Embrace the Digital Transformation

 

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Change is rarely received eagerly, and most times is met with procrastination and surrounded by more than an ample amount of fear and consternation. However, failure to embrace change in a dynamic business climate can lead to marketplace irrelevance. Small businesses are struggling to remake their operations to stake their place in a new competitive world where technology is altering the very fundamentals of commerce.

Digital technology is revolutionizing all aspects of business marketing, communication, distribution and the way we interact with our employees, partners and our customers. Improved productivity and organizational efficiencies are optimizing and personalizing the customer experience. Adopting new technologies and embracing change promises to provide significant competitive advantage across the whole of the small business (SMB) spectrum.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses account for 60 percent of all new jobs while 90 percent of U.S. companies employ fewer than 20 workers. By the end of 2019, businesses are expected to spend $2 trillion dollars on digital transformation projects as SMBs realize the significant gains that can be achieved by adopting the technology across the organization. Studies have found that early digital adopters enjoyed a doubling of revenue growth when compared to those competitors who adopted a wait-and-see strategy. With cloud computing, small businesses can benefit from much of the same technology that larger counterparts enjoy.

A successful digital transformation strategy requires a willingness of all organizational stakeholders to embrace the strategy that identifies a clear goal and well-defined path to achievement. It should be simple, scalable and provide easily recognizable benefits. Be careful to understand how the transformation process will impact customers. Identify which technologies will be most beneficial and realize that not all technology is one-size-fits-all. A recent study revealed that 85% of people who shop online begin a purchase on one device and finish on another. Your transition must be multi-channel, consistent across all channels, and deliver uniformly on your brand’s promise.

The process of digital transformation can be stressful and intimidating, not only to you but to all your employees. Communicating the importance and reasons for initiating the change and sharing a plan that prioritizes meaningful goals and objectives will appease much of the fear that often accompanies such an undertaking. Set reasonable benchmarks and an achievable timeline for completion. Identify key performance indicators and measure the program’s progress. Challenge original assumptions to accommodate unforeseen dynamics and ensure that existing IT infrastructure is capable of supporting the desired outcome.

Adapting and growing digitally is critical to the success of any business and can improve the experience for everyone involved with the business. SMBs that don’t adopt a digital transformation run the risk of being left behind, as competitors take advantage of the benefits of operating in an ever-expanding digital world.

Moms in Aprons and Ties for Dad No Longer Representative of Parents’ Special Day

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What does something homemade, dinner, and a greeting card have in common? They’re the top three things Moms want for Mother’s Day. For those who agonize every spring over selecting the perfect gift for their perfect mom, the solution seems rather simple. All we have to do is cook mom her favorite meal and hand-make her a greeting card and we all will score a bullseye with the 85.4 million mothers in the United States. Either millions of us have been overcomplicating the gift giving process or we all need a remedial course in inferential statistics.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), spending in 2017 around Mother’s Day hit a record $23.6 billion, and this year the upward trend is likely to continue as an estimated 86 percent of Americans celebrate the Day. Add Father’s Day to the mix, with an estimated $15.5 billion dollar consumer spend, and the parental back-to-back holidays promise a profitable opportunity to marketers who get their advertising campaigns right.

Motherhood is no longer one single stereotypical lifestyle anymore, and successful advertising campaigns reflect the diverse varieties of what being a mom means in the 21st century. The most effective campaigns are those that are unique, personalized and portray real people in real life situations in 2018. Despite the changing Mom role model, emotion and nostalgia is still playing well to this audience. Marketing campaigns that develop creative messaging that depict these new realities are those most likely to succeed.

Father’s Day advertising is taking a heartwarming and humorous approach as consumers look for different gift ideas for Dad. Americans who celebrate Father’s Day this year are expected to focus more on “special outing gifts” than ever before with nearly $3.2 billion expected to be spent on concerts, sporting events, or dinner by 47 percent of consumers. “Consumers are looking into other types of non-traditional gifts to give dads, which includes personal care, gifts of experiences, and gift cards,” says Ana Serafin Smith, director of media relations at the NRF. “Therefore, brands and retailers are modifying their Father’s Day ads to be inclusive of some of these new gift options that Millennials are looking to give during this holiday.”

