since the 1960s, but humans haven’t changed in millions of years. So our brains can’t be expected to even begin to understand how we are being manipulated by social media, with its algorithms embedded in code and machine learning and AI. Algorithms that help guide the information we see every time a  social media ‘click recommendation’ appears, seemingly appearing as genuine news items, valid opinions or insightful thoughts from other people we think are just like us. The reality is that most ‘fake news’ is therefore what we see on social media, not on the mainstream new channels at all.

Over time the effect is that our opinions really do begin to change, and all based on what we like, click on and the videos we like to watch. Just like any addictive drug, just because it’s what we like doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for us. Far from it, in fact.

And that’s the biggest issue of all. There’s no threat of social media taking over humanity in the future, it’s already done it in large parts of society. Social media has already crossed the point of ensuring humanities ongoing addiction simply by engaging human weaknesses. Its impact is like everyone having their own ‘Truman Show’, where what we see on social media is a warped reflection of what we think our lives are, and what we would like them to be, rather than how they genuinely are.

Facebook in particular has become expert at stopping people being truly objective, with sophisticated algorithm based recommendations fed through constantly to reinforce each person’s own opinions and views of the world. YouTube is also very good at keeping people engaged with new recommendations we will like, as well as click ‘rabbit holes’ designed to make us slowly and subtly (or sometimes far less subtly) change our opinions.

Conclusions

Next time you post on social media or ‘like’ something, remember you’re being very closely manipulated. The miracle to solving social media is recognising it is as much of a curse and a problem as a benefit to our collective will as a society. If we can’t all universally agree what truth is, we’re doomed as a species. It’s not about technology or social media being an existential threat specifically, but the fact that it is designed to change behaviour and opinion, and can readily bring out the worst in parts of society.

As Buckminster Fuller said about social media,  “whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race, right up to the final moment”. Social Media offers both utopia and disaster at the same time, and ultimately it has a faulty business model that needs to make money and reward shareholders. Any solution to the ills of social media also has to realign its financial incentives, taxing them appropriately in all the geographies where people use them.

Unless the interests of all people come ahead of social media platform profits, they will undermine democracy and have inevitable dramatic societal consequences. The obvious ultimate threat is civil war, ruined economies and a lack of collective will to deal with critical future factors like global climate change.

If you want to know about the effects of social media then watch “The Social Dilemma”. currently available on Netflix.

Microsoft Teams and Zoom video

With the outbreak of COVID-19 SMEs had to move their staff either into furlough or working from home, so fostering ongoing staff communication and connections is crucial for team morale. However, unless you’re set up for effective and productive home working, most SMEs will not be able to maximise the benefit of the staff they currently have remaining at work, stuck at home.

In just a few easy steps most staff can set up video conferencing using the popular public versions of Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is the video conferencing and collaboration tool of choice for businesses, especially as it now comes with Microsoft 365 business licenses. Empower staff to stay connected and keep business running smoothly using Teams (free public and paid-for business versions). Multiple benefits include:

  • Simple online link so everyone can join your meetings
  • Ability to involve all of your team members on audio and video
  • Blur your background to avoid distractions going on at home
  • Screen share so so people can see presentations & documents
  • Record meetings in audio, video and screenshare for later view
  • Share ideas on a virtual whiteboard – draw, sketch and write
  • Download Teams to your desktop, PC or mobile or use it online
  • Project rooms to share and collaborate on ideas (business version)

Download Teams free version: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/microsoft-teams/group-chat-software

Teams for business: £11.30 per month – click here

  • Instant messaging internally and externally
  • Voice and video calls between team members
  • File sharing for improved, real time, collaboration
  • SharePoint, OneDrive and Exchange integration options
  • Departmental group messaging to share information
  • Device compatibility across PCs, laptops, tablets and mobiles
  • Improved security compared to other videocommunication software
  • Compatible with Multi-Factor Authentication to increase data security

Zoom

Zoom has taken over in most homes around the globe as the evening chat room of choice for social groups and friends. But it’s not just a home tool and has a host of similar useful business features too:

  • Online link and optional password for people to join meetings
  • Ability to involve all of your team members on audio and video
  • Change backgrounds to ‘brand up’ or avoid home distractions
  • Screen share so so people can see presentations & documents
  • Record meetings in audio, video and screenshare for later view
  • Communicate and chat in a shared or private question area
  • Download Zoom to your desktop, PC or mobile or use it online

Download Zoom free version: https://zoom.us/download

Zoom for business: £12 per month –  click here for details

  • Run meetings of over 40 minutes (free version limit)
  • Up to 9 hosts, assign hosts and record your meetings
  • User management, assign roles, control chat and access

Coronavirus: UK Government SME support

coronavirus advice for SMEs

UK small business support against the effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Small business owners are all under threat from the potential impacts of the Coronavirus. We know that many of you are struggling to come to terms with implications on staff, supplies, sales and finances, so this Get Consultants update should provide you with some initial help.

UK government support is changing rapidly so most of the information below has web links that go to content that will be regularly updated, as the situation with the COVID 19 outbreak develops.

  • Business support campaign – designed to help all UK businesses to meet the unprecedented challenge the country is facing in dealing with coronavirus – Find out the five steps you should take today
  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – furlough support for PAYE employees where HMRC reimburses 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month, to safeguard workers from being made redundant. Can be backdated to March 1st – more here
  • Self-employed income support – direct cash grant of up to 80% of 3 years’ profits (max £2,500 per month for 3 months) – more here
  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) £94.25 per week – relief package for businesses with under 250 and self-employed staff – more here
  • 12-month business rates holiday – all retail, hospitality & leisure businesses, including nurseries – more here
  • Business financial protection – Government protection banning commercial evictions and missed rent payments – more here
  • Small business grant funding of £10,000 – all businesses in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rates Relief (RRR). No need to apply as it is allocated to eligible businesses – more here
  • Grant funding of £25,000 – retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value £15,000 to £51,000 – more here
  • Coast to Capital Backing Business Fund – £5k to £25k grants for SME business and social enterprises 5 to 50 staff – more on £2m fund
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme – help for business with bank finance of up to £5m. Also guarantees 80% off overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance to improve cash flow without taking on additional debt, with a government backed guarantee secured by invoices or assets. Sole traders and freelancers are also eligible if more than 50% of your turnover is from trading activity – more here
  • Time to pay tax – businesses and self-employed people in financial distress with outstanding tax liabilities could receive support with tax affairs via HMRC Time To Pay service – more here
  • VAT deferral – options for all businesses to defer their VAT payments for 3 months – more here
  • Broadband – all major broadband providers have agreed to remove all data allowance caps on all fixed broadband services – more here

Self-isolation guidance: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19

  1. Staying at home is the safest option
  2. Only go outside for essential food or health reasons
  3. Only go to work if you are permitted to and can’t work from home
  4. Stay 2 metres (6 feet) away from all other people at all times
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you get home

Note: you CAN spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms!

