In fact, quite to the contrary, when it comes to email marketing there is every reason to adopt the stricter opt-in principles of GDPR. These have come up in conversations with industry insiders, such as a recent discussion at the Festival of Marketing in London, as well as an excellent column recently published in Computer Business Review.
To put it very bluntly, the counter argument to anyone grumbling about GDPR is very simple. Why wouldn't you want to embed a culture of opt-in within your lists? Why would you want to carry on working in a grey area when you can instead strive for greater clarity? The really crucial part is that anybody who truly understands email marketing sees the bigger picture, compared to those who fret about the short term implications.
Yes, email lists will contract. When you repermission a list to make sure consent is up to date, not everyone will sign up again. At the same time, multiple tick boxes for opt-in options may mean that more potential customers than in the past will elect to not receive any communication or perhaps more likely, clearly define fewer areas of your business they are interested in. So the number of people you can potentially reach by hitting "send" will absolutely go down.
The first point here is that vanity metrics will never get you anywhere. Just ask a national newspaper that can claim tens of millions unique users per month yet is still in the red. Smaller lists are not necessarily a bad thing because percentage wise, metrics can only improve. If you have a smaller, yet engaged, audience it stands to reason that the deliverability rates will go up because your emails are not being ignored, ending up in spam or being deleted -- they still will be, of course, but to a lesser extent. If anything, then, GDPR isn't really about giving marketers something, but rather taking away something awful that creeps in for brands just as much as consumers -- apathy.
Emailing only those people who want to hear from you and find you still relevant can only mean your emails will appear to ISPs to be more desirable and far less "spammy."
So there's no getting over it -- GDPR is going to take a lot of work, but it will be worth it. At the recent Festival of Marketing, for example, the UK lifeboat charity the RNLI stated that going fully opt-in was likely to cost it £500,000 in donations, as people elected to drop-off lists. However, it also gave the charity a wake-up call. Those who were choosing to remain were generally older. The charity had been served notice that it needed to strategise a better way to connect with younger people, a lesson it is working on now. It could have kept sending out the same messages and been ignored by younger demographics and appeared spammy, without ever realising, or it could have gone fully opt-in and have a lack of youth engagement made blatantly clear.
Personally, I think the charity chose the right option, don't you?