Authenticity is key to successful messaging for both Parents Day events as consumers are more likely to make a purchase decision based on recognized influencers rather than a single celebrity. Like motherhood, the role of being a father is evolving in 2018.  Gifts of sporting tickets, technology toys, backyard grills and tools will remain welcome gifts for dads across America, but surveys are indicating that the best choice for father may not be a thing at all.

Special day holidays provide on-going opportunities to marketers throughout the year. Developing campaign strategies and tactics that are honest, trustworthy and reflect the values of the brand and the consumer will be well rewarded.

Personalization is Defining the Future of Marketing Activities

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Ever receive an email, text or mailing that was addressed to recipient, current resident or some other unfamiliar or ambiguous surname and salutation? Of course, we all have, and more often than not the document or message was promptly tossed in the oval file on the floor or clicked to the digital trash bin. Digital technology is affording an unparalleled opportunity for marketers to connect with infinite numbers of potential consumers economically. The result has been an explosion of generalized messaging that is history’s best example of the “more mud against the wall” approach to getting more of whatever the seller is selling to stick with consumers. One can suppose that all these noisy efforts have some success rate among some marketers, or the persistence of such tactics would have become extinct by now.

The digital revolution has users of desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones and wearable devices rabidly personally connecting with friends, family, sellers and a growing list of things, even their own home appliances. Lost in all the clatter, clutter and endless pop-ups is the personal, mutually beneficial experience between marketers and consumers. Today the average consumer is bombarded with as many as 10,000 messages from brands each day. Getting heard above all the noise and establishing a successful customer experience requires a commitment to personalization across the whole of marketing’s digital collateral. According to Frost & Sullivan, by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

Targeted personalized advertising is creating higher conversion rates with potential customers. Experian reports that personalized marketing emails received 29% higher open rates and 41% higher click-through rates than those without personalization. This year more than half of companies will deploy a strategy of personalization and customer experience initiatives, in an attempt to engage and attract consumers by appealing to their specific likes, needs and interests, according to Garner. Generalized, one-size-fits-all content and big idea campaigns are quickly becoming ineffective.

Successful tactics produce messages that make prospects feel valued and appreciated. Emily Lyons, Forbes Councils, says “Hyper-personalized marketing is undeniably the defining reality of current and future marketing activities. This isn’t just a short-lasting buzzword, flashy fad or momentary mania. Marching to the drumbeat of technological advancement, a drumbeat that’s either ominous or buoyant, depending on who you ask, hyper-personalized marketing is here for the long term, and resistance is futile.”

Typically brand communications tend to be brand centric, not consumer centric. Personalizing the message to reflect the interest of the consumer’s wants and needs and placing it where it is easily accessible and timely is essential to optimizing the experience. Care must be taken to generate the correct data. Sending the right message to the wrong target will negate all the benefits of the right message and may seriously damage a brand’s image, but valuable and tailored content can translate into significant commercial benefits for marketers that deliver an effective personalized experience.

For more on how Junction Creative Solutions can help you deliver a personalized experience to your prospective customer, call 678.686.1125.

Are You Losing Brand Loyalty Among all the Noise?

 

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The ability to reach out and connect to a seemingly infinite number of potential new consumers through a multitude of social media outlets has many businesses focusing attention and media spend on attracting new customers. Today’s digital environment offers significant benefits in time, cost and effectiveness over traditional advertising approaches, providing minute segmentation and laser focused targeting of consumers, all at a cost per contact many thousands of times less than ever before.  A strategy of acquisition over retention, and quantity over quality, is leaving many consumers overwhelmed with all the noise and wanting an authentic relationship with the marketer. With all this messaging overload, building brand loyalty is getting lost among all the noise.

Attracting new converts continues to be a costly process for businesses. A Gartner Group study found that 20% of loyal customers generate 80% of a marketer’s profits, while long-time experience models indicate that new consumers are five to twenty-five times more expensive to acquire than existing customers. While social media allows for the sending of targeted ads to thousands of users, less than 5% will actually lead to making a purchase decision.  A stable of loyal customers remains a brand’s most valuable marketing asset. So what elements make an effective strategy focused on creating customer loyalty?