Email alerts: UK government Coronavirus response – sign up here 

Website way behind the times?

YOUR MESSAGE AND CONTENT COME FIRST

Here at GET Consultants we don’t just know how to create fabulous websites, we understand how businesses tick too. We help you get to the point fast, so that your customers know that you really understand their challenges, wants, needs and desires.

Visible on every device

Responsive websites visible on any online deviceHow many times have you been to a website to find you can’t view it properly on a mobile? Or that it looks good on a PC but awful on a tablet? What you need is a responsive website with a bespoke WordPress template, design, layout, graphics, photos and media. Everything to make your site look great.
M-Flow site design by GET

Great design and content

Roscomac - production perfection in CNC machiningSome web agencies are great at design, but many are poor at the copywriting and getting across exactly why you’re better than all of your competitors. We deliver you a great looking website, with clear messaging and content, but also ensure that you have compelling reasons for clients to buy from you.Roscomac site from GET

Tracking and monitoring

See real-time user tracking on the AD Marine websiteWe ensure you can monitor how your website visitors found you, what their demographics and interests are, where they go to, how long they stay, where they’re from, what device they used. Even who they are if you send them an email. We also enable you to record how users move in your website, in real time.Real time user tracking

Secure and searchable

Make your website secure and searchableFor GDPR we make sure content, cookies and user handling are all compliant. We ensure your site has SSL and the latest security updates, to stop your site getting blocked. We take time understanding exactly what your clients want, install the latest plugins, and build in the best in SEO.GET clients & testimonials

Complete bespoke website from £3,000 – find out more TODAY

Make international trade shows a success

Carolyn Bentley – trade show and export consultant

Having recently returned from supporting a client at a trade show in Germany, it seems a good time to dwell briefly on the benefits of exhibiting, share some tips and good advice on exhibiting.

Whilst  international trade shows have dwindled in importance in some sectors, there are still a large number that are well supported and worthwhile. They give companies a chance to show off their latest products or services, reach new customers, and as a great meeting point for people from all over the world in the sector, and a chance to share ideas and learn about latest innovations.

Trade shows are a big investment both of time and money, so it is worth ensuring you get the most out of them. It may seem obvious, but the first thing to do is sit down with your team and work out your objectives in exhibiting at a particular show. Is it because you need to be there because otherwise all your competitors will be and you will be forgotten, is it that it is a great environment in which to find new agents and distributors, do you have new products/service that you want to announce to the world?

If the trade show you’re considering is new to you, then why not just visit the first time and check it out to see if it’s right for you before committing to a stand the next. A lot of information is online, who is exhibiting, the profile of exhibitors etc and you can do research without it costing a fortune. Refer back at every stage to your objectives too.

So let’s say you have decided to exhibit next year at a big trade show in Europe. You need a project plan and someone to take ownership of that. There will be deadlines to meet, such as booking stand space, the catalogue entry, booking accommodation and transport.

Some years ago I remember a colleague exhibiting in Munich. He left it rather late to book his accommodation and had nearly an hour’s drive every day to the exhibition centre. It also meant that it was not as easy to get together with potential clients in the evenings.

So do plenty of research on contacts you want to meet, and set up some appointments in advance. Also, make sure that you leave time for those opportunities that will inevitably come up during the show.

The key questions you should be asking

  • Are all your team on board with your trade show?
  • Do they understand the purpose of you exhibiting?
  • Are they briefed on how to handle stand visitors?
  • Do they know how to politely see off timewasters?

This will depend on the location of the show, but do you have marketing materials in languages other than English – you may get by, but you won’t come across as a serious international business if you don’t. Do you have anyone with foreign language skills on your stand to speak to visitors with limited English.

Ensure you have sufficient manpower on the stand to allow for breaks and for individuals to look round the exhibition – it is great for market research, meeting people and getting ideas. Take photos of particularly striking stands and anything else of interest.

And plan in time when you get back to respond quickly to promising leads. You will no doubt have a stack of business cards and lead sheets, so it’s essential to categorise them by importance so you don’t delay contacting the most promising ones.

Create your B2B SME marketing plan

Marketing is all about selling more stuff to more people, more often, for more money. Much of the marketing methods that might work for B2C products and services can completely miss the point for B2B. 

In business to business you need to have a clear idea of who we’re talking to and why, how to best find and target them, and then to hone the particular messages that will resonate with them, in order to convert them into paying customers. And it’s only through gaining new customers and retaining current ones that B2B revenues can be increased.

You can gain more insight into our who are current customers are and what they want by using tools like Google Analytics on your website, or using social media analytics to review customer engagement and profiles in order to hone what you offer online and offline.

When it comes down to questions like ‘which is the best fleet car for a business?’, ‘which pipe is best for the deep water oil and gas industry?’ or ‘who can provide the best quality widgets fastest, with the lowest reject rate?’ or ‘which local boatyard can fit a new engine in my sports boat?’, then you need to focus on all the basics of good marketing and product and service messaging. Think of the questions your customers might ask when you are creating your marketing plan, which should contain these elements:

  1. Company vision and mission – why does your business exist and where do you want to get to in the future?
  2. Brand – a distinctive identity that your target clients can relate to
  3. USP – a unique selling point or tagline that appeals directly to your clients
  4. SWOT – business strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats vs. competitors
  5. Market understanding – analysis of the sectors you work in and customers you want to target
  6. Messaging – statements about what you make and provide that resonate with your target customers
  7. Customer personas – examples of the type of roles you want to target and what makes them tick
  8. Strategy – how are you best going to reach your target customers with your marketing messages?
  9. Campaigns – what campaigns are you going to run to engage with customers to encourage them to buy?
  10. Delivery – what marketing methods are you going to use to get your marketing campaign message across most cost-effectively?

So deciding on which delivery method to use to get your marketing message across comes in last, at number 10.

Think carefully about your marketing campaign delivery

Many SMEs focus on social media marketing, as it’s quick, cheap and relatively easy. Bear in mind most people spend their time using social media for browsing friends, seeing what they’re doing, taking pictures of their own life and sharing and commenting.  And it’s true that people are certainly influenced by their own peers , and they’ll often be guided by their friends who recommend the best mobile or clothes for them to get on social media. The trouble is, in the B2B world, using social media as the main base of your SME marketing may not shift a lot of product off the shelves .

