In any walk of life, there was always a time when there were fewer regulations. Go back far enough and there was a time when there were no regulations at all. Passports have only been necessary for European travel since the outbreak of the First World War. Twenty years ago, the internet was truly free and, prior to the creation of the Data Protection Act and the Information Commissioner’s Office, permissioned consumer contact was only a theory. In 2013, we need our passport, we must watch what we say on the internet and consumers are ever more empowered to grant or deny marketers permissions to contact.
Such regulation is burdensome and business tries to stall the growth as best it can, but there are some regulations which are business-critical. A case in point are the US sanctions against Cuba. In the wake of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, President Kennedy added Cuba to the Trading With The Enemy Act. Famously, this makes travel to Cuba by US citizens practically illegal.
What is less well-known is that the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act prevents foreign companies who trade with Cuba from trading in America. When lastminute.com was purchased by Travelocity, the company had to be cleansed of all Cuba connections. Orders and liabilities were packaged and sold on, customers were handed off to competitors. This is interesting if you are being bought out by an American company but, more importantly, it is a warning about where the law can end up if public opinion is strong enough to drive politicians to act.
In the last decade, we have seen data being lost or stolen from both governments and companies. In 2007, Alistair Darling, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to announce the loss of 25 million personal records by the Inland Revenue. A walk of shame has been endured by many companies for the loss or theft of credit card information and it is suspected that even more companies have refused to acknowledge publicly such data leaks. Most recently, the media has been full of stories about which intelligence agencies are listening in to our communications. Even the Google WiFi story refuses to die.
All of this may well combine into a crescendo of public outrage. Politicians might feel forced to react with total bans, catastrophic fines and even criminalisation of improper data usage. Is business in the UK prepared for this? Are contingency plans ready? The truth is, probably not. Perhaps we need to be.
Your business is not powerless in the face of these trends. Empower your customers and prospects. Broadcast advertising is on the wane, so invest in narrowcast advertising and seek to entice the customer to engage of their own choice. Technology offers one the means to do this. This especially applies to the smartphone, which is the most personal of all devices.
A note of caution applies, of course - technology is not a panacea. The key to success in a future where cold-calling is a memory from the bad old days is to be relevant to your customers and to entice their engagement with you, rather than to crank through contact lists. That sounds harder than what we commonly do now and so it is. My advice? It is time to take our medicine.