A Pew Research Center study found that a third of email users identify 60 percent or more of their inbox as spam. Avoid repetitive and generalized messages. Personalize your communications and focus on your brand and how it differs from the competition. Emphasize value, not discount prices. Anyone can easily sell for less. Build two-way communication between your brand and your customers. Be honest, credible and consistently genuine in your messaging. Today’s savvy audiences are particularly capable of detecting dishonesty.

Loyalty comes down to trust, and consumer trust is achieved through unyielding delivery on your brand’s promises. Vance Reavie of Junction AI Inc. believes that companies need to get individual personalization right with awareness of location, context and behavior that adapts to the customer as the relationship evolves.

Despite the much touted revolution in digital marketing and how it is upending and disrupting long standing marketing processes, word of mouth conversations among existing, loyal customers is likely to be your best and most cost effective marketing effort. Loyal customers already have experience with your business, are more likely to trust your products and services and readily share their experience with their friends, family and acquaintances.

Follow up and never take advantage of a customer’s loyalty. Stay tuned into your customers’ changing needs and desires for your products and services, it is essential for keeping them in-house. Be resolved that customer onboarding and retention is an ongoing process without a finish line.

To learn more about establishing a strategy of building and retaining a loyal customer base, contact Junction Creative Solutions.

Artificial Intelligence is Promising to Disrupt Email Marketing

 

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Artificial intelligence (AI) in some form is growing in popularity.  The concept that machines could learn to think and interact with humans and other machines without ongoing input from human intelligence has been a hotly debated topic for decades. As server capacities, computing speeds and a proliferation of new technologies increased exponentially, the Sci-fi notion that real human beings could be out-thought and out-performed mentally by the machines that they created has become a reality.

Each passing generation experiences increased use of AI in their daily lives, spawning fears in many that machines may someday soon rule the world. While such total machine dominance is still more fantasy than reality, AI is making inroads into performing accelerated learning and comparative analysis at far greater speeds and accuracy than mere mortals are capable of performing. Despite fears of AI taking away human jobs in marketing in the future, AI is more likely going to enhance the creative experience and optimize marketers’ abilities to connect with customers with higher quality and more effective messages.

AI technology is promising to maximize consumer engagement and conversions by automating email content, send times and frequency. Content remains king in all things digital marketing. AI technology is enabling content creators to learn more quickly what combination of content performs best and alleviates a lot of time spent on A/B testing while providing for greater variations of testing elements. More personalized campaigns can be tailored to smaller, targeted market segments improving an email campaign’s conversion rates. Based on each subscriber’s engagement history, the technology can automate the process of determining the ideal send times and frequency rates of each email effort, thereby maximizing campaign engagement.

Much of the promise of AI still remains unrealized, but where the technology has been implemented it is having a significant positive impact on the email marketing process and, like all new advances in tech, caution should be exercised in its implementation. Mike Muse, Google NextGen Tech Policy Fellow, speaking on the subject said, “For every advancement, there are unintended consequences to be mindful of that we’ll need to solve for. There is still a human at the beginning inputting the data, a human with implicit biases.” In the end, AI outputs are only as good as human inputs. So where is this new technology taking email marketing in the future?

Zoe Belisle-Springer, Social Media & Content Executive at Phorest predicts, “In 10 to 15 years from now, bulk and impersonal email marketing will undoubtedly be long gone. With email providers making it harder and harder for marketers to reach inboxes, we’ll see Artificial Intelligence and powerful algorithms come to the surface. In fact, Artificial Intelligence – with tools like Alexa – will probably be used by customers to tell marketers how they want to be marketed to. With highly sophisticated interactive and personalized marketing campaigns, better targeting and real-time outreach, the conversion rates and ROI on email should see a dramatic increase – better than ever before.”

To learn more about how AI can improve your email marketing efforts, contact Junction Creative Solutions at 678.686.1125.

