The GDPR – Should marketers fear it?

The GDPR - Should email marketers fear it?

The GDPR - is it something email marketers should fear?

The GDPR - General Data Protection Regulation 

Recently I was asked to share my thoughts on the impact I thought GDPR might have on email marketing and the industry as a whole. Is it something that email marketers should fear? Will it make email as a marketing channel more challenging to use and what impact do I think this will have on businesses?

As this is a topic I am regularly quizzed about, here are my thoughts.

What impact will the GDPR have on the email marketing industry?

The single mention of GDPR in a room full of email marketers will generate a vast array of reactions. After talking and working with a variety of brands and marketers, my perspective is that the GDPR will have the most significant impact on the mindset of marketers when using consumers data. For a long time, the legislation set out in the GDPR has been best practice for email marketing - there isn’t anything new. However, there have been some brands that have stretched these best practices to their advantage without taking into consideration the customer at the end of the email address.

This is where there is a change in the mindset in how we all use email marketing and by 25th May 2018 - when the GDPR comes into force - it will have to change to avoid incurring fines. I recently described the adoption of brands of the new legislation to being similar to the diffusion of innovations theory; where there are some brands that are the innovators who were discussing and preparing for the GDPR 2-3 years ago. Also the early adopters - readily prepared with their feet up, wondering what all the fuss is about as they’ve seized the opportunity to be compliant way ahead of the 25th May.

On the other end of the scale, there two worrying groups of brands and marketers - the late majority and the laggards. The late majority are aware of the GDPR, but not clear on the effect it will have on their business. The laggards are the most worrying group because, for one reason or another, the emphasis on ensuring their company is compliant hasn’t been the top priority. The realisation will eventually dawn that the GDPR affects every business, but depending on the complex nature of that brand, time may stand in the way of becoming compliant ahead of 25th May 2018.

diffusion of innovations theory

Image source: Wikipedia

The most concerning aspect, as I’ve mentioned at the very start of this blog, is that these changes are best practice today, not only as of 25th May 2018. Those brands that are laggards for the GDPR are laggards to email marketing best practice.

Should email marketers fear the GDPR?

If you’re a late majority or a laggard to ensuring your brand is GDPR compliant, then yes it is something you should fear. Fear for the success of your email marketing activity, your brand and reputation, but most importantly fear for your customers because they are the ones that will be impacted by non-compliant brands.

For the brands that are actively seeking support, guidance, advice and proactively reviewing and changing data collection process as well as the storing and management of consumer data, you have little to fear as you’re on the right path to being compliant.

Will it make email as a marketing channel more challenging to use?

This is an interesting question because a brand that isn’t already adhering to email marketing best practice will find the GDPR an incredibly daunting and disruptive perspective. Similarly, back in 2011, there were fears on the impact of consumers abandoning websites because they will have to click an acceptance to a cookie message. I was a website manager at the time when this came into force across Europe. The objective was simple - make it clear to visitors and consumers how the information about them is being collected and used online and provide them with a choice to allow it or not. Did this stop consumers from using the internet? No. But it did inform consumers on how the information about them was being used. Consumers don’t abandon websites because there is a cookie policy to acknowledge, they welcome the choice - the empowerment to decide how their data is to be used. This is the same for email marketing. For too long data been exploited for commercial gain without the consumer’s requests always being acknowledged. It’s the age of responsible marketing (not that it ever wasn’t), but a time finally where the vanity list number continues to die. Name a brand that doesn’t want an email list of consumers who want to receive your email marketing…

What impact will the GDPR have on businesses?

The brands that sail close to the wind of the GDPR will be impacted the most not only monetarily but also in the damage it can cause to a reputation. The most prominent example of this is in TalkTalk, who suffered a cyber-attack in October last year, that exposed a security failure in protecting their customer's data, leading to 157,000 customers data being stolen. They were fined £400,000 by the ICO who explained that if TalkTalk had taken necessary steps to protect customers’ information the attack could have been prevented. One year on and the company is still losing customers. They’ve had to change their packages and revamp their image to rebuild the trust with consumers.

This is the most significant impact of all, a consumer may not always talk about a good experience, but they will never forget a bad one.

For more information about the GDPR check out the ICO’s website. If you’d like to talk about how your business can be ready for GDPR, get in touch we’re here to help.

About the author 

Jenna Tiffany is Founder & Strategy Director at Let'sTalk Strategy providing consultancy services across the digital marketing mix. Jenna has over ten years' marketing experience within B2B and B2C and both client and agency side.

Communications Ambassador for CIM Greater London Region, an advisory board member the DMA North and a member of the DMA's Email Marketing Council. Jenna's expertise ranges in working with both small and large brands to analyse and develop their key journeys & wider digital marketing activities, developing best in class digital marketing strategies & campaigns to deliver ROI. As a proven thought-leader, competent public speaker and publisher, Jenna can be regularly seen sharing her latest trends and key industry topics.