Consumer marketers may have their headaches with the coming General Data Protection Regulation, but business-to-business marketers have challenges of their own.

For Panasonic, the task is to make it easier for its 330,000 B2B customers to opt out of its email and telephone marketing. B2B marketers do not have to ask everyone on their databases for permission to use their data under the regulation in the same way their business-to-consumer counterparts might have to.

This is a good example of where consent is not required under the GDPR. An electronics firm like Panasonic sending marketing materials to its corporate customers about related products can reasonably rely on “legitimate interests” as the legal basis for processing corporate customer data. As long as those corporate customers who ask for an opt-out option receive one, Panasonic’s email and telephone promotions will be within the law.

Accessing the B2B customer data can be tricky if, like it is at Panasonic, it is held in different parts of the business such as marketing, sales or warranty registration. Working with martech firm Marketo, Panasonic is creating a central system of record for businesses that consented to have Panasonic store and process their data (a move that builds on an older automated system that ensured its marketers could not flout local interpretations of existing EU privacy laws). If an enterprise customer asked Panasonic to reveal all the data it has on them after the GDPR enforcement starts in May, the system would not only show them what Panasonic has and where it is held within the company but would also allow the electronics brand to cease communications if needed.

Legally, it would have been OK for Panasonic to give the customer a disjointed view of how their data exists across all its databases. However, it’s a “pretty horrible experience,” admitted Stephen Yeo, the brand’s marketing director for its enterprise business in Europe. “What we’re trying to do is to make it as easy as possible for customers to tell us if they don’t want to hear from us again, and we’ll look after the rest with our systems.”

With opt-in becoming mandatory for companies under the GDPR, Panasonic is tweaking how it convinces prospective customers to share their data. That’s where it gets sensitive. Panasonic has to say to potential customers, in effect, “If you’re interested in us, could you subscribe because we won’t contact you unless you do,” Yeo said. “Marketing is going to have to become less pushy, which I think is a positive thing.”

The hardest aspect of complying with the GDPR is the governance of data across different regions and offices, Yeo said. If one contract record is non-compliant, the whole business is subject to penalty. And while Panasonic’s lawyers have advised Yeo and his team that only repeat GDPR offenders will be fined, the risks to the brand’s reputation are enough for it to scrap some of the customer data it owns. Yeo’s team is sifting through customer data to identify those Panasonic has not heard from in six years or more and plans to purge them from its databases.

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