Spamming people with GDPR emails is Virgin Holidays’ last resort to getting consent

How Virgin Holidays prepared for GDPR

As the 25 May deadline for GDPR draws closer, inboxes are being flooded with frantic emails requesting people give consent for companies to keep contacting them. But for Virgin Holidays, this is a last resort.

The travel firm is taking an arguably relaxed approach to the arduous task of getting its vast customer base to give all the right permissions to use their data moving forward.

Other companies are panic-stricken that in doing so they will lose swathes of customer contacts. However, Virgin has accepted this as an inevitability and taken the view that it’s more important to acquire new customers in a GDPR-compliant way than try to retain those that have shown little interest in the brand over the past year.

“At the end of the day we’ll have a much smaller base but they’ll be much more engaged; we’ll have people who actually want to hear from us,” Saul Lopes, head of CRM and loyalty at Virgin Holidays, recently told The Drum.

“For a sales organisation, it is more important to be getting new people in than trying to keep people who don’t want to know the brand. We want to excite the sales staff, who want new business and the commission that goes with that, so it’s more important to focus on that rather than contacts that haven’t engaged with us in six months.”

That’s not to say the brand hasn’t made a sizeable effort to keep as many customers on its CRM database as possible. But sending a “do you still want to hear from us?” email hasn’t been the first course of action.

Not surprisingly, it prioritised changes to the Virgin Holidays website six months ago to ensure that any data collection was GDPR compliant and invested heavily in updating its back-end processes (such as correctly timestamping the data that’s gathered).

The brand has also put faith in its in-store staff and those manning its call centres to explain what GDPR is and why people should opt-in, with employees taking responsibility for directing customers to the appropriate place to do so.

In addition, Lopes said Virgin Holidays took the details of its “top customer base” and asked retail staff to “nudge that we won’t be able to contact [customers] post-May”.

“We’ve really segmented the customer base to use different strategies,” Lopes explained.

Only when these tactics have failed does the company then plan to send the now all-too-familiar GDPR-themed emails. “We’ll go out to about 1.5 million people in our database that we couldn’t save through any of those other channels with a repermissioning email," he said.

The format of these emails is still under discussion, it began testing last week whether it should go out widely with a “fun and original” message or a “legal” one.

“Is a legal message better than a marketing message? We’ve been testing it. Some will get a legal and other will get marketing. We don’t know which we’ll go with,” he said.

But, by far the biggest focus of its GDPR preparations has been upping its acquisition game. Lopes said it sees the only way of recouping the people lost from the Virgin Holidays database after May is by coming up with more “fun, digital ways of data collection."

How it will go about this is still being mapped out but he gave an example in the form of its most recent sponsorship deal with ITV’s flagship show, Saturday Night Takeaway.

As part of it, Virgin ran a competition where it offered to fly a plane full of people to Orlando, Florida. Over 250,000 people entered and in the process handed over information, including email addresses and other prospecting details, that was fully GDPR compliant.

“It’s amazing that through above-the-line activity we can generate a lot of CRM leads. It’s been one of our most successful partnerships,” he claimed.

As such, it’s looking for more “abstract” ways of data collection, such as finding those "money can’t buy experiences" that can be used in competitions. These efforts, it hopes, will bring sign-ups to its brand comms back to pre-GDPR levels as quickly as they dropped off.

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