What To Do If GDPR Puts Pressure On Email List Growth

Even if you had never heard of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), it was clear in the last two weeks of May that something was up. The deluge of re-permissioning and privacy policy notification emails was overwhelming.

After a few weeks and lots of conversations with email marketers, it’s clear that the major impact of GDPR for marketers is the pressure of maintaining a large and healthy list. Here are a few anecdotes that illustrate the kind of challengesGDPR presents:

Re-permissioning: Many marketers decided to re-permission their lists to ensure that they had affirmative consent. To do this, many sent an email requesting that subscribers click on a link within the email to “stay connected.” While this is just one of many approaches to re-permissioning, our clients have reported “save” rates below 30% in most cases for this strategy, leading to dramatically smaller lists — which presents a major challenge.



Changing permission techniques: Since GDPR requires unambiguous, affirmative consent, many marketers have had to move away from ‘“softer” forms of gathering consent (e.g., pre-checked checkbox, opt-out), and instead implement “harder” forms of gathering consent (e.g., requiring client to take an action to opt into a list). Since harder forms of gathering consent require more subscriber effort, list growth has decreased for many marketers.

So what can a marketer do if his list growth has been affected by GDPR? I’d recommend two broad approaches.

1. Make the most of your current list. If you’ve had to re-permission your list to stay compliant with GDPR, there are several approaches you can take to get more out of the list you have left. These include:

-- Invest in more contextual and triggered programs. Per email sent, contextual and triggered programs drive significantly more open, clicks, and conversions than traditional campaign-based mail. If you haven’t invested in triggered/contextual messaging, now might be a good time to start.

-- Improve personalization for campaign-based mail. Personalization of featured products, offer, call-to-action, and other dimensions of the email drive much higher response rates. Again, if you haven’t invested in personalization capabilities, this may be a good time to make a change.

-- Test frequency. Research would indicate that almost every marketer is undermailing a segment of their list. First, build segments based on time on list and days-since-active. Test sending more frequently to “high value” segments and see what happens to reads/opens/conversions per month. Make sure to balance these gains against losses from subscribers who unsubscribe or “tune out” of your program.

2. Replenish your list. In addition to doing more with what you have, you should also explore being more active in growing your list. Of course, you’ll need to meet GDPR standards for obtaining permission (as applicable). Recommendations include:

-- Make subscription more “front and center” in web and mobile. Change the placement of your subscription form to make it more prominent. Use light boxes when it becomes clear clients intend to exit the site.  

-- Capture subscriptions in new places. Use “social” (I’m defining that term broadly here) as a way to acquire email addresses. Add subscription CTAs on Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, and other social channels to acquire more email addresses. The mechanisms vary, but they do exist in the most common platforms. Give subscribers to your blog an opportunity to subscribe via email.

-- Make the subscription CTA more attractive. Regardless of where you are acquiring addresses, spicing up your subscription CTA is key to building a larger, high-quality list. Some effective approaches are “subscriber only” and “subscriber first” offers; limited-time offers only available to subscribers; and providing social proof that a subscription is worthwhile (such as testimonials).

Note that as you try new techniques to grow your list, you’ll need to focus on both quantity and quality. Review the activity levels, both good (opens, clicks, conversions) and bad (complaints, unsubscribes) to understand the impact of each acquisition initiative.

In the end, I believe that GDPR will make us all better email marketers. However, in the short run, there are some major challenges to overcome.

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