It all started with great intentions. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) required marketers to update their data sharing practices and, if changes to their policies were significant, obtain renewed consent from consumers before sending marketing emails after May 25, 2018.

More transparency, more user rights, more data protection – what’s not to like?

So the emails went out. ‘We have a new privacy policy,’ they said, ‘please confirm your subscription in order to keep receiving email communications after May 25th'. That went really well at first. Until consumers received a dozen such messages per day, got annoyed, and stopped paying attention.

Some people even turned to social media to claim that #GDPRpocalypse and #GDPRmageddon were upon us. “Every web service [sic] and cereal box is telling me about it’s [sic] updated privacy policy,” tweeted one user. “When will this end?” asked another. Can marketers please stop sending these annoying privacy notices?

How GDPR affects email marketing lists

The real problem is that marketers really have no choice but ask for renewed opt-in. Because now that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is officially in effect, using personal data to send marketing messages to consumers without approval is unlawful. The same goes for adding consumers to email lists without explicit consent.

So in actuality the GDPR Apocalypse isn’t really striking consumers so much as it’s wreaking havoc for marketers and on their communications practices - for example, annihilating active email contacts maintained and groomed over several years. The true impact of GDPR on mailing lists is hard to gauge at this early stage but marketing expert and LinkedIn trainer Greg Cooper estimates in a current article that “your mailing list will shrink by 20, 30 or even 60%.”

Why renewed opt-in is mandatory

Personalization thrives on data, but GDPR was created to ensure that all data is ethically sourced and obtained under full consent of consumers; or “identifiable persons” in legal speak. The law has marketers facing a Catch 22 situation: Any privacy policy changes marketers implement in response to GDPR may, in turn, provide the very reason why renewed opt-in is not an option, but a mandatory measure.

What's especially tricky: Even if marketers have already obtained consent from every contact on their list at some point, GDPR requires them to store that consent and be able to produce it as proof, if so requested. And if the purpose of your list changes from business-related tasks to marketing or if consent was given in a pre-ticked opt-in box, guess what? Time to ask for renewed consent under GDPR rules.

The rules also ask marketers to clearly state the purposes an email address will be used for and indicate an easy unsubscribe method before opt-in. Have you added contacts automatically to your mailing list, like when someone made a purchase? And did you obtain permission for specific content and for every individual channel? Or did you lose track of where all these contacts on your list even came from? If so, do not pass Go and head straight for renewed opt-in – unless you never want to use email marketing again.

Coming back from the GDPR Apocalypse

The latter is really not an option. Email is the still king among marketing channels, and 68 percent of marketers use it as the top channel to attract new customers (Campaigner). Email single-handedly provides the strongest ROI in the marketing mix according to 73 percent of marketers worldwide, ahead of SEO (72 percent), and content marketing (63 percent), says an Econsultancy study.

According to leading U.S. marketing executives, email marketing is currently responsible for an estimated 21 percent of total company revenues, up from 17 percent in 2016 (OneSpot). Really, which other channel can match that?

With that said, it’s time to take back control with the following strategies for surviving the #GDPRpocalypse:

  1. Assess the damage. The first order of business after any cataclysmic event is to take inventory of your resources. How much of your email list remains intact? Which segments have been hit hardest? Do you need to focus recovery efforts on specific demographics? Also use the opportunity for some list maintenance, detailed in our Selligent blog post.
  2. Welcome website visitors with a newsletter pop-over. Activate a pop-over or “lightbox” form to ask visitors for their email address and consent to receiving your newsletter or marketing messages. Make sure to also provide a communications preferences pane that’s easily accessible; another GDPR requirement.
  3. Offer clear incentives for opt-in. Sweeten the deal by offering a 15% discount as a reward for new marketing subscribers. If your website has strong content like eBooks or white papers, require visitors to share their email details in return for free downloads. You can also use the “cliffhanger” technique for blog posts: offer the first half as a free read, then ask for personal data to see the rest.
  4. Start a members club or loyalty program. Dangle a world of perks with personal information as the key. For instance early sneak peeks or members-only discounts, or a loyalty program that rewards purchases with points. Also use customer intel to drive personalization: In the latest Bond Brand Loyalty Report, 79 percent of customers said they are very satisfied with loyalty programs that offer a high degree of personalization. And programs that made members feel special reported 2.7 times higher customer satisfaction rates.
  5. Host a live event or webinar. Create marketing moments in real time by hosting a live broadcast from an event or your own expert webinar entirely free… for all email list members. Also offer the recording on YouTube afterwards and add a “join our mailing list” call to action at the end of the video. If you are inviting guests or partner companies to your event, ask them to promote your newsletter and return the favor.
  6. Leverage your social media reach. Convince your social audience to join your newsletter by offering a sweet deal for new subscribers (see 3.). Add a sign-up window directly to your Facebook page and host a special landing page to funnel opt-in from social channels. Also make sure to add an “email a friend” button to your newsletters and emails to encourage social sharing.
  7. If all else fails, open your wallet. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Consider going beyond discounts into offering straight cash value in return for contact details. In June, a major U.S. retail conglomerate was handing out cash discounts on produce purchases to customers in stores for sharing their email. Subtle? No. But a clear-cut bargain can be effective in growing back those lists. Also make sure to collect emails at real-life events such as trade shows, for instance with a raffle or contest.

Some definite no-no’s…

Rekindling old flames is out of the question. What’s up with those lists of former subscribers who jumped ship at some point? Why not tell them about our new and improved privacy terms and super-charged marketing offering?! Bad idea: Sending emails to customers who have opted out will result in heavy fines.

Buying lists is not an option. Filling the crater in your email contact list by purchasing lists from third-party vendors may seem tempting. But these lists also require clear and explicit opt-in from all contacts. And even if the vendor selling the list vouches for its legitimacy, the burden of proof is on you in case of complaints or GDPR violations.

Don’t reach out on the phone to “check in”. Some not-so reputable companies have taken to cold calling people on the phone. You know, just to make sure customers are “getting the best service” or their “app is properly installed”. And to get renewed opt-in for email marketing over the phone while they’re at it. A major privacy violation and strict no-no – even in those rough times after the GDPR Apocalypse.

Rebuilding your list is no small feat, but why not view GDPR as an opportunity instead of a chore? In the Eventsforce study, 30 percent of event planners expected GDPR to make their marketing communications “a lot more relevant” to their audiences, while 24 percent said it will improve the quality and creativity of their marketing campaigns. Better engagement with high-quality audience is the future of marketing anyway, and the GDPR Apocalypse wipes the slate clean.

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Be Human and Turn GDPR To Your Advantage

With its built-in accountability principle, the GDPR presents an opportunity to win customers’ trust – and outperform the competition – by creating transparent data collection policies. Find out how you can take advantage of the opportunity to become more "human" in collecting data with this Selligent Marketing Cloud white paper

Read More +

With its built-in accountability principle, the GDPR presents an opportunity to win customers’ trust – and outperform the competition – by creating transparent data collection policies. Find out how you can take advantage of the opportunity to become more "human" in collecting data with this Selligent Marketing Cloud white paper

Read More +

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