The Cambridge Analytica scandal is adding momentum to a global regulatory push.

6 min read

We have witnessed a tipping point in digital marketing.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal marked the moment the average person realized the influence possessed by digital marketers. When the agency was exposed for gaining improper access to 87 million Facebook profiles, the public was jarred awake.

Evidence the social profile data was used to sway the 2016 US presidential election and the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum is forcing governments and digital platforms to create rules protecting data and privacy. The European Union’s General Data Protection Rule, California’s Consumer Privacy Act and Facebook’s culling of hundreds of apps for data misuse are examples of what is to come.

Related: The Very Strong Business Case for Complying With the World’s Toughest Data Protection Regulation

What’s this mean for small businesses?

This is both a frightening and exhilarating time in the world of digital advertising. Data-driven targeting — available on most sophisticated ad platforms — has given every marketer leverage once reserved for those spending millions. Looming regulation has small businesses unsure of whether the retargeting features they rely upon today will be around tomorrow.

If your company plans to use digital advertising going forward, you have no choice but to adapt. That said, I’m not worried, and you probably shouldn’t be either.

Related: With GDPR Restrictions on Using Consumer Data, Marketers Will Need to Start Mining Moments

We’ve seen this before.

Shake ups like this are great for good marketers. Abuse of the telephone brought the Do Not Call List. Email spam birthed the CAN-SPAM Act and SEO spammers forced Google penalties like Penguin, Hummingbird and Panda. In every case, the regulation cleaned up much of the riff raff and left the experts to continue prospering.

If your business model includes secretly spamming people ceaselessly with retargeting ads, start worrying. Otherwise, you’ll be happy to know you can still get Cambridge Analytica levels of influence without invading your customer’s privacy.

Related: What Your Business Needs to Avoid the Wrath of Google

The digital advertising roadmap going forward.

Cambridge Analytica happened and there’s no going back. Now, your goal must be to figure out how you can leverage the power of data-driven targeting without the unwanted backlash. To do that, let’s assume the rumors about Cambridge Analytica’s “superpowers” are true. Once we know what that power looks like, we can determine how to stay compliant with protective laws like the GDPR and keep your audience happy while savoring every drop of data-driven power.

Here are the Cambridge Analytica rumors we’re assuming are true:

  • The agency gained access to personal data of millions of Facebook users.
  • It used this data to influence large groups of people to act favorably for its clients.
  • This data provided leverage that turned underdog campaigns into winners

The GDPR rests on these foundational pillars, all of which we can expect to be present in most forthcoming data privacy regulations:

  • Data Protection — If you are collecting data it’s your responsibility to protect it
  • Clear Communication — You must disclose your plans for using data and use it only for that purpose
  • Affirmative Choice — Give people the right to opt-in and opt-out of having their data stored or used

Data protection is a technical issue beyond what we’ll cover here. Clear communication and affirmative choice are the bulk of where we’ll likely focus as digital marketers. If it happened today, Cambridge Analytica’s past behavior would infringe on all three pillars of the GDPR. This terrifies many marketers.

Moving forward, how can you ensure that you’re communicating your intentions clearly and giving people the right to opt-in, while also maintaining a level of influence that allows you to collect the data required to turn otherwise losing campaigns into winners?

Related: Everything You Need to Know About the 5 Changes Roiling Digital Advertising

Here are three evergreen digital influence principles that will allow you to do just that:

1. Be transparent

Tell people why you want their data and what you plan to do with it. Use it only for those purposes. If it’s something you only feel comfortable doing when they don’t know it’s happening, you shouldn’t be doing it.

2. All your marketing must add value.

This is the secret to being transparent. When everything you do adds value to your audience, you will always feel comfortable telling them what’s going on. If you can’t be transparent, it’s time to stop doing and sharing what doesn’t benefit your audience as much as, or more than it benefits you.

We must grow out of beating people over the head with “buy now” advertising before they’re ready. Instead, map out the process it takes to go from becoming aware they have a problem, to seeing your product or service as the only solution. Each marketing message you share should educate, entertain or strengthen your personal connection with your prospects by helping them move one step closer to solving their problem.

Data-driven marketing is the tool used to identify where in the buying process a person is now, and what content would be most helpful to (dynamically) show next.

Local supermarkets have been tracking and targeting people for years with loyalty programs. You give your identification at every purchase to get instant discounts and relevant coupons. The tracking makes it possible to show you better offers, and each time you swipe you save time and money. Every part of the process adds value, so you’re happy to opt-in.

Speak in benefits.

Highlighting benefits instead of features is more important than ever. Instead of leading with product details, focus on the desirable change the product will create in your audience’s life. If you communicate regularly with children, you instinctively speak in benefits… “Eat your vegetables and afterwards you can go play.”

Facebook marketer Nicholas Kusmich shared an easy way to turn any product feature into a benefit. Add the three words “so you can” after the feature and you’ll come up with a more persuasive benefit. For example, “This car has a 640 horsepower V-12 engine so you can leave your neighbor’s so-called sports car in the dust.”

Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends And Influence People highlights the necessity of demonstrating value. The book teaches that to get more people to see things your way, you must learn to show how your way is in their best interest.

Related: How to Win Virtual Friends and Influence Virtual People

These three principles will position you to request any digital opt-in you desire and thrive regardless of the state of current regulation. When every interaction with your brand is honest and valuable, your audience will welcome your influence. People will allow you to track their every move, but only when you are transparent about your motives and when your actions leave them in a better position than when you found them.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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