In B2B. no matter how many social media likes, smiley faces, comments, shares and site visitors your business gets, none of it really matters if it doesn’t directly drive your company revenue and profit. So, when it comes down to trying to get your customers to think meaningfully about your product or service, deciding what marketing mix and delivery platforms to use is critical.

So, once you’ve got your product or service messaging and campaigns sorted, then  create a list of all of the campaign delivery methods you might use and rank them based on their likely success for your marketing campaign aims:

  • Website, news and blogs
  • Email and social media
  • Television, web TV & radio
  • Trade press & magazines
  • Automated marketing
  • Newspapers
  • Direct mail
  • Public relations
  • Banner advertising
  • Partner programmes
  • Events and conferences
  • Workshops & webinars
  • Customer entertainment

Conclusion

With all of our tech gadgets we might like to think we’re a lot more advanced now as a species, and it’s true the world now certainly seems a lot smaller and more interconnected than ever before. But we shouldn’t forget that at heart we’re still just evolved apes. We buy based on emotion and from people we’ve met and like, or that our friends like, or think we should like. Soichiro Honda, the Japanese bike and car creator, said of our all too brief existence,

‘Life is measured by the number of times your soul is deeply stirred’.

And that means that the things that make us tick are human interactions, emotions and more visceral experiences, even if we don’t like to admit it. And your marketing plan and marketing campaigns should take account of that.

People usually buy from people they respect, so if your business is not just selling online then, at some future point, make sure your clients make a positive emotional judgement about your marketing, your business and your products or services.

And remember that, often, a lot of new business ultimately comes from people who have had a recommendation to contact you, had a positive communication with you, know you or trust your products and services.

And for that, you’re going to need a cunning marketing plan….

Want to know more about how to create a marketing plan or to improve your marketing for better business growth? Contact GET Consultants.

Social media for B2B business SMEs

When we first go in to meet the owner of an SME business to discuss how best to grow their organisation, a question we’re commonly asked is ‘what do I say on social media?’ The answer quite rightly is, of course, it depends.

Whilst most business owners understand things like TV advertising and the importance of having a website that resizes itself depending on what device you’re looking at it on, many get perplexed about social media.

Apparently there are 92% of CEOs registered on social media, but less than a third who contribute anything to it regularly. In a busy business world, where so many days are spent fire-fighting, social media is one of those areas many owners feel slightly overwhelmed about. And the issue for SME owners, those smaller businesses with maybe 5 to 50 staff, is they feel they never have enough time to think about marketing at all, let alone social media. And that means few spare moments to consider their overall marketing strategy and direction, or what message to say, or where and how social media or other marketing delivery methods best fits into their marketing plans.

And that brings us on to the crux of the issue. Our research shows most SME owners have a business plan, even if it’s only a basic one. However, few SMEs create enough time to develop a detailed marketing plan, something which is usually much farther down their list of priorities.

So, without a detailed marketing strategy or plan, how do you decide on the relative importance of social media in a B2B world, or any other marketing method come to that? One of the biggest challenges revealed from our research is that many business owners run their businesses instinctively, and they do a pretty good job of it too to be honest. However, a significant proportion of SME owners don’t have a formal business education, and naturally rely on subject matter experts in their organisations to advise them on their best course of action. And when that expertise is in the area of finance or factory production then that makes complete sense. That’s because these function still work similarly to the way they did twenty years ago, even though legislation and technology may have changed.

So, if you asked a fifty year old and a twenty five year old accountant or engineer what was important to an SME business in doing their job, their answers probably wouldn’t differ much. OK, the twenty five year old would likely know better how to use complex accounting software, or might be able to program the latest CNC machine to make widgets, but their business contribution would likely be similar, with a useful balance between these two generations of accountants and engineers of experience, skills and technical expertise.

Why social media is such a big part of the SME marketing mix

We hear all the time about how technology has disrupted the marketing industry, resulting in techniques that look nothing like they did ten years ago. If you rewind even further back to twenty years ago, there’s a good chance that the new marketers of today wouldn’t even recognise what we referred to as marketing. And that’s half the problem.

The issue with marketing is that it has seen faster change in customer targeting techniques, technologies and devices than any other area of business. In the last 20 years we’ve seen an explosion of messaging, sharing, video and other social media platforms, as well as web connected smart TVs and multiple portable handheld internet devices. All of which, within less than a decade, we’ve become so used to being contacted on and marketed to with.

Here’s just a few examples of the seismic changes for B2B marketing in the last 20 years, with a tongue in cheek look at the world launches of social media platforms and web-connected devices:

  • 1999 MSN and Yahoo messenger services launch, so we can talk to connected PCs or over the internet
  • 2002 LinkedIn launches, fast becoming the B2B platform of choice. But we can’t use it on the move yet…
  • 2003 Skype is launched, the first video calling service, to let us talk to talk to racist grannie in South Africa
  • 2004 Facebook starts, and by 2005 we have features to tag our drunk friends in photos taken at parties
  • 2005 YouTube launches, giving us endless opportunities to watch videos of cats playing the piano
  • 2006 Twitter starts, popular in Brazil and India before becoming the platform of choice for US presidents
  • 2007, just 12 years ago, the first smartphones start to appear on the market, to exercise our fingers
  • 2008 Samsung launches the first smart TV, to watch films and binge box-sets online for the first time
  • 2010, less than ten years ago, the first tablet devices appear, to help our children to play games on
  • 2011 snapchat launches, so the world begins to understand exactly what ‘dick pic’ really means
  • 2012-2018, lots of social media platforms go public, lots shut down, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal

So when SME businesses start to really focus on marketing for the first time, they often focus on social media marketing, because it looks like the fastest return for the smallest effort. And that’s perhaps the biggest benefit and the biggest issue with social media. There’s no doubt social media is great for brand awareness for one simple reason, the number of people that you can potentially reach for a smallish amount of effort.

Unlike a phone call or email or other direct one-to-one contact systems, social media offers a tantalising one to many relationship. So if everyone has the average number of LinkedIn contacts, around 300, the number of people you can potentially reach with your social media messages is 300 x 300 x 300, an amazing 27 million! The trouble is, it’s only those first 300 people that actually know you that you usually influence. How much the other 26,999,700 value your thoughts and opinions is debatable, especially when they’re viewing your post from the other side of the world.

