When GDPR finally comes into effect on May 25, the advertising and marketing industry will have undergone the biggest paradigm shift in the collection and handling of data since the advent of the smartphone. For some, the news is understandably daunting; not only will they now be held to new and exacting standards for processing consumer data, but failure to comply could result in both a crippling fine and loss of precious public trust.

However, GDPR can be just as much an opportunity for the industry as a challenge. It will be necessary to win consumer trust, treat audiences with respect and create ad experiences that make consumers want to engage in a relationship – all important steps for the long-term health of the industry.

If advertisers are to seize this opportunity – rather than be harmed by its challenges – they will need to adopt a consumer-first approach that involves building the correct skill sets and working with the right partners.

In the first instance, this means advertisers must come to terms with the full extent of their greater responsibilities in a post-GDPR world.

Facebook’s shuttering of its Partner Categories offering – which allowed advertisers to target using third-party data warranted by the social media platform – is one of the more notable recent examples of this. With this move, Facebook has shifted to requiring agencies and advertisers to source and upload third-party data when targeting audiences on the platform – and take responsibility for ensuring the correct permissions have been obtained. You can foresee other media platforms taking a similar approach.

Better quality data

For most advertisers, this might simply look to be more work – the implementation of new processes, the hiring of new staff, and likely even the forced reappraisal of why and how they use the data they do. However, amidst this change, there is a silver lining. The new rigour required by GDPR inevitably means the flushing out of those who can’t comply, resulting in a higher-quality data ecosystem for all. Indeed, some have already shown their hand by pivoting to a lower impact proposition, whilst others have bowed out of Europe entirely. Of those remaining, advertisers can ask for, and expect, a greater level of transparency than ever before.

Working with trusted partners

Practically, seizing this opportunity will mean advertisers must quickly come to terms with their own accountability. Not only must they ensure they are auditing their data and third-party data appropriately, but also that they have the right legal grounds to process and secure the data in the first place. The skillsets needed to do this effectively require a balance of legal, commercial, marketing as well as an in-depth knowledge of data. This needn’t be done alone; hiring new employees or engaging an external supplier to handle the auditing on their behalf is the first logical step to navigate through this post-GDPR world with ease.

Indeed, the volume of data available has never been greater and as a result, working with data experts who understand the ecosystem will be critical to having a continued competitive advantage. In the era of Facebook, Amazon and Google, it’s especially important to find partners who are adept at balancing risk with being agile and competitive; if you think you can play it safe and still succeed, you may find you’re seeing the world through 1990’s tinted glasses.

Establishing the right mentality

However, advertisers should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the administrative process of compliance – it’s not a case of ticking a few boxes and then walking away. At the heart of this legislation, lies the consumer; for the first time in many years, the consumer is in the driving seat, and those who forget this and look only to become compliant, do so to their own detriment. Advertisers must demonstrate a consumer-first mindset and must select the partners they work with based on this same commitment to the consumer.

Helpfully, it is not hard to spot those partners who have forgotten the importance of a consumer-first approach. For instance, those who have developed a ‘legitimate interest’ argument for why they need to process data and focus on how this relates to the benefit data offers to their business, rather than how it offers a benefit to the consumer, have clearly not adopted the correct mindset.

Creating a cycle of trust

A natural consequence of adopting this mentality will be delivering a better consumer experience across all channels – thereby encouraging opt-ins to continue the relationship, and eventually leading to better quality first-party data. By building this cycle of trust and transparency, brands, data partners and customers will all benefit and the data will only become more relevant and highly curated over time.

Crucially, it must be recognised that GDPR in itself is not the endpoint, but rather the first indication of a sea change in the way we perceive and handle data. Advertisers who adopt the right mentality now, not just the trappings of compliance, will find they are much better equipped to succeed not just after May 25, but also after any further legislative change that is on the horizon.