GDPR -- Will 60% Really Opt Out Of Email Marketing?

After a year or so of scaring people to death over GDPR, the latest trend is for marketing gurus to convince businesses that the new data protection rules, which become law on May 25th, are not so scary. They are an opportunity.

That's not exactly the case with eMarketer's latest research, which takes a very interesting angle. Rather than the usual questions over who is ready and who is not, its latest figures reveal what consumers are thinking of doing. And it's a little shocking, to say the least.

It has been the great unknown that I have very rarely seen tackled. What are consumers planning to do with their new freedoms? These include asking a company what data they hold on them and asking for it to be corrected, deleted or not used for specific marketing campaigns. There is also a freedom to opt out of automated profiling, which gets very little mention.

When eMarketer posed the question, I have to admit I was surprised at how many would opt out of email marketing. Telephone marketing is the biggest loser, with 61% saying they would restrict their personal information from being used to make the phone ring with a new offer. But email marketing is in second place, with 60% saying they will restrict who can email them.

Is it fair to assume that this is an action that will be taken against brands that are seen as "spammy" and not applied across the entire inbox?

Another interesting finding was that 59% intend to ask a company to delete the data they hold on them. More than half, at 55%, said they would ask a company what information is stored about them.

Just 9% said they intended to do nothing when new GDPR powers are given to them in four months' time. 

Now, let's take out a huge pinch of salt. If you ask people whether they are planning to do something, it's a lot easier for them to say "yes" than it is to actually go through with it. I wonder how many people said they would consider "Dry January" this month compared to how many remain abstinent until the end of the month. 

It's unlikely that more than half of the UK's population will suddenly be asking what data a company holds on them and request that it be deleted or, at the very least, not used for marketing.

But even if we halve the proportion eMarketer talks about, that's still getting on for approaching one in three consumers taking some form of action. 

So, marketers can expect lists to be depleted, even if they don't seek to repermission them. Even those who use "legitimate interests" as the lawful basis for processing personal information for marketing, rather than consent, will find that people power will result in lists being reduced as consumers flex their newly-developed data-permissioning muscle. 

To the earlier point, however, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Losing people who didn't want to be talking to you in the first place is no disaster.

However, marketers need to be aware of the big takeaway of this research. It's not just what they do in planning for GDPR -- it's what consumers do with their new rights afterwards that could really have an impact.

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