The second reason many SMEs focus on using social media is a bit more obvious, and that’s because many SME business owners don’t employ anyone in marketing until their business gets to a certain scale. Then, the new marketers they employ, perhaps not on the highest salary, are likely to tell them that social media is the answer to their business marketing needs. This is often simply because any young marketer has had the most experience in this one marketing tool, rather than a thorough grounding in other core marketing techniques. To be fair though, when you consider that Millennials have only ever known a world of smartphones, smart TVs and social media, it’s no wonder that their perception of what marketing is focuses mostly on what can be communicated on social media in the online world.

We’re not anti-social media, not at all. Social media platform do offer clear benefits in targeting new customers you want to reach, especially if you have no way of directly approaching them or finding them to get their details onto your business contact database. Both LinkedIn and Facebook offer very sophisticated advertising systems, albeit at a cost, that can target very specific geographies, demographics or interest groups to sell products and services to them.

So social media does have a place in all modern SME marketing, but bear in mind that the B2C and B2B marketing worlds should be treated very differently. We should also accept that all social media, whether personal or business, is a careful fabrication of what we want people to think. Most people take all content that’s shared on social media, whether business or personal, and however well crafted, with a large pinch of salt. And that’s why you should make sure social media is not the ‘be all and end all’ of your marketing communication strategy.

Also remember that what you say to that target audience on social media, to influence them buying from you, will only be as good as your understanding of why people need your product or service, and what triggers they have that make them buy from you. Its only then you can create and develop a good, persuasive, well-thought out marketing campaign, with strong messaging that resonates logically and emotionally with your current and future customers.

Conclusion

Whilst we might think we’re a lot more advanced now as a species with our tech gadgets, and it’s true the world now certainly seems a lot smaller and more interconnected than ever before, we shouldn’t forget that we’re still just apes at heart. Soichiro Honda, the Japanese bike and car creator, said of our existence, ‘Life is measured by the number of times your soul is deeply stirred’. And that means that the things that make us tick are human interactions, emotions and more visceral experiences, even if we don’t like to admit it.

People ultimately buy from people they know, so if your business is not just selling online, then at some point it will need your future clients to make an emotional judgement about you, your business and your products and services. And, ultimately, your new business will ultimately come from people who have met you, know you and trust you.

So work on your marketing plan first, and get it clear in your own mind what it is you can offer, why people might want it, and how best to put that across. Then, and only then, can you decide how you get your message across to your target audience, whether you do it through your website, social media, email, advertising, partners or events.

And to respond to that other question we’re asked by younger SME business owners, ‘how did you do marketing before the internet?’ Well people forget that we’ve always had direct mail, letters, newspapers, trade press magazines, public transport, posters, conferences, sports events, client entertainment and even TV for eighty years. We’ve also had business partners, satisfied customers and networking. But, best of all, we could call people up and arrange for a good old fashioned face to face meeting. And, if it’s a big B2B purchase, let’s face it that’s still often the way the biggest business is done.

2019 top 20 business trends

If 2018 left you breathless and exhausted, then brace yourself as, sorry to say, things aren’t likely to slow down in 2019. Business leaders, authors, journalists and academics foresee a shaky economy, a troubled world order and continued global anxiety. But on the good side there’s a likely renewed focus on caring for ourselves, for each other and for generally doing the right thing. Here’s a look at the year ahead for 2019.

1. Generation Z reaches the workplace. During 2019 Generation Z, which Pew Research Center defines as those born from 1997 onward, will outnumber Millennials. “Generation Z is now heading into the workforce in meaningful numbers and for the first time in modern history five generations will be working side-by-side,” says Michael Dell, CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies. Gen Z will be about one-third of the global population and one-fifth of its workers. But what is this new generation’s work ethic? “My experience is that they lean in and lean hard,” says best-selling author Brené Brown. About half of her staff is now Gen Z. “They are all very different people, but as a group I experience them as curious, hopeful, always learning, painfully attuned to the suffering in the world, and anxious to do something about it.” And there are other trends too, with the young generation Z shying away from credit cards and debt and declining to own homes, this will undoubtedly make them better placed to cope with any future downturn in the global economy or business fortunes.

2. The economy will slow down, again. Economists are split on when exactly but they know one thing for sure, a downturn is coming. “There is a confluence of deep-seated, structural headwinds that threaten to upend the global economy,” warns economist Dambisa Moyo, among them growing inequality, a workforce ill-adapted to rapid technological change, political instability and a massive debt burden on governments, corporations and individuals. “The US has historically been the leader, and the US is probably going to slow down this year,” adds CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger. China is already cooling. “World growth is much more likely to slow down in 2019, and it really looks like 2020 could be the year of a global recession,” she predicts. And, of course, there’s Brexit in the UK…

3. Companies will prepare for a downturn with pre-emptive layoffs. Executives know the good times won’t last and many will reduce their workforce pre-emptively to preserve profits through a coming recession, warns Danielle DiMartino Booth, author of ‘Fed Up.’ General Motors announced 14,000 strategic layoffs in November, after 2,250 had already taken buyouts. Meanwhile, Verizon will let go of 10,400 employees via voluntary severance, the company announced Monday. These won’t be the last. “I guarantee you right now, consultants across the country are convening and discussing with executive teams at many companies what they also can do to get in front of the next recession,” Booth says. “Companies are taking unusual steps because they know how very long in the tooth this expansion is and they know what’s to come.”

4. We are finally going to spend more time online than watching TV. The lines will cross some time in 2019: Around the world, people will start spending more hours a day on the Internet than watching television. The glass-half-empty way to look at it is people are turning away from legacy media, says Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish. The glass-half-full vision: “There is more content being consumed today than ever before in history,” he adds. For Viacom, that has meant expanding its intellectual property across many platforms or creating shows for third-party streaming sites. “We do work with folks that maybe didn’t exist 10 years ago, and started getting into the media business five years ago,” he says. “It’s a year of a mixed economy and a mixed ecosystem. And that’s the world of the future.”

5. Brexit will continue to consume the European political scene. Brexit should have been the most predictable geopolitical event of 2019, as we’ve known for two years the clock runs out at the end of March 2019. Instead, it continues to defy predictions. Negotiations will be uncertain to the very last minute, Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, warns. “Prime Minister Theresa May now needs to be thinking about plan B, since she’s lost so many members of parliament,” he says. A revamped “Norway plus” deal is becoming the most likely outcome, but the tail risks of a no deal Brexit or a second referendum are also increasing, he adds. “It is really, really hard to come to terms to negotiate something this complicated with one of the most challenging supranational institutions in the world, the EU, and one of the most dysfunctional developed governments in the world today, the UK.” Writing any more about Brexit at this point would just be handing over the stick we’ll all be beating each other with in the next three months.