Success Depends on How Well You Know the Competition

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It may be arguable but fair to say that most businesses are either intimidated by or carelessly underestimate the competition. In most cases, it would likely be advisable to be a little more of the one and a little less of the other. Taking on a well-established market leader is cause for serious evaluation, particularly one who is attentive to potential market entrants.  Even the best run businesses, while careful to not open a wide door of opportunity for new competitors, often leave the door cracked open to some or all parts of their market segments. While intimidating, opportunity rarely presents an easy target. Fear is often overcome by fully understanding the dynamics of the challenge or challenger. As Walt Disney said, “I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

Studying successful competitors’ operations gives important insight as to what is working and what is not. For a market interloper, learning from your target’s successes and failures eases the up-hill, new entry path. Resolve to make your own mistakes and not repeat the ones the competition has already paid for. Analyze what makes them the leader and copy their actions. Cloning an already effective strategy is not only flattering to the originator but advantageous to the newcomer. Don’t be afraid to learn and earn from the heavy lifting already accomplished. As Tony Robbins said, “The surest way to achieve success is to model someone who is already successful.”

Evaluating a competitor requires attention to the strategies and tactics of operations over time. Fully understanding the path to success will enhance one’s perspective and avoid the cost of underestimating the scope of the challenges that lie ahead. Mark Chussil, an adjunct instructor at the University of Portland and the founder of consulting firm Advanced Competitive Strategies, says “It’s tempting to say, ‘Obviously, these people are doing a lousy job, or they wouldn’t be in trouble.’ It’s also a little dangerous. You can say, ‘I would never make those mistakes.’ But we should remember that a lot of companies have gone bankrupt — not just small ones, but big ones. They weren’t being run by idiots, and they weren’t being run by people who wanted to fail.”  Successful intervention requires comprehensive knowledge about the product, the competition and the respective markets. Success dictates attention to all or none.

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew” is a time-worn sage and good advice when taking on an established market player. Existing players have the advantage of history, capital and market position. Identify underserved niche markets and focus on excelling with those segments. Resolve to identify those aspects of serving customers that the competition is unable or unwilling to perform. Be willing to be underestimated and seen as a non-threatening nuisance. Nibble away at the vulnerable edges of the beast until they are weakened and injured. Focus on capturing market subcategories and expand inward to the market core.  However, a challenger should remember that while it’s easy to identify and move against competitors’ shortcomings, you risk becoming a target through the process. “A lot of companies think their objective is to kill the competition, that it’s the path to profitability,” Chussil says. “That is not the objective. Your objective is to succeed.”

Filling a need not filled is the goal. Providing a solution to consumers not satisfied by existing marketers provides opportunity to new market entrants. Even the most astute businesses leave a door cracked open to new competitors, either out of complacency or failure to identify lucrative, unfulfilled market segments. Learn as much as possible about these untapped opportunities and reap the rewards.

For more on how you can seize the benefits of untapped markets, contact the experienced strategists at Junction Creative Solutions.

Blockchain, the Next Wave of Innovation in Digital Marketing

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The word is out. Not fully or easily understood yet by the average internet user or even by the more experienced of users, “Blockchain” is promising to be as impactful on those disciplines that veraciously do business on the internet as the original world wide web was on them just a few decades ago. Though not fully implemented, Blockchain technology threatens to eliminate the need for the traditional, centralized digital advertising distribution models and significantly improve the security of online information. It has the potential to give consumers complete control over their personal data. A decentralized data management and storage environment, blockchain technology promises to impact and disrupt current digital advertising giants like Facebook and Google.

Forrester has predicted that digital marketing expenditures in the United States will reach $120 billion by 2021. Any alteration in the current progression of those billions of advertising dollars flowing through middlemen like Google and Facebook has the digital marketing industry abuzz. The emerging blockchain technology uses a network of servers to transparently and independently verify the accuracy of user data, enabling consumers to feel confident that their data is accurate and factual and not being manipulated. Companies will be able to use blockchain to show consumers whom they are selling data to and assure them that information will not be tampered with.

A major point of contention for marketers has long been the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in being able to verify digital ad spend. Recent reports indicate that as much as 56% of all display ad dollars were lost to fraudulent inventory in 2016. The cost of ad fraud globally is expected to increase to $50 billion over the next decade. With a reported 79% of advertisers expressing concerns about the lack of visibility, many major brands are restricting their digital advertising budgets. Blockchain provides actual verification that sustainable, ethical, and responsible practices are being used and can make data-driven marketing more transparent by confirming that a targeted consumer actually viewed the advertisement, leading to a more precise digital attribution.

