GDPR: What I learned about email marketing

GDPR: What I learned about email marketing


As I write this on June 5th, 2018, a week or so after the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, came into effect, the dust has settled on the GDPR prep for the vast majority of business in the EU, as well as those outwith who process personal data from the EU.

When it comes to GDPR and email marketing, I’ve never seen anything like it and I’m sure many of you are the same.

The recent mad scramble from businesses to put their privacy policy in front of me, or to get me to stay on their mailing list, has been a sight to behold. From those I’m a customer of, or those that contact me regularly and who I value hearing from (even if I buy from them irregularly), through to those I signed up for many years ago and haven’t heard from since (and who now want to be my best friend), and everything in between. It’s been a frenzy over the last few days!

Now, this isn’t an article on the ins and outs of the legal aspects of GDPR. I’ll leave that to people more clued up than I am.

But all that week, as I received countless emails with privacy policies and asking me to still be on mailing lists, I knew that this would be an opportunity for me to learn and make better decisions as a marketer moving ahead, for both myself and my customers.

And by doing so, it represents a great chance for all of us to be better marketers as well as more discerning subscribers and customers.

20 (or so) years with email

There have been probably 4 distinct periods of my life where my own thoughts, feelings and overall usage of email changed.

The 1996 – 1998 ‘You’ve Got Mail’ period of Compuserve and AOL, when I first starting using email, was the greatest. I couldn’t wait to check it and see what I was being sent, not believing people from anywhere in the world could communicate with me instantly, for free!

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Between 1998 and 2003, text message took over but email was still something I’d check daily / hourly to see what offers I was getting from brands I loved and from friends and family.

From 2003, emails from my family were also replaced with text messages and then later that decade iMessage / Messages. There was a steady decline in my interest in email at this point, when I began fighting the war against spam in my inbox!

But then came the week of May 15th, 2018 where the “Great GDPR Email Marketing Bombardment of 2018″ began and I probably learned more about email marketing in the following 2 week period than I have ever done before.

So what have I learned?

While I’m going to go back through the emails I’ve had come in, here’s what I’ve learned so far.

✅ Be consistent

If I opt into your mailing list, it shouldn’t ever get to the point where I wonder;

Who is this company?

What do they do?

Did I really ever sign up for this mailing list in the first place?

Don’t fill up my mailbox, but be consistent in providing valuable, entertaining or informative content.

✅ Show a bit of personality in all your communications

Some of the GDPR emails I received, were, to say the least, lacking personality.

Just because it’s important legal stuff you’re talking to me about, doesn’t mean you can’t add a bit of seasoning to the wording in the form of personality. Even some of the coolest, most ‘themselves” brands I normally hear from got very bland lately in their communications.  

This was not just an opportunity for GDPR compliance folks, but the last-ditch attempt to keep people on your mailing list with a view to doing better in your communications with them moving ahead.

✅ Trimming your mailing list isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve heard very prominent marketers say their mailing list has dropped from over 40,000 to around 4,000.

In fact, I’d suggest many big businesses have seen their mailing list size fall off a cliff in the last couple of weeks.

My view is this. I’d rather have 4,000 people that open my emails every time and look forward to getting them. People who get value from the content, where it enables them to become more involved in my brand, further into my funnel and where it simply helps them see value in what I do.

Kevin Kelly says it much better than I do in his article “1,000 True Fans”

In fact, trimming your email list might actually be of some benefit to your pocket (if you pay your email marketing provider by the number of subscribers you have) and your open rates!

✅ If anything like this ever comes up again, act quickly.

I honestly wonder how many of the mail subscriptions I’ve let lapse in the last two weeks might have kept me, if they’d acted sooner.

Virtually every time I looked at my phone (especially in the 2-3 days before May 25th), I had another 10 – 15 emails from all sorts of companies asking me to stay on their list. It was simply unmanageable, especially as I’m busy and tend to only check personal email out of hours when I want to relax.

Unless I was super bought into a company’s marketing I simply let most of them lapse.

Had they got to me sooner, it may have been different.

So what was your experience?

So there we have it, the things I’ve learned as a marketer, business owner and customer so far from the “Great GDPR Email Marketing Bombardment of 2018″.

What are your thoughts on your experiences with email marketing as a result of GDPR?

Did you find it all a bit much?

Or do you think it’s been a great opportunity to clear out some of the dead wood from email subscriptions you’ve signed up for over the years?

Let me know in the comments below!


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