If your company markets products in the European Union (and the UK), you need to know about the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Due to come online across Europe in 2018, GDPR is an attempt to make the rules on data protection clearer. Importantly, it includes a clause relating to how marketers can persuade individuals to sign up for their email lists.
Previously, marketers have only needed to provide an “opt out” choice on their signup forms. After GDPR comes into force, the opposite will be the case. Marketers will now need to ask users to “opt in” to thopt-insts.
Anyone who collects contact information online will need to be able to prove that they have obtained the data legally and with the consent of individuals on their list. At the same time, attracting sign-ups could become much harder.
With 500 million consumers and an economy larger than the United States’, Europe is vital to many online marketers. How can you deal with the new regulations and still run a thriving email marketing business?
Tighten Up Your Consent Procedures
Most importantly, marketers will need to have documentation proving that the people on their list have asked to be included. This means featuring a clearly worded question on your forms, making it plain that contact details will be used for marketing purposes.
Any company that uses automated CRM systems will also need to make sure they are configured to send marketing material only to individuals who have opted in. Not all CRM systems include this feature, so check with your supplier whether your system includes it.
Make Plans to Contact List Members to Request Consent
Before the rules come into effect, marketers will have plenty of time to contact members of their existing lists to ask them to supply their consent. Make sure you do so well before GDPR goes online, and word your question clearly.
In some ways, this is an opportunity for email marketers. Those who reply are likely to be loyal customers who have engaged repeatedly with your company and will welcome future marketing material. The request for their consent is a great chance to reach out to them and deepen their engagement still further.
It’s also a chance to purge your email marketing list of dead email addresses. However, remember to send out a couple of requests to make sure the higher-value customers have a chance to respond before you strike them off the list.
Always Give List Members the Option of a Swift Exit
Britain may have left the EU after the Brexit referendum, but “Lexit” (list exit) is set to be an even bigger headache for email marketers. The GDPR will demand that all email marketers targeting European customers allow list members to unsubscribe instantly from all communications.
This means that all list marketers need to have clear routes for subscribers to follow when they want to leave, and all of their data needs to be removed when they unsubscribe.
Buying Lists in Bulk Could Become Harder
In the past, buying email addresses in bulk has been an effective short-cut to email marketing success. With the enhanced consent requirements of GDPR, it’s going to be much harder for companies to harvest such a large volume of addresses without breaching data protection laws.
GDPR may close the door to buying millions of email addresses, but it might not be such a bad thing. Marketing agencies will still find ways to collect email lists, and these lists will be of a higher quality. In the future, the lists will be made up of individuals who have actively consented to join, instead of not opting out.
If you collect details directly, you will need to collect more information, make your data collection processes more transparent and make unsubscribing simple. The free-for-all spirit of European email marketing of the past may be disappearing, but email lists will still be valuable. The extra costs of compliance will probably be outweighed by the benefits of engaging with customers who genuinely want to hear from your company.
Start Preparing Now for GDPR
Companies that market to the EU should start preparing their CRM systems and email lists for the implementation of GDPR as soon as possible. Wherever you are based, the risks of non-compliance could be severe. At least, your company may be excluded from the lucrative European market. At the worst, violators could be prosecuted.
It may seem a long way off, but smart email marketers are already changing their approach to the European market, and if you sell to the continent, it’s time for your company to do the same.