Consumers are being overwhelmed with too many ads, emails, coupons, and messages. This current “more mud against the wall approach” indicates marketers don’t have a single view about consumers that promotes cross-platform continuity. Studies have shown that between four and six ad exposures have the optimal impact on consumers’ propensity to buy. Blockchain can correct overexposure by providing an enhanced level of tracking and transparency that is not currently available through traditional digital advertising chains.

Universal adoption of blockchain technology is still a relatively long way from reality, but marketers should start digesting the wealth of information on the technology’s benefits and limitations. Digital advertisers should familiarize themselves with those companies who are pioneering the blockchain technology. Adoption of blockchain will be crucial to the development of future digital marketing strategies and embracing this new opportunity sooner rather than later will provide savvy marketers a head start in the next wave of innovation that promises to take the world of marketing to new heights.

Build Consumer Trust and Confidence with Authentic Content

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“The old adage that content is king has gone by the wayside, because everything is content,” said Daniel K. Lobring, vice president of marketing communications at rEvolution. “Competition for mindshare means that brands and others who deploy content marketing have to be smarter.” The days of pulling in consumers with mindless product platitudes may be over. Content marketing is revolutionizing the way brands are connecting with customers through two-way conversations in social media channels. As the conversations unfold, consumers are questioning the validity and authenticity of the messages. Technology is creating an audience that is experienced and increasingly tech savvy, smarter and much more likely to challenge the honesty of the message. They are beginning to judge brands solely on the authenticity of their content.

Content marketing got its start to dominance as traditional advertising began to lose favor with consumers. Over saturation of feature and benefits messaging and the unabridged proliferation of pitch and persuade advertising produced increasingly exhausted consumers. They were skeptical and tuning out in record numbers. An emerging digital revolution is providing an opportunity for marketers to reach infinite numbers of potential customers more easily, quickly and economically than ever before. A recent survey reveals that 84 percent of customers prefer and trust online reviews of personal influencers when making a purchase decision.

As the popularity of content grows, its continued success is becoming dependent upon it not falling victim to the same pitfalls manifested upon traditional advertising. Content marketing is approaching a point of oversaturation as advertisers pursue a policy of more is more by sacrificing quality of message to quantity of messaging. Consumer experience and understanding of content marketing tactics is leading to a lack of trust and eroding confidence in brands. Those companies that fail to make authenticity the cornerstone of their content offerings risk serious, long-term damage to the brand’s reputation.

Effective content is original, conversational in tone and punctuated with humor and personal antidotes. Pitches of a brand’s name and product features and benefits should be avoided. Overt prose of self-promotion will be seen as the messenger having an ulterior motive. Avoid gimmicks and questionable claims and above all, don’t fake it. When asked about the success of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah said, “The secret is authenticity. The reason people fail is because they’re pretending to be something they’re not.”

Geoff Beattie, Cohn Global Practice Leader of Corporate Affairs believes, “A brand that has values and morals and stands by them no matter what while honestly divulging its practices (flaws and all). In fact, the thing people most wanted was open and honest communications about products and services. And that finding was consistent around the world.”

The Eroding Trust & Confidence in Social Media Marketing

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The recent crisis for Facebook in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica revelation is reigniting a troubling issue among users and advertisers of a vast array of social media outlets. Already experiencing a decline in trust from consumers, marketers are beginning to hesitate implementing expanded social media campaigns. For Facebook, the current debacle promises to increase the numbers of users who are fleeing the media giant. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, well under half of Americans (41%) now trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws and adequately protect personal data from misuse. Facing possible monetary penalties and new government regulations over the data misuse, perhaps the most damaging outcome of the affair between social media outlets and personal data abuses is the response the relationship has spawned among some very large advertisers.

Mozilla Corporation, Commerzbank, Germany’s second largest bank, and Pep Boys, a major automotive retailer announced they were suspending their advertising campaigns on social networks. Pep Boys CMO Danielle Porto Mohn explained, “We are concerned about the issues surrounding Facebook and have decided to suspend all media on the platform until the facts are out and corrective actions have been taken.”