6. CEOs will work hard to become more inclusive leaders.  The new generation of younger workers expects a different kind of leadership and has now reached the critical mass where their opinion is corporate law. The interesting challenge for the business workplace is that workers are now less tolerant of poor management, staying in what they perceive as uninteresting roles for long periods, or working for companies that don’t in some way do their bit for the planet and other people. “We were primarily led by ‘my way or the highway’ type leaders and that does not work with this environment,” says Carla Harris, vice chairman and managing director at Morgan Stanley. “I think you’re going to see more leaders looking for leadership development or leadership guidance on how to be more collaborative, how to spur innovation, how to teach people how to fail and how to innovate. I think you’re going to see far more money spent on speakers and resources around that.” Not immediately, but over time executives who don’t make that effort and pivot will be pushed out, she warns.

7. Artificial intelligence (AI) will be in every industry and every job. When 200 LinkedIn Top Voices were asked about their Big Idea for 2019, one in four mentioned some application of AI, from parsing evidence in medical research to helping surfers spot the best wave. Six of the 15 hot emerging jobs of the past year, relate to AI, while AI skills are the fastest-growing on our platform, up 190% globally from 2015 to 2017. “While 2018 was the year of AI hype, it feels like we’re at an inflection point where these technologies are being incorporated into more of the tools we use everyday,” says Sharon O’Dea, co-founder of communications consultancy Lithos Partners. “It’s when technology trends start to become invisible that they really make a major impact.”

8. Silicon Valley in no longer the golden child it was. “The ire progressives once felt toward the 1% on Wall Street is turning on Silicon Valley,” says Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman. “Where tech leaders were once hailed as the visionaries of a brave new world, viewed as a breed apart from financiers and other plutocrats, we’re now finding ourselves mired in debates over taxes, housing and affordability.” Not everyone will camp outside headquarters in Mountain View or Menlo Park, but users will vote with their feet, deleting accounts and refusing to play their part in those companies’ business models, warns customer experience expert Don Peppers. “More people than ever will install and use ad blockers, decline surveys and opt out of cookies as 2019 develops into a banner year for privacy protection apps, data blockers and other security services,” says Peppers.

9. Governments will seize the opportunity to regulate Big Tech. Local and national authorities are seeking to impose new taxes and regulations on the industry. After years of failing to get them to pay their way on the business they actually do in Europe and frustration on the lack of unification of digital taxes, the EU is keen to bring in taxation on Silicon Valley. Traditional companies pay on average 23% tax in the EU, yet digital companies pay only 8% or 9%. Many governments plan to introduce a ‘digital tax’ of a percentage of tech companies’ revenue in their own countries, fighting back against US tech giants that evade taxes by domiciling their profits in Ireland or the Netherlands. During 2018 the EU wasn’t able to agree the tax level on turnover, so now individual member states are pushing forward with their own digital taxes. Five European countries have, or plan to have, a 2% to 6% tax on digital company turnover before 2020. It’s interesting that France already has the tax in place and Google is complying with it, as well as France and Germany taxing digital aids, aimed at Facebook and Google. India, South Korea, Mexico, Chile and others are all working on a similar tax based on the same idea, following the OECD promise of global taxation reform. European governments are also likely to turn to antitrust, predicts Emily Taylor, CEO of Oxford Information Labs. “We will rediscover competition law and regulation as a way of combating over-concentration of power and distortions in the market,” she says. It’s something the US has shied away from, not wanting to stifle its own innovative companies, but Europe has fewer giants and freer hands. “Smarter companies will help shape regulation rather than obstinately oppose it”, says Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans.

10. Automation will disproportionately impact women’s jobs. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund said, “New technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the way work gets done all over the world. The automation trend is especially challenging for women because they tend to be employed in more routine tasks than men across all sectors and occupations, making them more prone to automation. New IMF research estimates that 26 million women’s jobs in 30 countries are at high risk of being displaced by technology in the next 20 years. This means 180 million women’s jobs globally! We don’t have much time to act, so 2019 is the year to make important inroads in tackling this challenge. How? We must help women get the skills they need to succeed. Education and training will be key — including greater emphasis on lifelong learning and STEM. Think, in particular, of coding programs like Girls Who Code in the US or developing tax deductions for training as they do in the Netherlands. We also need to close gender gaps in leadership positions across all sectors, while doing more to help men and women combine work and family life. Finally, we need to do a better job at bridging the digital divide and ensure women have equal access to finance, bank accounts and connectivity. 2019 is the year we should take a leap forward in levelling the playing field between men and women.”

11. The high street will band together. The story is repeating itself in every country, from the high street chains of the UK to the famed big box stores of America, where  physical retailers buckle as they face deep-pocketed online disruptors, many paying ultra-low taxes. “Things have never been more competitive,” says entrepreneur Naomi Simson, CEO of the Big Red Group in Australia, where Amazon launched with fanfare just a year ago. But smaller players are starting to band together to stand up to the giants, she says. “It might be through buying groups, marketplaces, associations, movements such as ‘buy local’. There will also be M&A,” she predicts. “The difference now is mind-set. Business owners used to think the shop next door was competition. Now they know that there is safety in numbers.”

12. The battle against extreme poverty will heat up. Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is at its lowest level in recorded history. However, that trend may not continue into 2019 due to increasing poverty concentrations in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa, says Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We can’t always change the circumstances a child is born into, but we can invest in that child’s potential to thrive in spite of them by investing in their health and education,” says Gates. “Economists call health and education ‘human capital,’ because they’re proven to be the twin engines of economic growth.” Especially important, she argues, is investing in the health and education of women and girls. “Healthy, economically-empowered women are some of development’s best allies,” says Gates. “If the number of people trapped in poverty continues to decline, these women will be a big reason why.”

13. A US / China cold war will be fought on a technology front. Despite current tensions, the US and Chinese economy are too interlinked for a trade war to truly escalate in the short term, says Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer. A cold war is more likely in five or 10 years, he adds, when an economic downturn and sustained animosity have undone those ties. But for 2019, the fight is on the technology front: “There you do have a cold war. There you have the Chinese with their AI model, the Americans with our AI model. The Chinese with their internet, the Americans with our internet,” he says. He echoes former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who warned in September that our online world risked a “bifurcation” into Chinese-led and U.S.-led internets. “They’re not playing nice at all,” Bremmer adds. “I do think that longer term we’re heading for big trouble between the Americans and the Chinese.”

