Europe's GDPR Is Killing Email Marketing, To The Disappointment Of No One

For the past month or so, inboxes the world over have been awash with emails about updated privacy policies and new permissions required by the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). You probably haven't been reading those emails, and that's bad news for email marketers.

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According to a CNBC report, people — Americans, especially — aren't opening GDPR related emails. Digital marketing agency Huge told the publication that nearly two in five Americans have completely ignored the emails. Another firm, PostUp, said just 25 to 30 per cent of people globally view the emails, including just 15 to 20 per cent of people in the US.

That probably doesn't sound out of line with the overall open rate for unsolicited emails — MailChimp estimates about 20 per cent of all marketing emails get opened — but in this instance, the lack of interaction is particularly harmful to email marketers because of one of the many new requirements found in the EU's new rules.

Under GDPR, companies are still free to send emails to customers who have purchased a product from them in the past, but they can't continue to solicit the attention of non-customers without first asking for permission. That's a bit of a killer for marketers, who collect email addresses in all sorts of ways beyond just making sales.

Emails acquired through those annoying little pop-up messages for mailing lists, promises of special offers, or purchased from another marketer — those all have to stop unless the recipient opts in to continue getting them.

That brings us back to the high rate of folks straight up ignoring emails. While most of those messages are companies informing the user of privacy policy updates meant to comply with GDPR, some of the emails are companies asking for permission to continue sending their marketing messages.

People aren't opening those emails, so they aren't opting in — meaning the company can never contact them again without facing the threat of the EU suing for up to four per cent of the company's annual revenue.

The development has marketers sweating, as they're not sure how to keep those potential customers on their mailing lists. Here's what experts told CNBC:

"People are not opting back in," says Michael Horn, the director of data science for digital marketing agency Huge. "It's one thing for your customers who don't have a relationship with the brand to decline and not respond, but you're also losing a sales channel."

...

"An email that says 'privacy policy updates' is never going to get opened," says PostUp vice president of marketing and product Keith Sibson. "You never read the terms and conditions when you sign up for some website. It depends a lot on how it's being presented to the users and how important the sender is making it sound."

CNBC also reported that one marketing firm said some of its clients have already lost 80 per cent of their email audience because of lack of people opening the emails and opting in. (If 80 per cent of your audience has never purchased anything from you, it seems like you might not have a great business model.)

The effects of GDPR primarily affect companies and people in and from the EU but many companies have chosen to expand some of the protections to American users as well, simply because it costs a lot to operate a business on two completely separate sets of rules. Not that anyone is all that upset about it.

[CNBC]

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