Data protection has been a hot topic in recent years, with new regulations coming into force and increasing importance being placed on the security of our personal data. The key legislation, known as General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), was implemented in 2018 and has had some impact on almost every business and individual since. These new rules have allowed EU citizens to have more control over their personal information, but they’ve also meant that companies across the globe have had to re-think their data handling processes.
One particular profession was faced with big challenges in the run up to GDPR and that was marketing professionals. For those who spend their days specifically trying to understand their audience and capture their data, in order to reach them at a later date, some adjustments had to be made. And one of the areas that was most affected was email marketing.
While understanding data protection can feel like a minefield, especially with the risk of huge fines if you get it wrong, it’s absolutely vital to the success of your business and marketing efforts. That’s why this guide will take you through data protection regulations for email and how to ensure you’re ticking all the right boxes and staying on the right side of the law.
How has data protection changed email marketing?
Since the introduction of GDPR email marketing strategies have had a huge makeover. Permission and even re-permission is now absolutely key to marketing your goods or services to customers and prospects. Gone are the days when you could use underhand marketing tactics such as pre-ticked permission boxes or automated opt-ins to collect personal data. Now everything must be clearly explained and very transparent, you should only keep sensitive information for as long as is necessary and only use it for the purpose in which you and the customer agreed.
What does this mean for your email marketing strategy?
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In order to comply with the new legislation your email sign-up forms and opt-ins must now outline what users should expect from your emails and how their data will be used. This means your business needs to put together some strong copy which contains GDPR friendly information and explains how their data will be safeguarded and how you intend to use it in the future. You could create an entirely new page for this, or you could invest time in creating pop up forms which contain the important details and ask the user to accept the conditions.
Not only this, but another big change to your email marketing strategy is that you need to be able to really engage with your audience. Now that you have to ask for permission at every turn, you need to give your customers a reason to share their information with you. This means ensuring engaging content and email copy, making them as aesthetically pleasing as possible and adding some real value to the lives of the individuals who sign up to receive your content. Otherwise they might choose to opt out.
How can you protect your data and stay GDPR compliant?
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In this next section we’ll look in more detail at the rules of data protection and how you can implement these into your marketing strategy to ensure you’re GDPR compliant and aren’t going to end up facing any backlash as a result of your email campaigns. Here’s what you need to do.
1. Re-obtain permission from your old mailing list
Understanding the ins and outs of permission doesn’t have to be complicated. If you have a mailing list of contacts who explicitly agreed to receive your marketing materials, even before GDPR came into place in May 2018, you can continue to send them information providing you can prove that they consented. However, if you have a list built on pre-checked boxes, unclear forms or automated opt-ins then you’ll need to reach out to these customers and ask for their permission to continue sending them marketing materials.
Because this can be a grey area, as a general rule it’s best to just reach out to everyone on your mailing list and check that you have their consent to keep emailing them. While you might be worried this could lead to an influx of unsubscribes, don’t look at this as a bad thing. This is your chance to update your list with people who actually want to engage with your brand and this in turn can lead to more sales; instead of emailing thousands of people who are no longer (or never really were) interested.
2. Collect new permissions
It’s easy and also convenient to assume that if someone has filled out a pop up form on your site or used your services in the past, that you can send them information in the future. But this is no longer the case and can land you in hot water! Now you must be sure that all your email opt-in forms and pop ups explicitly ask for consent from new users to ensure you’re compliant with GDPR guidelines.
3. Be careful with marketing automation and decision-making
New technologies and software have made it possible to automate a huge number of tasks and dramatically changed the face of email marketing. That said, we can no longer simply rely on these systems unless you know that they are completely GDPR compliant. For example, automated emails would save marketing professionals hours of time reaching out to past and potential customers – but now you must be very careful about these processes.
Again, the best way to do this is to make sure you explicitly and clearly ask for consent from everyone who signs up. What’s more, there are also limits on how you can segment your data because the process uses algorithms. You could end up wrongly targeting those who haven’t given consent for that particular information. So as a general rule it’s best to ensure that there is a human decision at the end of every process so that nothing goes unchecked or slips under the radar. Technology might be able to make our lives easier, but if unmanaged by us it can also cause problems without us even noticing until it’s too late.
4. Add an unsubscribe
The final point might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many businesses flouted this rule. You must add an unsubscribe option to all your emails in case individuals decide they no longer want to hear from you. Right to be forgotten is a huge part of complying with GDPR, so make it as easy as possible for your user to opt-out as you can by displaying a clear button or link for them to use.
Although the process of becoming GDPR compliant can seem daunting, with a little research and by following a few key steps you can easily ensure that you are acting within the rules. One of the first things to do, particular as a marketing professional, is to review your email marketing strategy and follow the steps above, ensuring you have reobtained old permissions, continue to collect new permissions, added an unsubscribe, and take care using marketing automation software.
Rather than seeing GDPR as a difficulty and as a blow to your marketing efforts, see it as an opportunity to streamline your email marketing strategy and to concentrate your efforts on a more targeted and engaged audience, helping you to increase conversions. Being GDPR compliant and fully transparent with your customers or clients will ultimately help to build relationships through establishing trust and authenticity. This will increase the reputability of your company or brand and lead to long-lasting relationships with an engaged and dedicated client or customer base.
Rather than risk getting fined or losing leads, review your marketing strategy now and ensure it is GDPR compliant and transparent for those you are targeting. Once you have established your new strategy, it will be easy to implement and you will quickly see the results of your efforts.
Written by Sean Hugget, Director and lead Data Protection & Information Assurance Consultant at Evalian.co.uk.