Q&A with Roan Mackintosh


POPI (The Protection of Personal Information Act) was recently signed into law. The POPI Act regulates how anyone who processes personal information must handle, keep and secure the data. In preparing for the implementation of the bill, we discussed how this Act affects South African marketers and how to comply with it. To further this discussion, we chatted to Roan Mackintosh and asked for his professional opinion on the implications of POPI for digital marketers.

Mackintosh is the Business Director at Acceleration Digital Marketing and is set to speak at Big Data Reform SA, a 2 day conference highlighting marketing practices and POPI compliance. Here’s what he has to say.

Tell us about your professional role & how you’ll be impacted by POPI?

We’re a company of strategic marketing technologists. Our focus is on digital marketing capabilities within enterprise organisations. The direct impact of POPI on the way we do business is limited, but it has far-reaching implications for our clients. In actual fact POPI will aid us in terms of highlighting the true potential of marketing technology and ultimately, the better use thereof.

What are the imminent repercussions for digital marketers?

Once an official commencement date is confirmed, the goal for all digital marketers will be compliance. This will necessitate a complete revision of a company’s data capturing processes and IT policies around the storage and protection of that information. Depending on the business, this could be a relatively minor impact with a few tweaks in existing processes, or it could mean a complete technical overhaul to implement new systems and policies around their operation and maintenance.

What immediate steps should digital marketers start taking towards compliance?

Read and understand the legal implications of the Act.
Review all data collection and storage points to understand exactly how it is your company processes data (you might be surprised at the amount of personal data that is actually available and currently collected by your company).

Consider skills requirements – i.e. new staff or simply up-skilling of existing staff. Train all staff in the company (not only in marketing) on the importance of data security. Both directly on company systems and indirectly through personal mobile devices that may link to the system. Internal policies also need to be put into in place to limit who within the organisation can access certain information based on the requirements of their job descriptions.

Have IT review not only the security policy around passwords and data encryption, but also the physical security of the data centres (burglar bars, alarm systems, key card access etc.)

And lastly, look at 3rd party companies that you may deal with, and understand how they process information on your behalf. Make sure there are tight policies with these service providers to ensure that they will also comply with the regulations of POPI.

What impact will POPI have on business, specifically email, mobile and social marketing?

Following the full application of POPI and the policing of compliance thereof, there should be no more spammers. This is great for both consumers and businesses; we’ll no longer be left with the sour taste from unsolicited communication. Brands are able to build value-based communications with customers that should see the consumption of products or services increase as customer’s needs are being identified and communicated to, in a relevant manner.

In order to achieve this utopian world, it becomes critical for digital marketers to ensure they have a firm grasp on permission management (getting people to knowingly opt-in to communication), transparency around how information that’s captured is being used (e.g. we capture information around your visits to our websites to track your interests, so that we can deliver more relevant content to you in the future) and putting the control in the consumers hands in terms of opt-outs and unsubscribes (a scary place to be for any marketer – handing control over to the customer…).

How do you think POPI will affect direct marketing like call centres and SMS?

POPI should have a dual-effect on direct marketing – on the consumer-side it should eliminate the annoyance of unsolicited communication and on the marketer-side it should eliminate wastage. Companies should only be communicating with people that actually want to hear about their services and are therefore more likely to convert.

Digital media has the advantage over traditional media as with the advancement in technology, it becomes easier to allow people to grow with your brand through regular interaction (people are browsing websites on their mobile phones more and more and new ways of interacting are developing all the time – QR codes, local-area messaging such as Bluetooth or GPS driven push notifications) while traditional media is still a broadcast medium that talks AT consumers, rather than WITH them. In the digital space it’s also possible to automate a lot of the management of the capture, processing and actioning of data. It does require some upfront effort in terms of understanding the digital strategy and implementing the systems to support it, but in a best-practice situation the technology then becomes self-sustaining and should free marketers up to focus on what they do best – marketing their products.

What’s your topic @ Big Data Reform SA?

It’s called Arriving at a single customer view – Leveraging data in an evolving technology ecosystem Essentially I’ll look at how the digital marketing technology landscape is evolving and what potential opportunities this opens up for marketers. With the introduction of POPI and legislation in the other parts of the world around data (such as the EU Cookie Law) it’s imperative that companies get to grips with marketing technology and how this can be leveraged, not only to comply with legislation but to also gain operational efficiencies and truly differentiate themselves within the market by delivering truly world-class service to consumers.

Social comes up quite a bit in the Big Data Reform topics. Why such emphasis on this?

Social Media is a focal point for many companies as this presents a very data-rich environment. Companies will need to navigate carefully given the considerations around POPI. Not many companies have a dedicated social media team with technical infrastructure and personnel policy to support its operation. So, it’s a unique risk area for a company that has either outsourced this component without a true understanding of the space, or incorporated the function as an add-on to an existing employee’s job description without a defined strategy around social media communication and management. Companies can either choose to remain out of the social media landscape (which in my opinion is a serious competitive disadvantage) or they’ll need to address the requirements around the technology, people and processes that go along with the successful management thereof.

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