Shell on overcoming the B2B challenges of GDPR

The GDPR deadline may be drawing closer, but Shell’s Rob French says marketers shouldn’t view 25 May 2018 as the finish line as it will be an ongoing challenge to shape messaging and improve understanding.

Conversations around the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) often focus on consumer concerns and expectations but the challenges for B2B brands are equally if not more complex.

Encouragingly, most B2B marketers (72%) do have a good awareness of GDPR, and the majority (64%) believe their organisations are somewhat or extremely prepared for the new data laws, 6% higher than the average, according to the DMA’s latest research.

However, more concerning is the fact 21% still don’t have a plan in place to tackle the new regulations ahead of them coming into effect next May. This is particularly worrying given 52% of B2B marketers believe they will be very or extremely affected by the new laws.

“There are some fundamental things for B2B brands that make it more tricky, one being that most of this legislation has got B2C in mind so you’ve got to work it out a little bit for yourself,” says Shell’s general manager for data privacy Rob French, who reports into the vice-president of global retail marketing.

READ MORE: Why ITV is treating GDPR as an opportunity rather than a challenge

“When I go to meetings or attend conferences, people haven’t even thought about B2B – most of them don’t have to think about it – so from that perspective it is a bit more complicated. But once you’ve set the rules up and decided how you’re going to do things, B2B and B2C marketers then have an equally complex challenge.”

That challenge, he says, is working out how to use data to be innovative and drive value for the company while at the same time not doing anything customers and regulators wouldn’t like, in order to protect the brand’s reputation and remain compliant.

Three areas for focus

Shell began its GDPR journey nearly two years ago with the intention of “raising the company’s game” around data. “We wanted to be compliant but like any other business we’re here to create value and manage our relationships exceptionally well,” says French.

In that time, Shell has gone from “very, very basic” to “quite sophisticated” in its approach. French admits that 20 months ago, the business didn’t know where data was held, what the business was doing with it, or how it all linked together. It therefore didn’t know how close it was to being compliant.

After unpacking everything Shell is now focusing its attention on three key areas. The first is building awareness and working with a “focal point network” within all business functions, including marketing, to ensure each has a plan of action.

The next aspect is structural. “So, looking at the way we do marketing and contact management – all the structural things that may or may not have been done in the right way. How do we improve those and put in place those mediation activities, but going forward how do we do them in a simpler, easier way that creates opportunities with data rather than restrictions?”

We have tens of thousands of Shell employees and their level of awareness has to be much, much higher than it has been before.

Rob French, Shell

Those businesses that succeed in implementing these changes look to benefit by creating opportunities for marketers to be innovative, he says. “You might spend time on structural change but you get a net gain in efficiency. Why do I raise that? Well, marketing is often about ease and speed and if you have inefficient processes in terms of putting channels together or getting out quickly with an offer then actually you slow yourself down unnecessarily, you might have to rework something, or worst case pull it.”

The third area of focus, and one of the most important from a marketing perspective, is raising general awareness.

“We have tens of thousands of Shell employees and their level of awareness has to be much, much higher than it has been before,” says French.

“Awareness comes in various forms and we have a way of training people on the basics in a mandatory fashion. For instance, I need to know about anti-bribery and corruption so I do a training course every year, which I’m required to pass to certify that I understand the responsibilities; that’s a mechanism we can use for basic awareness training [around data compliance]. But actually 25% of the people we would like to have that training weren’t receiving it.”

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Shaping the messaging

When it comes to shaping the messaging around GDPR, French says it will be an ongoing challenge to ensure everyone continues to understand what is required. He says it’s as long-term challenge to actually change mindsets and move people into a place where they are always taking responsibility for and acting correctly in data privacy.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time simplifying with the legal team exactly what it is people need to know and what the different layers of that message are. That’s making sure we know what something like GDPR really means – and what it doesn’t mean; what people do need to do, what they don’t need to do – it’s very critical,” he says.

“Everyone knows the regulation headings but no one really hands you a list and says that’s how you do this. It’s quite personal to the company that you’re in, the sector that you’re in and what you’re trying to achieve. So actually, the messaging has to be about what GDPR means to Shell, what it means to the outside world, what it means to a customer and what it means in terms of people’s day job.”

You can’t be superficial just because you’ve got the May deadline. You can’t just tape over cracks and say you’re done.

Rob French, Shell

While the new regulations come into effect next May, he says it’s important marketers don’t view that as the finish line because implementing change of such magnitude won’t happen overnight.

“There is a common understanding companies need to have as much done by May as possible but the idea that everything is going to be spot on by that date is generally accepted as incorrect,” he says. “You need to be able to show that you’ve got a plan and you’ve got momentum and you’re doing the right things. But if you want to effect structural change within the company and the way things are done you can’t necessarily do that in a year or even 18 months. You need a longer period of time.”

The guidance continues to evolve so marketers need to interpret and fold in any new advice and legislation as and when it emerges.

“You can’t be superficial just because you’ve got the May deadline. You can’t just tape over cracks and say you’re done,” he warns. “It will be an ongoing challenge to interpret the external world and all the regulations.”