Data protection is from you: GDPR and better mailing lists

New legislation could do wonders for brand perception at a time of growing cynicism


Data protection legislation has been updated. With the deadline for GDPR compliance here, marketers have been rushing to acquire opt-ins from their mailing lists. This is mostly because companies could pay up to €20 million or 4% of their annual turnover. Meanwhile, many marketers worry that they will effectively lose their email marketing lists, at least in the EU.

This is, of course, ridiculous. Numbers of disengaged users will reduce, but it doesn’t stand to reason that those leads were ever valuable to you. An email imported from a bought list is hardly craving your product or service, but marketers exhaustively messaged them anyway. It’s not dissimilar to the online advertising crisis, where invasive adverts brought about ad blockers and left brands dependent on Facebook and Google.

So data protection is just that. It’s a necessary reaction to irresponsible marketers that curse their stuffed inboxes, whilst ordering another email blast to add to the 269 billion that are sent every day. As there is no choice but to comply, brands can now start to rebuild trust in earnest. This starts with better education as to what the data is being used for.

What should companies do?

It’s understandable that the exact reasons for capturing data have been closely guarded in the past. Brands could hardly justify capturing data if they themselves weren’t sure how they could make best use of it. But with the arrival of AI and more sophisticated analyses of big data, companies have plenty of value to offer in exchange for information.

Iain Noakes, Chief Customer Journey Officer at The Economist had this to say on GDPR when we interviewed him at our latest CMO event in Europe:

‘If you know what the fair exchange is then you’re more likely to provide that information’ – Iain Noakes, Chief Customer Journey Officer, The Economist

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Instead of pushing new subscribers to convert, businesses need patience and a solid value strategy centred around their customers’ interests. This is something that newer companies, whose leaders often grew up with the internet, seem to understand a lot better. Another of our interviewees, the Head of Marketing and Commercial Operations from UNILAD, explained how the company has never made assumptions based on demographics:

Image of UNILAD homepage on website featuring logo

‘We’ve always targeted people organically, through creative… rather than demographics’ – Samuel Regan-Asante, Head of Marketing & Commercial Operations, UNILAD

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By focusing on building communities of engaged users, companies like UNILAD have done a lot of the groundwork. Legacy brands desperately need executive champions to push back on short term thinking, or their numbers will continue to decline. If they don’t change, data protection could make growth even tougher for them in the future.

Marketing has been broken for years, unbeknownst to most corporations. In the data age, we’re finally able to see how much of a disconnect exists between companies and the buying public. GDPR will force marketers to rethink their strategies. But you have to wonder if the data protection legislation didn’t come into effect, how long would it be before any of this was fixed?

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