For a number of years, researchers have been reporting a steady decline in consumer trust of online social media outlets as they increasingly turn to social platforms for product and service information. Consumers are expressing doubts about the credibility of information and an increasing lack of social media discourse. “This notion of media being the Fourth Estate, we’ve come to believe, is eroding,” Edelman Chicago Chief Operating Officer Kevin L. Cook told an Omaha campus group. “We’re also in an age where technology allows us to completely manipulate our news feeds and tailor what we read to only what we want, only to what suits our sensibilities.”

Distrust of social media is the most prevalent among millennials, the largest segment of the consumer spectrum. The trend to distrust is shared across the landscape of media outlets and may suggest that the bloom of the social media industry is fading as advertisers and users appear to be tiring of the proliferation of fake news and the questionable accuracy of published information in general.

In response to this erosion of confidence, marketers must refocus attention to a strategy of attracting and protecting consumer confidence by insisting on an elevated standard of media accountability. Emphasis should be placed on the quality of the messaging and less on the quantity of the messages spread across and in concert with multiple marketing channels. Consumer trust and confidence in the brand must be an important element of the campaign’s measurement of success. Such confidence and trust must be earned, not purchased.

“Research by professors Joseph Turow, Michael Hennessy and Nora Draper found that marketers were incorrect in assuming that a majority of Americans give out information about themselves as a trade-off for benefits they receive.” Only 21 percent of respondents agreed that getting discounts, free services or better services for collecting online information is a fair trade-off. Users may have glossed over social media platforms’ privacy policies in the past but never more. A recent Deloitte study found 93 percent of consumers believe they should be able to request that a company permanently delete their personal data.

Marketers cannot afford to lose the trust of consumers. It’s hard enough to capture the attention of consumers. Implementing measures that account for the protection of data and financial information is critical to evolving your business.

New Data Handling Regulations from Across the Pond May Affect U.S. Businesses

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On May 25, 2018, a significant new set of regulations go into effect across Europe and around the world that will greatly impact virtually any business that has an internet presence. The time for compliance is approaching very quickly but 60 percent of all businesses affected are not ready to be in compliance.  This number is concerning given that violations of new regulations carry huge fines that could cripple businesses of all sizes.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was initiated to give consumers in Europe greater control over their personal data. GDPR impacts any business that has customers located within Europe and affects all businesses regardless of physical location, company size, or scope of business. While the emphasis first appears to be on European organizations, the regulations apply to businesses anywhere in the world that process the personal data of European Union (EU) residents. In today’s vast global internet world without borders, those not affected make up a very short list.

Article 3 of the GDPR says that if your organization collects personal data or behavioral information from someone in an EU country, your company is subject to the requirements of the GDPR. Businesses will need to be much clearer about the information they hold on people and give them more control over how it disseminated and managed. Compliance is likely to be easier for heavily-regulated business-to-business sectors such as banking and insurance, but retailers and companies that deal directly with consumers need to be particularly aware of the new regulatory environment.

Many business entities outside Europe who failed to thoroughly understand the implications of the looming regulations are suddenly waking up to their new reality. Robert Bond, a partner at London law firm Bristows, says, “Already this morning, there have been three overnight calls from the U.S., saying we don’t have anything in place but we’ve realized this applies to us, do you have a quick fix solution?  I think there’s an awful lot of businesses out there, particularly outside the EU, that have suddenly realized the extra territorial nature (of GDPR) and that’s come as quite a shock. They are assuming it’s a tick the box exercise, which of course it isn’t.”

U.S. based hospitality, travel, software services and e-commerce companies will certainly have to consider their online marketing practices and determine the risk of non-compliance as well as any other U.S. companies that have identified a market in an EU country. GDPR requires organizations to identify a security strategy and adopt adequate administrative and technical measures to protect EU citizens’ personal data.

Given the existing costs associated with irresponsible handling of consumer’s personal data, few organizations can afford complacency about cybersecurity. While the heavy fines for non-compliance to GDPR compounds the penalties for cybersecurity ignorance, the new regulations offer an additional incentive and opportunity for companies to implement policies that may help them avoid a future data breach and the significant calamity to normal business operations that results.