14. What will matter at work is your humanity. When robots take all our jobs, what do humans have left? Precisely that, our humanity. Creativity and so-called soft skills are becoming all the more important to your career because that’s what can’t be automated. In fact, LinkedIn data shows the fastest-growing skills gaps, the difference between what employers seek and what workers bring to the table, are related to soft skills. Oral communication tops the list, followed by people management, time management or leadership. Employers who want to make the most of their human employees make sure to look after them as whole people, not just task performers, says Susan Cain, author of “Quiet” and CEO of Quiet Revolution. “I’m increasingly seeing employers having a goal of facilitating the entire life of an employee,” Cain says. “I don’t mean it in a Big Brother type of way, but being an aid in the entire life of an employee as opposed to just the part that shows up to make wages.”

15. The combustion engine will get smarter before it goes away. Going green doesn’t have to be reserved for the wealthy who can afford to switch to an electric car, says Bertrand Piccard, chairman and pilot of Solar Impulse, who flew a solar plane around the planet. For middle class people struggling to fill up the tank, given the Yellow Vest protests in France, there are solutions. He points to an anti-smog device installed on the engine for a few hundred pounds that reduces fuel consumption by 20% and particles by 80%. Built-in AI in your car can help you drive greener and cut another 20% off the bill. “Today, half the energy we use is wasted because we have inefficient systems,” Piccard says. “There will be more carbon taxes because we can’t afford to keep wasting fossil fuels. But we can put systems in place to be less wasteful, to consume less, and in the end we’ll save money.”

16. Uber and Lyft will lead a wave of IPOs. Ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber just filed papers on the same day to go public in early 2019. This could be a banner year for tech IPOs, with total proceeds forecast north of $100 billion. “According to the Chinese calendar, 2019 rings in the Year of the Pig…and boy is that apt for the IPO market!” says CBS News’s Jill Schlesinger. “Uber, Lyft, Palantir, Slack, Airbnb all could take the plunge in 2019. With the tech sector taking a bit of a hit recently, the C-suite execs and their bankers are trying to carefully weigh the old Wall Street mantra: ‘Bulls and bears make money; pigs get slaughtered!’” Despite a shaky market, they may still pull the trigger this year to avoid running into a downturn and an election cycle in 2020.

17. Companies will speed up workforce diversification. Some will even be made to. Nearly five years after they started publishing diversity reports, few companies have actually made material progress in hiring and retaining a more diverse workforce. That’s because besides being more open about their shortcomings, they’ve mostly kept recruiting the same old way, says Jopwell CEO Porter Braswell. Now’s the time employers humble themselves and ask for help, he says: “They’ll be recruiting with a different mind-set, not looking to check every item off a list.” That’s driven by two factors: short term, the labour market is tight and talent at a premium. Companies that don’t change will become irrelevant to workers and customers, and they may not even get the option either. In the UK, after the success of mandatory gender pay gap disclosures that started in 2018, the government is considering forcing companies to reveal their ethnic pay gap as well, and their action plans to close it.

18. The office will empty out. Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin says, “With cities filling up and housing prices rising, employers will have to pay more for employees to afford an urban life. Some businesses will open an office in a smaller town; more will embrace employees’ working from home. The whole point of an office weakened years ago with the disastrous open floor-plan, a warren of people wearing headphones and messaging their brains out, together in name only. More recently, the movement to give working parents more flexibility has made managers hesitant to grade on attendance. And now, Slack, Github, Jira and other tools for virtual teams are being co-opted by workers of all stripes. “A gradual process will, in 2019, reach a tipping point: The office will empty out. Working from home will change the most basic rhythm of industrial life. People will have more time to work, and also to play. What we’ll lose is the water cooler, which alongside the pub and the school entrance, was a place for us to connect with new people. Offices are also one of the last spots in an increasingly secular society for all of us to get a sense of community and purpose. I’ll be sorry to see them so diminished.”

19. #MeToo enters Phase Two. More than a year after #MeToo exploded onto the public scene, and 13 years after Tarana Burke first launched the movement, the stream of executives undone by their own bad behaviour flows unabated. After sweeping the media and entertainment industries, it will spread to mid-level leaders and less visible industries, predicts Ross Martin, CEO of marketing firm Blackbird. “You won’t know all of their names, but you’ll certainly know the brands that they lead or work for,” Martin says. Deloitte just admitted to firing 20 UK partners, and KPMG seven, in the last four years over sexual harassment complaints.

20. You’ll have better access to your medical data. Apple’s move to make medical records available on the iPhone is likely to be the first domino in a move to democratise access to, and control of, patients’ health data. People who live in countries where health care is decentralized know that if they change doctors, their medical records typically don’t follow them. And the entities that do have access to health care data, such as hospitals and insurance companies, typically don’t share it, more for competitive reasons than patient-centric ones. But a behemoth like Apple could change the stakes. “I’d like us to get to the point where data is not seen as intellectual property,” said Dr Doug Fridsma, president and CEO of the American Medical Informatics Association. “If we don’t have the ability to share data, you’re going to stifle innovation.” It’s notable, he adds, that Apple, a company that does everything on its own terms, from operating systems to headphone jacks, is using the international FHIR standards for its Health app.

What makes startups a success or failure?

The startup organisation is one of the greatest business formats to help make the world a better place, and startups can take many forms. Take a group of people with the right goals and equity incentives and organise them in a startup, then you can unlock human potential in ways never before possible, and get them to achieve amazing things.

But, if startups are so great, why do so many fail? If fact, as many as three out of four venture backed startups will fail within five years (Harvard Business School 2017).

Anyone who has built companies has had both successes and failures, and many people who instigate startups have had both. The key is that they likely learnt just as much from their failures as their successes.

To be analytic about startups, you have to avoid some of the instincts and misperceptions people have from the stories of the many successes and failures that have hit the mainstream news and that they’ve seen over the years.

The factors that most influence startup company success

There are, generally speaking, five factors. First is the idea, and many people think that a good idea is everything.

But then, once you go from idea to building something, you need people. So second is the team, their execution and adaptability, and often that can matter more than the idea.

The third factor is the business model. The route the company has and that clear path to generate customer revenues. Even though there are many billion pound companies with minimal profit, the key to real success is making a reasonable level of profit all the time. Without any profits, then companies can’t really call themselves a success.

Fourth there’s funding. Companies that have a good idea often receive large amounts of early funding, but often it’s because they presented their idea and business model to funders clearly and succinctly.

