Did GDPR Just Give Email Engagement A Boost?

That awful couple of weeks in the run to GDPR this May -- it was annoying, illuminating and liberating all at the same time, and it might just have improved email marketing.

It's hard to tell exactly what the impact is, but the latest Email Benchmarking Report for 2018 by the DMA shows that open rates are ever so slightly up. I have never made a secret of my love of email marketing. It's the most easily-written-off channel there is. It's constantly referred to as some dying dinosaur by those who believe the entire landscape is all about digital display or social. 

Well, here's the thing. Open rates are up to just over 18% -- which is around a 4.5% increase on 2015's figures -- and click-through rates are remaining at just under 2%. Could it just be that some email marketers have taken a hit over GDPR but, ultimately, it's not been bad for engagement?

Obviously, marketers who took the consent route to GDPR compliance, and repermissioned lists to achieve it, would have expected a dropoff in the length of their databases but they would have also anticipated they would be talking to people who wanted to be communicated with. The same is almost certainly true of those brands that went for legitimate interests and so didn't need to get permission, but may well have told subscribers their privacy policy had been updated. They would have known this would prompt people to unsubscribe -- but again, that might improve engagement percentages.

I certainly know I was surprised by some of the brands that crawled out of the woodwork to say they were changing their rules of engagement, and I duly hit "unsubscribe" for a few. I'm sure most people also found this encouraged them to unsubscribe from other brands they had been ignoring but now felt emboldened to end the relationship. 

This would only account for a part of the story, of course. Email has come on a long way over the past couple of years. Brands have understood that bombarding subscribers does no good, and personalisation (to a degree) as well as good offers which engender a fear of missing out (FOMO) are the way forwards. Email marketers have simply got better at their jobs. 

Add to this a refining of lists so better email marketers are talking to more qualified leads and it's no wonder that open rates are creeping up. It's worth acknowledging that click-through rates have plateaued. This could simply be a case of people only needing so much stuff. We will open around a fifth of the messages brands send us, because they're working to a list of those we want to talk to, but we still only need to own so many things. We don't suddenly become more "in market" for particular items, but we're keeping the brands we trust on the back burner.

So if there is at least one thing to show for all those annoying taps on the shoulder from scores of brands ahead of the May's GDPR deadline, it can be found in consumers opening more of the emails that land in their inbox.

Click-throughs are at the same rate, but first things first. If you're getting your message read, you're doing something right the next time a prospect is ready to spend. 

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