By Simon Bowker, Area Director, Asia Pacific Marketing Applications, Teradata

Protecting consumer privacy is vital, particularly in light of the changes to Australian privacy legislation. With more information being held electronically, companies need to know exactly how it is being handled and whether the information complies with current privacy laws. Mistakes can cost millions of dollars in fines and can also cause irreparable damage to your brand identity.

The privacy and compliance landscape is full of ever-changing regulations that touch on every aspect of the business that makes use of sensitive customer information. Marketing operations often rely on large volumes of customer-derived data. This presents an ongoing challenge for organisations to mitigate the risks of privacy breaches whilst delivering engaging campaigns.

According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) 2013-14 annual report1 , 213 data breach notifications were received in the year ending June 2014. The previous year, it was 61. The OAIC conducted 137 investigations and 14 audits and, most disturbingly, reported a 183 per cent increase in privacy complaints for the year, to 4,239.

While the majority of these complaints were directed at the finance industry and government sector, 96 of them were aimed at retailers. This number has increased noticeably. In the financial year ending 2013, the OAIC received just 75 privacy complaints about retailers.

The cost of non-compliance for retailers can be significant, irrespective of their size. Companies found guilty of disclosing sensitive customer information can be ordered to pay thousands of dollars in compensation to individuals whose information has been made public, whether inadvertently or deliberately. In fact, privacy breaches can attract fines of up to $1.7 million.

Additionally, marketers communicate with customers through more channels than ever, making it more difficult to get a clear view of campaign details. This, along with a lack of internal collaboration in large organisations with dispersed marketing teams, often leads to campaign errors and leaves the organisation vulnerable to such OAIC audits and fines.

The rise in privacy complaints aimed at organisations in the retail sector has been driven, in part, by the 13 changes made to the Australian Privacy Act in 2014, including the addition of the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), which outline how marketers can collect, handle and process personal information. However, the number of complaints has also been pushed up due to the increasing volume of customer data organisations are now holding, much of which is used for marketing purposes.

The addition of the APPs in 2014 highlight just how fluid the privacy and compliance landscape can be. It includes many regulations, all of which need to be consistently adhered to, evolving to meet market needs and societal pressures. Staying abreast of these developments can often prove challenging for retailers, but they shouldn’t been viewed as prohibitive to creating effective marketing campaigns. They are, by default, a set of rules that identify best practice principles to ensure materials are not misrepresented to consumers.

With the OAIC working to enforce compliance, marketers need to know what rules and regulations to be aware of so they can conform, or face the consequences. Under last year’s changes to the Privacy Act, for example, businesses can be investigated regardless of whether complaints have been made.

However, retailers can lower the risk of non-compliance through marketing resource management systems and clear, up-to-date company-wide policies. Establishing effective marketing operations can not only help to successfully minimise errors and risks, it also helps each team fully understand the function and role everyone plays in the creation and execution of these campaigns.

Organisations can implement marketing resource management systems to mitigate the risks of distributing materials to the market that will open them up to legal scrutiny, additional work and heavy fines. Companies can also improve marketing operations and help prevent distribution errors by using marketing resource management systems to control the approval processes of every campaign.

Today, businesses need to ensure they have end-to-end visibility and reporting across all processes from campaign planning and execution to paying the last invoice. This means retailers need marketing resource management tools to ensure they establish and adhere to controls and best practices, making them accountable for every aspect of each campaign they deliver to market.

Having one integrated system that co-ordinates all marketing activities, and disparate teams and channels helps keep staff informed and notified of their tasks, and breaks down silos to establish a streamlined workflow throughout the department. The tools can increase visibility of all programmes, marketing assets, campaigns and activities to support quick decisions and informed actions, and keep messaging consistent across traditional and digital channels. The assurance that marketing messages are presented clearly, and without contradicting or misrepresenting the product, is key to keeping organisations compliant.