As business decisions go, the one made by Callcredit Information Group in January to suspend sales of its Define database was both brave and directional. With the Information Commissioner’s Office having given a clear indication of its views on consent in the republished Guidelines for Direct Marketing and the impending tighter requirements under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), any data source unable to prove clearly its provenance and compliance was not likely to have a rosy future.
Callcredit looked into the Fair Processing Notices and privacy policies being used by its data collection partners and realised it had a problem. In the shakeout that followed, there were numerous departures from the marketing solutions division, including then managing director Will Lowe. His replacement, Steve McNicholas, had been at Callcredit for four-and-a-half years, particularly in the credit bureau side where he was most recently group sales operations director, having held senior positions in retail banking before he joined the business.
It might be thought he had been given the short straw, but that was not how McNicholas was viewing it when he spoke to DataIQ recently. “The decision which the business took in January was the right one, to strengthen our requirements around Fair Processing Notices. Our suppliers are working with us in that space to deliver what we want. That gives us three benefits - a significant data product, enhanced consent and regulatory control. It means our clients can target very precisely and with confidence about the consent,” he says.
Define was relaunched on 7th September with a clean bill of health and seems likely to act as a benchmark for other commercial data controllers. In the process of refurbishing the database, McNicholas has been able to learn a lot about Callcredit, its clients and the data industry in general as he transitioned from the financial services and credit referencing worlds.
“There are three things that are obvious to me as I get into the world of marketing and everything that goes with it: firstly, we need to bring clarity to completeness - when I talk to clients who are using large volumes of data on customers, we can provide a clear view of who those customers really are,” he says.
“Secondly, translating data into information to allow our clients to develop their marketing strategies; thirdly, delivering effective engagement, helping clients engage in the right channels that their customers prefer,” adds McNicholas. “If we can deliver on those three things, that is our path to success.”
He points out that the explosion of big data has already been making itself felt in the credit reference world, where the insight to be gained into a customer’s risk factors from behavioural indicators are being built into decisioning engines. That is a move which he will be keen to replay in the marketing solutions space.
“One of the many strengths of this division is the insight and analytics team. I have also been warned by HR that they are very sought-after!”
Data alone is not enough to drive the improvements which clients are seeking. As McNicholas knows only too well, analytics is the real heart of the operation. “We have to convert data into insight so businesses can plan their marketing activity better, whether in building their strategy and segmentation or managing their data assets,” he says. “One of the many strengths of this division is the insight and analytics team. That is one of our strongest assets. I have also been warned by HR that they are very sought-after!”
If moving to a division which had just taken its biggest product off the market was not enough of a challenge, McNicholas has also had to contend with the biggest political upheaval in the UK for decades - the Brexit vote. “There has been some nervousness and anxiety among clients about investing in their business,” he notes.
But while clients may be treading water, the core goals which have driven the adoption of data and analytics remain the same. “Reducing acqusition costs, getting a better return on investment, improving the accuracy of targeting and the quality of segmentation - that is our opportunity in this space,” he notes.
Having gained an understanding of the marketing solutions division and with Define back in market, McNicholas can start to take a longer-term perspective and set out a new strategy at the three-, five- and even seven-year horizon. As he concludes: “This is not a difficult task given the people we have and the fact that clients are asking how much more data we can source and help them to use. I have seen the opportunity already.”