Finally, there’s timing. If the idea is too early for its target customers then, whilst it may be great, if the world just isn’t ready for it then it can fail. Go too early and you have to spend time and money educating the world about what your new thing is and exactly why they might need it. The timing could be perfect, of course, or it could also be too late, in which case there might be too many people who already have your thing to make money, or too many competitors to gain market share.

If you look very carefully at all of these five factors across lots of companies, there are trends. Many wildly successful billion-pound companies and organisations that flopped both had intense funding and good business models, but some succeeded and some failed. There are lots of factors at play, of course. But one that stands out. The number one success factor is timing.

Timing accounts for a third to a half of the difference between success and failure, depending on the market sector. Team and execution came second, and differentiability and uniqueness of the idea came third. Part of timing is launching a new product when there’s no main competition. So that means you get majority market share early, and also get the opportunity to set a market price that makes money.

Obviously this isn’t definitive. It’s not to say that the business idea isn’t important, but what matters most for business success is that the idea gets into the market at just the right time.

The last two factors, business model and funding, make sense being fourth and fifth, because you can start out without a business model and add one later if your customers demand what you’re creating. The same goes with funding. If you’re underfunded at first but gain traction with customers, it’s relatively easy to get the funding.

An example of timing success is Airbnb. This company was passed over by many investors because they thought, ‘No-one is going to rent out any space in their home to a complete stranger.’ But a key reason Airbnb succeeded, apart from having a good business model, a good idea and execution, was the timing. The company started during an economic recession when people needed extra money, which helped the people renting out their homes overcome their normal objection to rent out their own home to someone they didn’t know.

The same is true of Uber, a good company and business model, with great execution. But their timing was again perfect, matching their need to get drivers and their own cars into the Uber system matching drivers on the hunt for extra money.

So what about failures? Z.com was an online entertainment company. It had raised enough money, had a great business model, and even had good Hollywood talent signed up to join the company. But broadband penetration was too low in 1999 to make it work for its customers. It was simply too hard to try and watch video content online, you had to put codecs in your browser, and do other technical things to make it work, so the company eventually went out of business in 2003.

Two years later, YouTube had a minimal business model at its start, so it wasn’t certain it would work out. But, at launch, the codec problem was solved by Adobe Flash, just as home broadband penetration crossed 50 percent in the US and Europe. So the launch of YouTube was perfectly timed. A great idea, combined with beautiful timing.

Summary

Start ups can change the world and make it a better place. Insights into what works help create a higher success ratio, and enable something great to be launched in the world that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Execution definitely matters a lot, as does the business idea, but timing often matters a lot more. The best way to really assess timing is to really look at whether your target consumers are really ready for what you have to offer them.

Even if you create a business around something you really love, and you want to push it forward, you have to be very honest about assessing its launch timing. Be really truthful to yourself about it, research the market and don’t be in denial about any poor results that you see. Of course you can always change your product, positioning or marketing. After all, everyone wants to be in the twenty percent that succeed, rather than a startup that fails.

GDPR bites and mail bounces back

It’s been less than three months now since the GDPR came into force. We look at what has happened to organisations caught out by GDPR, what you can do to comply, and some surprising trends with businesses cashing in on its implementation across the EU.

The GDPR is actually good news, coming into being as a response to unscrupulous marketing and data analysis firms  harvesting and selling user data and distributing and spamming EU citizens with unprompted emails, mail and phone calls, without explicit user consent.

  • The General Data Protection Regulation came in 25th May 2018
  • EU wide Data Protection Rules that streamline the way all personal data, of all types, is stored and handled across all EU member states
  • In force in European Union (EU) & European Economic Area (EEA)
  • Addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA

Previous UK data laws, the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and EU Data Protection Directive, didn’t really have much in the way of fines for infringement. In drafting the GDPR, the EU recognised that it needed much stronger legal ‘teeth’, and financial penalties for non-compliance have changed radically with the GDPR, now enshrined in the UK’s own Data Protection Act 2018.

“Fines can be invoked of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of organisation total global turnover, whichever is the greater.”

How does GDPR work to benefit EU citizens?

Let’s take an example. If Joe Bloggs opens an unsolicited email from you that he objects to and hasn’t opted in to receive, he could report you under GDPR regulations. That’s a similar situation as before, but the difference under the GDPR is that far more power now resides with each citizen inside the EU on how their personal data can be stored, handled and processed . The enterprise sending Joe the email is liable for a caution or a fine under GDPR legislation.

In another example, Joe hears in the news that the EU based online dating site he has signed up to has been hacked, and that his personal data may have been stolen. Under the GDPR this report likely hit the news because all enterprises must report any data breach of user data within 72 hours, if they are likely to have an adverse effect on user privacy. Again, the enterprise handling Joe’s data may be cautioned or fined.

What are the fines so far for GDPR breaches?

It was initially thought that the approach of authorities monitoring GDPR compliance would be as it has been in the past, which was to ensure you’re at least working on compliance, and to gently push you in the right direction, rather than impose big fines at the outset.

That’s why everyone is watching the Dixons Carphone data breach reported in June. Even though the breach happened before GDPR came into effect, the data breach was later discovered to have affected a lot more personal records than initially thought. Under previous data protection rules the maximum imposable fine would have been £500,000, whereas under the new GDPA Dixons Carphone could face fines of up to £17.6m (€20m).

The Information Commissioner’s Office, in charge in the UK of looking into GDPR compliance related to data breaches said:

“Dixons Carphone reported a data breach to the ICO in June. The company has now confirmed that the incident affected the personal data of 10 million records, which is significantly higher than initially stated. Our investigation into the incident is ongoing and we will take time to assess this new information. In the meantime, we would expect the company to alert all those affected in the UK as soon as possible and to take all steps necessary to reduce any potential harm to consumers. We will look at when the incident happened and when it was discovered as part of our work and this will inform whether it is dealt with under the 1998 or 2018 Data Protection Acts.”

The market reacted predictably to the news, with Dixon’s shares having fallen almost 8% since mid June.

But it’s not just about organisations directly hit by data breaches under GDPR regulations. Just ten days after the GDPR came into force, some companies felt the pinch of its effects on their future business. Publisher Johnston Press was one of the first media organisations to take a GDPR related hit, after the group at their June AGM cited the impact of more onerous European privacy restrictions as a contributory factor to a decline in their digital ad revenues. Their overall revenues fell 9% over the first half year.

Apart from the large potential fines, the requirement to disclose any user data breach is a key aspect for all organisations handling data, and where the GDPR is aided in ensuring it has a good chance of getting taken seriously and implemented right across the EU.

What’s ‘personal data’ and who needs to comply with GDPR?

