Previous incarnations of EU rules were open to national interpretation -- and so, in the UK as in some other countries, b2b marketers managed to get opt-out accepted as the norm, whereas b2c guys had to live with the more onerous regime on opt-in. It's worked well for b2b. Email lists are pretty easy to come by at modest cost and marketers can legally claim that a guy who dropped a card in a hat at a conference has given permission to be communicated with because they have not subsequently unsubscribed.
It's not a very logical argument for b2c marketers, but in the world of b2b it has become the legal norm to assume consent has been given until it is taken away. In two years' time, however, that attitude will no longer be accepted and will instead be punishable with fines that can scale to 4% of global turnover.
It may appear to have been a short-term win for b2b, but just think what all those potentially unresponsive emails are doing for your open and click-through rates. The Drum Web site goes as far this morning as to estimate that a high rate of email address churn means one in five b2b marketing messages end up in boxes that are not checked or to addresses that are no longer valid.
That has an obvious negative impact on campaigns. In a way, it's a little like display advertising's viewability issue, only it's not just a waste of time and money -- it can impact metrics. If you discount a fifth of your email list than open and click-through rates should be tallied against a base rate of 80% of the overall list, and that's not even figuring in delivery issues and spam filters.
So for the sake of your own metrics, if not simply to get a better idea of how effective your campaigns are, it has to be time to spring clean those lists. At the very least this can be done by giving a date -- be it six months or a year -- and saying that anyone on the list who hasn't opened, clicked through or interacted in some way with a message (the metric is up to you) should just be deleted. Okay, so it gets smaller, but that's no bad thing.
The ultimate step -- which you're likely going to have to take over the next two years anyway -- is to reintroduce yourself to people on your email list and ask them to click through to give permission to be contacted. This will definitely shrink lists -- and it will be painful -- but if you have databases that have grown through assumptions that it is OK to contact each email address, without informed consent from the recipient, it's something you're going to have to legally do anyway.