Do you remember, not so long ago, when all you heard or read about was GDPR? It seemed to be a living thing, seeping through the walls and clinging to every whisper – people flinching whenever they heard the word “data”. For a long time, it felt like Y2K. GDPR-mageddonists lamented their bought lists, and of course the “Email is Dead” band were releasing their latest single.
And then it happened.
For us at mailingmanager, GDPR bought us a brief spell of silence. No phone calls asking for GDPR related advice, no “quick chats” about permission passes. Even the emails had slowed back down to a manageable stream of support requests, newsletters and marketing materials. After the two months of build up and panic; when GDPR came it was…well…anticlimactic.
But why were we expecting the apocalypse?
Consider the world we live in? You could almost see the data sliding through the air on their radio signals like children on an Helter Skelter. People were so blasé towards their own data, they were giving it away in a cavalier manner – just so they could find out which Lord of the Rings character they were. Data was easier to come by than scruples were. Companies, such as mailingmanager, might have always promoted ethical email marketing, but it is a difficult thing to police. Nobody is going to admit to harvesting data, or sending SPAM emails out ahead of time.
Similarly, the repercussions of being caught didn’t force marketers to change their behaviour. Blacklist an IP address? Purchase another dedicated IP address. There was no permanent solution for repeated unethical marketers who would abuse the data they controlled. At least, none beyond the minor irritation of temporary poor deliverability. A few high-profile data breaches later, and GDPR is adopted.
GDPR is a very serious deterrent to this. The suggested fines are enough to financially bury companies – at the very least cost many jobs. Breaches of data have finally been taken very seriously, after a long time of privacy abuses. Matt Valenzia described GDPR as a “knee jerk reaction to the good-guys of cyber security being caught out time and time again by the relentless appetite of cyber-criminals”.
“Knee jerk” is an unjust term. We were given two years to fine-tune and implement GDPR. There was nothing reflexive about it. It wasn’t GDPR’s fault that a lot of companies spent the two year warning ignoring the siren.
The slow moving GDPR meteor!
There could have been no stress at all. It could have been a nice smooth transition. The last three months were frenetic, despite the two years notice we were given. It’s as though we had heard of this GDPR rumour and thought to ourselves “this will go away”. Valenzia pointed out,”inertia” seemed to be “the prevailing attitude”. Despite the threat of “game over” fines, the first five months of 2018 saw a mad scramble of companies trying to ensure they were compliant. It was as if GDPR was a palpable line everyone had to get over by the 25th of May. The slow-moving GDPR meteor threatened to crash into the corporate world and send all of our email contact lists into an ice-age.
The predictions for email marketing’s existence were looking grim. Influential writers began writing prophetic articles about the obsolescence of Email Marketing.
One such article was David Z. Morris‘ Europe’s New Data Rules are Gutting Email Marketing Everywhere. For Morris the effects of GDPR could be “truly devastating for companies”. Apparently, “one marketing firm told CNBC that its clients have lost up to 80% of contacts”. this statistic poses the question of how clean their data was. If 80% of your prospect and customer base no longer want to read your emails, that potentially illuminates the quality of the contacts in the first place.
Let’s be absolutely honest. GDPR was an intervention. It was implemented to ensure we do what we should have been doing in the first place. Abusing people’s personal data to such an extreme was unethical. I can’t stress this point enough. It seemed to me that those who stood to lose the most when GDPR crashed in, would have been those without the proper consent in the first place.
The extreme reaction
Moving away from potential GDPR ground zero, there were some extreme reactions. On June 23rd 2017, Wetherspoons announced that they were ditching their entire email contact list. Many inferences could have been made about this move. Rowland Manthorpe, writing for wired, suggested that “Wetherspoon could have lost track of who had given consent”. A cynic might be inclined to agree with Manthorpe. A company such as Wetherspoons must have held a contact list worth thousands (if not millions). Why would they suddenly ditch their data. Their chief executive John Hutson claimed that “companies use email to promote themselves, but we don’t want to take this approach – which many consider intrusive”.
This looked like a bad omen for email marketing. Did Wetherspoons ditch their lists through apathy, cowardice, or a lack of belief in the future of email? Arguably, after decades of collecting data unchecked, they were spooked by contemporary fines. Brands like Morrisons, Honda and Flybe were found to be in breach of PECR. Although the maximum fine under PECR is only £500,000, the threat of GDPR cast a long shadow over their data. But then twenty million euro’s is a far more frightening number. Either way, this could have been viewed as the end of Email Marketing’s long reign. Or at least, Wetherspoon’s prediction of it!
And yet the world is still turning
I often think that people underestimate the resilience of Email Marketing. It has survived for over forty years. Email is still more effective than social media. And it isn’t lost within minutes down a busy news feed. In the short term, GDPR might have posed a considerable threat to email marketing. But in actuality, by the 26th of May, for many email marketers it was business as usual.
To twist a Bowling for Soup reference: Life after GDPR is not so bad at all.
In fact, in the month since G day, the signs have been positive. Despite a few depleted lists, the overall attitude towards email marketing has not changed. Campaigns are still being built, offers are still being made. The world is definitely still turning. A lot of this is to do with what Databoxer termed as the marketers “data mentality”. In their article GDPR After 25 May: What Does Ongoing Compliance Look Like?, Databoxer argued that what “separates organisations who do and do not cope well post-GDPR will be their mentality. The regulation was made necessary by a sense of corporate entitlement to big data, with no oversight or accountability for how it might be stored and used.
Now that’s fighting talk. But Databoxer remained adamant enough to say “that needs to change”. And it did.
A more positive approach to email
The overall attitude to data has been exemplary. The incessant GDPR literature, phone calls, and fear-mongering has actually worked to plant compliance firmly in the mind of the marketer. As such, here at mailingmanager, we have seen a reduction in “bad” data being imported into the system.
The consent forms that were used in pre-GDPR permission passes, have now been embedded onto website, and marketers are growing their lists ethically. In his article 4 tips to prosper with email marketing after GDPR, Connor Barrett points out that the “new regulations are a fresh opportunity for marketers to adapt the way they work. By providing highly targeted content for engaged contacts at the right time for them”. This is exactly what is happening.
If we have been sent back to the drawing board, then it is only to figure out fresh content. We can amend our marketing strategies to include organic growth of our email lists, and to integrate our emails with social media. If we need to build our contact list up again, then the power of our marketing campaigns should earn us that growth. Our lists are already more targeted than they were.
The people who chose to remain on our lists are the ones that were already engaged, already interested in our product, and overlooked the chance to opt out from us. It is a firm contact base. From such good foundations, marketing departments can build a positive email contact list whilst remaining ethical.
Don’t organise the wake just yet
Wrapping up this article seems to be simpler than most. Have we survived GDPR? Yes! Will email marketing continue to survive the newer tight environment created by GDPR? Yes! It is already doing well.
GDPR didn’t force loyal and engaged customers to suddenly ignore the permission passes, nor did it force them to press the unsubscribe button. If they ignored the permission pass emails, they were probably already ignoring your marketing. If they pressed unsubscribe, they were always going to. GDPR just reminded them! This is the perfect time to hold that marketing meeting, start a fresh campaign, and begin building a strong organic list that will remain engaged for longer.
If GDPR is still causing frustrations for you, or you need a refresher on the best way to build a double-opt-in subscription form, we have created this handy downloadable guide to help ensure that you remain GDPR compliant.