Whilst GDPR requirements might appear onerous for many businesses, it conveniently provides just one set of regulations to comply with. Before GDPR, there were actually 28 sets of rules in place in different EU countries regarding personal data.

The GDPR contains provisions and requirements relating to processing of personally identifiable information (personal data) of individuals inside the European Union. It applies to the processing of the personal data of any person inside the EU by any enterprise established in the EU, regardless of the data subjects’ citizenship, and regardless of the enterprise’s location or even its size.

The GDPR applies as much to sole traders as it does to large corporates. Controllers of personal data within any enterprise must put in place appropriate technical and organisational measures to implement the GDPR data protection principles.

The GDPR assumes data protection by design and by default, which means each process handling personal data must be designed and built with consideration of GDPR principles, as well as providing safeguards to protect that data. For example, ideally all user data should be anonymised, as well as having the highest-possible privacy settings by default. This means that the user data is secure and not available publicly without explicit, informed consent, and cannot be used to identify a subject without additional information stored separately.

The GDPR also says no personal data may be processed unless it is done under a lawful basis specified by the regulation, or unless the enterprises’ data controller or processor has received an unambiguous and individualised affirmation of consent from the data subject. Any person in the UE or EEA (data subject) also has the right to revoke this consent at any time in the future.

Any processor of personal data must clearly disclose any data that has been collected, declare the lawful basis and purpose for the data processing, and state how long the data is being retained, and also if it is being shared with any third parties or outside of the EU.

Data subjects have the right to request a portable copy of the data collected by a processor in a common format, and the right to have their data erased under certain circumstances. All public authorities, and businesses whose core activities centre around regular or systematic processing of personal data, are required to employ a data protection officer (DPO). The DPO is directly responsible for managing compliance with the GDPR. Matthew Lea, Data Protection Expert, Herrington Carmichael Solicitors, said:

“Where you collect personal data of an individual, you are required to provide information such as who you are, how you can be contacted, details of your organisation’s Data Protection Officer (DPO) if you have appointed one, why you are processing their personal data, who you are sending it to, and if you are transferring their data abroad. You also need to provide information on their rights as data subjects, and say how long you intend to keep their personal data for.”

The six legal grounds for data processing under GDPR
  1. Consent has been given by the data subject
  2. Processing is necessary for the performance of a contract with the data subject, or to take steps to enter into a contract
  3. Processing is necessary for compliance with a legal obligation
  4. Processing is necessary to protect the vital interests of a data subject or another person
  5. Processing is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller
  6. Necessary for the purposes of ‘legitimate interests’ pursued by the controller or a third party, except where such interests are overridden by the interests, rights or freedoms of the data subject.

Regarding point 6, you may be OK if you hold and process user data based on ‘legitimate interest’. To see whether this is the case with your data the best way is to assess this using ICO guidance – click here.

What do you need to do to get GDPR compliant?

There are many aspects of business that you need to look at. Most UK organisations have a website and user or customer specific data of some type stored somewhere, whether website or email newsletter registrations, or user data in financial, telephone, email, CRM, sales or marketing systems. Basically anything than can identify a user.

The simple first things you can do relate to your website and any user data you hold. Your website privacy notice can be amended to indicate how your organisation complies with GDPR requirements, as well as the text that goes with websites forms used to collect personal data, such as the ‘Contact us’ forms that many websites have. Another recommendation is to mention that you hold and manage user data in a GDPR compliant way.

You could do this by adding a link to your website privacy notice in your organisation’s standard email footer, which ensures all the people you communicate with directly have access to it.

Here’s a more detailed list of things to be fully GDPR compliant:

  1. Inform your organisation internally about GDPR
  2. Website privacy notice – create or update your page(s)
  3. Cookies – sort out your website cookie control and policy
  4. Forms – update client enquiry, email news and lead capture
  5. Records – record the user ‘opt-in’ process
  6. Campaign pages – GDPR compliant landing pages
  7. Improve your security around all your user data
  8. Consider GDPR compliance software and data insurance

Cashing in on GDPR

On the flip side, companies are also legitimately capitalising on the GDPR, sometimes in surprising and interesting areas.

Confidential waste specialist Russell Richardson has geared up to make life easier for businesses beefing up their data protection processes in line with GDPR. As shredding, archiving and recycling experts, they brought in a  multi-tasking mobile shredding truck which they have taken out on the road. Their massive mobile shredder can deal with up to 2.5 tonnes of confidential paperwork an hour at a client’s premises, and can destroy data-packed computer hard drives, CDs and memory sticks in seconds.

“Some companies used to throw whole computers in a skip with the hard-drive still in place. Now GDPR has imposed tighter rules, we scaled up to help companies who have to take extra care of their data. We’re seeing an increase in customers who prefer to witness on-site the certified destruction of data stored on computers and tech devices.”

Most enterprises with big customer and partner email databases have sent out individual special ‘opt-in’ emails to all of their users, to make sure they are GDPR compliant. Other smaller companies have just ditched their email or CRM contact databases, deciding that filtering them all for GDPR compliance is just not worth the hassle, or that continuing to send emails out to their whole contact database is now just too risky.

One interesting aspect of GDPR relates to mail, which may have an advantage versus electronic communications in meet conditions for what the GDPR calls ‘legitimate interest’. In this case you don’t need specific user consent for future postal marketing. This means that, despite higher mail costs versus email and electronic communication, many enterprises are now seriously reconsidering the option to post selected information direct to their customers.

Direct mail and print companies are also beginning to benefit from GDPR for the same reason and, after decades of decline in mail volumes and as we don’t now get much mail, it is likely to become very attractive to marketers to use mail to gain awareness of company products and services to customers.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that the GDPR is here to stay, and isn’t going to go away. “What about Brexit?” you might ask. Well, even though the UK voted to leave the EU, the Government decided we would still comply with the GDPR, and you have to follow the regulations.

So, instead of hoping to get around it, if you really haven’t yet got to grips with your obligations under the GDPR, see it for what it is. An opportunity to tidy up all of your customer data and mailing lists, consolidate them all into one secure system or location, and to implement systems and processes to ensure that all of your data related to individuals is stored, managed and processed in line with GDPR requirements.

The good news is GDPR means a lot of the spam emails and unsolicited calls and mail you used to get will disappear. You’ll also likely start getting targeted mail through the letterbox too, that is better designed, more interesting and useful to its recipients. As this happens, consumer confidence in communications from organisations will steadily rise, email open rates and click rates will improve and mail response will increase, as people only receiving information and offers from the companies they like and trust.

That can only mean that being part of the GDPR solution, rather than against it, is good news for future business communication.