This week we’re looking at GDPR and email marketing. It’s one of the biggest worries for entrepreneurs, as a lot of news articles and blog posts paint a pretty grim picture for businesses who want to keep growing their subscriber lists. But first….

GDPR and email marketing

Why email isn’t dead

So much of modern business is conducted online. Although you’ll hear cries of “Email is dead!” periodically, email marketing remains one of the key ways you can get in front of your customers. Why? Because, although social media is a wonderful, wonderful thing (believe me, I’m as Insta-obsessed as you), it can’t compete with an invitation into your ideal client’s inbox.

Sure, people can choose to follow you, but they aren’t actually giving anything in return. They’re saying “Yes, I’ll look at your pretty pictures.” but it’s still totally up to them (and often it’s down to chance) whether they actually look at that inspirational post you’ve put up.

Email, on the other hand, is much more intentional; it’s a choice your subscriber has made. They’ve said, “Yes. I’d like to hear more from you. I believe I’ll get value from your emails.”

And that right there ^^ is the crux of it. It is a choice. It should be a choice.

And that’s precisely what GDPR is there to protect.

Your subscribers have to make a choice to give you certain data (normally their name and email address) in exchange for your knowledge/help/resources.

GDPR & Email marketing – your responsibilities

We’ve established that your potential subscribers have to make a choice to give you their data. But what does this mean in practice? Let’s first talk about what it doesn’t mean….

  • Pre-filled information = NOT OKAY

  • Pre-ticked consent boxes = NOT OKAY

  • Failure to inform them what you’re doing with their data = NOT OKAY

I know, a lot of these hacks save time and get you more subscribers. BUT, what they don’t do is require your subscribers to take decisive action to give their consent to be part of your list.

I also know that you’re probably thinking, “But most people like these time saving tricks – it makes their life easier too.” I hear ya. And you’re not wrong. Millennials like you and I are, generally, pretty lazy.

Just think of how many articles you’ve read and liked which have titles like “Life hacks to give you a YEAR back of your life!” and “How I used this one hack to gain sixty gazillion followers in 5 minutes!”

And I could devote this entire post to empathising about how potential subscribers may not take the action you want them to. Let’s get that over with now.

Yes, you might experience a slower subscribe rate.

Yes, your opt-ins might not look as slick with extra text outlining your intentions.

Yes, your welcome email might be a bit longer because it incorporates some “expectation setting.”

Great. Glad that’s done. Now, let’s roll with the punches and start talking about the good stuff that will come with your newfound responsibility to your subscribers’ data.

GDPR and Email marketing – why it’s all good

I love hearing about my subscribers’ experiences, challenges and successes. Not only is it just fun to discuss common issues and brainstorm problems, it also gives me a near-constant source of information and real-life situations to draw on for my content (with their permission, of course!)

By regularly tuning into my subscribers, I can ask questions, listen to responses (properly listen, not the way you listen to your hairdresser) and trade ideas on content that would help them, resources they would actually use and events they’d truly like to attend.

By developing trust, and treating your subscribers like the awesome humans they are, you can produce a newsletter that they’ll look forward to reading.

Of course, you can have the awesomest newsletter in the world, but if your subscriber's wondering who you are and why the hell you're emailing when you charge into their inbox, then you've already lost their trust. Click To Tweet

That’s the connection between GDPR and email marketing.


Establishing that trust between you and your subscribers. Think of the process like this:

  1. Subscriber sees your ad or post on social media.

  2. They think, “Cool! I could definitely use that resource!”

  3. Click to find out more.

  4. Decide they definitely want it and press the download button.

  5. See the request for their data + a clear description of what you’ll do with it, e.g. “By downloading this blog planner, you’ll be added to my newsletter subscriber list.”

  6. Potential subscriber can now make a choice to take action & submit their information or stay unsubscribed (thus missing out on the resource.)

  7. If they’ve chosen to subscribe, they’ll receive an email telling them what to expect from you and when + instruction for how to unsubscribe.

  8. Result? Happy, informed subscriber.

GDPR and Email marketing – setting expectations

You’ll notice from the section above that one of the key elements for making your GDPR and email marketing strategies align is setting expectations. I think that when people know what to expect, they’ll trust you and trust in your process.

Being upfront and telling them how you're going to handle their data shows that you value and respect their data, and that you understand the responsibility of handling it. Click To Tweet

The next step on this process is letting them know, in your welcome email and sequence, what they can expect by being on your list. Tell them:

  • How you’ll store and use their personal data

  • When you’ll email

  • How often

  • What you email about

  • Why you think it will add value to their business

  • How they can unsubscribe if they’re no longer getting value (and stress how easy it is for them to do this)

GDPR and Email marketing – the power of unsubscribe

Lots of business owners baulk at the idea of making the unsubscribe process uncomplicated. They worry that it will result in mass unsubscription. That’s not my experience at all.

And if people do unsubscribe from my list, you want to know my reaction?

I celebrate.

Seriously, I do. I celebrate each and every unsubscribe I get. Why? Because if someone’s unsubscribing, they’re not my ideal client. They don’t “get” me. And I probably don’t get them. I won’t be the best person to help them with their content strategy or advise them on their brand voice.

And that’s okay.

Lots of people will hate my rather excessive use of brackets and inverted commas. Others will find my perkiness way too perky for a Tuesday. And still more just won’t get my humour (it is an acquired taste…)

Am I eager to grow my list? Of course. But I want my subscriber list to be full of true fans (read this article by Kevin Kelly on the incredible power of having true fans), not people who just wanted a checklist, couldn’t figure out how to unsubscribe and then quietly seethed every time I bounded into their inbox.

GDPR & Email marketing = more engagement

Finally, I’d like to make a point on how, together, GDPR and email marketing will actually increase the engagement you experience with your subscribers. We’ve established that responsible handling of your subscribers’ data is paramount. You will already have made them aware of what you’ll be doing with it and what they can expect.

I say, take it a step further and use compliance with GDPR as an opportunity to add the most value you can to your subscribers' lives. Click To Tweet

We talked about having a welcome sequence. If you’re not familiar, a welcome sequence is a terrific way to nurture your list. In fact, research has shown that over 70% of consumers expect a welcome email (here’s a presentation about it.)

Taken another way, that could mean that, if you don’t have a welcome sequence, you are failing to meet your potential customers’ expectations right off the bat.

But I know you want to take it way further than just plain meeting your subscribers’ expectations. That’s why your welcome sequence is your chance to provide value by finding out exactly what they want to hear about, and how they want to hear it.

For example, for my subscriber list, I know that a lot of people find value in the downloads and resources I provide in my blog posts. So, as an extra special subscriber bonus, I offer the chance to just receive those downloads straight to their email each week without having to enter their email address in the post when they’ve already subscribed.

I go one step further by then providing them with a zip file of all my most popular downloads to date, so they don’t have to scroll through years of posts and “sign up” each time they want something.

As you can see from this post, GDPR and email marketing can actually provide an inspiring platform for establishing trust right from the start. That trust will in turn encourage engagement from truly enthusiastic subscribers.

Next week, I’ll be looking at how to retro-comply your existing subscribers.

Let me know in the comments any questions you have on GDPR and email marketing, subscriber lists or welcome sequences.


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