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How to Grow Your Marketing Email List Under GDPR

It’s possible to grow your email list quickly. There are even articles out there claiming they’ve got “100 easy ways” to do just that. 

If you’re sceptical, I don’t blame you. Although you never know, maybe some of them really will work, and overnight you’ll have thousands of extra addresses in your list. 

But how many of these will ignore the first email you send them, delete the second and eventually unsubscribe altogether? 

In any case, we live in the era of GDPR, where permission-to-message and respect for consumer data reign supreme. The old methods don’t cut it anymore, the “100 easy ways” won’t point you in the right direction (if they ever did).

Has GDPR made it harder to build an email subscription list?

In our opinion, no. But GDPR has certainly changed the playing field.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when email was the wild west of digital marketing. You got an address by any means necessary and pulled the trigger. If you got a hit, great! If not, never mind, just keep on blasting until you do.

Well, GDPR is the new sheriff in town and the penalties for crossing him are severe. How does a possible fine of €20 million or 4% of your worldwide turnover (whichever number is higher) sound?

That’s a courtroom shoot-out you don’t want to have.

Alright, enough of the cowboy analogy, let’s look at what GDPR actually says.

  • Where processing is based on consent, the controller shall be able to demonstrate that the data subject has consented to processing of his or her personal data.
  • If the data subject’s consent is given in the context of a written declaration which also concerns other matters, the request for consent shall be presented in a manner which is clearly distinguishable from the other matters, in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language.
  • The data subject shall have the right to withdraw his or her consent at any time. The withdrawal of consent shall not affect the lawfulness of processing based on consent before its withdrawal. Prior to giving consent, the data subject shall be informed thereof. It shall be as easy to withdraw as to give consent.
  • When assessing whether consent is freely given, utmost account shall be taken of whether, inter alia, the performance of a contract, including the provision of a service, is conditional on consent to the processing of personal data that is not necessary for the performance of that contract.

These are taken directly from Article 7 of GDPR, which covers the collection of personal data. Don’t be put off by the legalease used, the practical meaning of these 4 commandments is clear.

  • You need to be able to prove that each individual has given consent. That means an easily accessible permission database. And the consumer must give consent freely and knowingly. In other words, you can’t dupe them into it. That also means no pre-ticked boxes!
  • The request has to be separate from other asks. i.e. You shouldn’t bundle consent with something else. Just because they gave you the email address so you could send them a receipt, don’t assume it’s also ok to market to them. 
  • It has to be easy for the consumer to withdraw consent whenever they want.
  • You cannot make consent mandatory unless you yourself have a legal requirement for it, or you cannot uphold the terms of the service/purchase agreement without it. In either case, this should be clearly articulated to the consumer. 

If you can adhere to these principles you’ll do more than cover your back from a compliance perspective; you’ll actually have more success. 

Because it all comes back to one question…

What kind of email list do you really want to build?

Given the choice between 10,000 interested people, who are happy to hear from you, and 30,000 people who couldn’t care less about your brand, which would you go for?

I’d take the first option. You might say otherwise and that’s fair enough.

But, if you’re only chasing volume and are less concerned about the quality of your email lists, then this article isn’t for you. And GDPR is going to be an uncomfortable thorn in your side.

Rather than viewing GDPR as a barrier, our clients have taken it as an opportunity to really clarify their strategy and build relationships with their customers based on transparency. 

Obviously, we’ve helped guide them but fundamentally they made the decision to do things the right way.

What is the right way to grow your email subscription list under GDPR?

Over the years, we’ve seen our clients execute some remarkable campaigns to grow their email subscription lists. Every single one of them was built on being upfront and honest about their intentions.

“We’ll only use your email address to send you offers and discounts we think you’ll like”.

Some of these campaigns did actually lead to quick wins and dramatic increases. But that’s a by-product of doing things the right way.

Getting more email opt-ins; the two essentials

With every opt-in campaign that you design, whether it’s a one-off or permanent, there are two words to keep in mind.

Incentive and simplicity

What’s in it for the customer and how can I make the process easier for them? If you can answer those questions your email list will flourish.

Understanding the “value-exchange” and finding the right time to ask

Clients come to us all the time looking to grow the number of opt-ins, whether that’s for email, push notification or SMS campaigns. Although the tactical nuances change from channel to channel, the importance of nailing the “value exchange” remains.

You need to be honest; is there a quid pro quo? It’s obvious why you want permission to contact customers, but what do they get out of it?

We see brands have the most success when they time the permission request to coincide with a positive experience and/or an offer.

Rather than just asking every single visitor as soon as they land on the website, they choose the right moment to engage. 

And they personalise it. In the example below, the onsite pop-up has been built using dynamic content. Rather than having one generic permission request that appears to everyone, the brand is able to change the content to reflect the interests of the visitor. In this case, the pop-up is triggered once the visitor has spent a certain amount of time browsing through the store’s denim range.

Optimising the email opt in form

You don’t need all of the customer’s data right now.

Sure, ideally you’d like their full name, address, date of birth, interests, hobbies and countless other attributes to round out a customer profile.

But that’s not going to happen. At least, not right away. 

Privacy concerns aside for a moment, it’s going to take so long to actually type all this information out that they just won’t be bothered.

So make it as simple as possible to sign-up. All you really need is the email address. 

After a little while, when you’ve seen evidence of engagement (they regularly open your emails and click-through) then it’s worth your while trying to take the relationship to the next stage. 

You can be upfront about it too.

“Hey”, you’re saying, “We see that you like what we do, so we’d love to make our content even more personalised for you”.

Prune your email list to help it grow!

Ask any gardener; regular pruning is important. 

But wait, I hear you say, I want to increase my email list, not make it smaller!

A bloated list, with a high percentage of dead, unresponsive email addresses doesn’t do you any favours. In fact, it’s going to cloud the integrity of your campaign results.

Let’s say you send an email campaign to 1,000 people and have a 25% open rate (250 people). You might conclude that it wasn’t compelling enough. But how many of that 1,000 were never going to open it under any circumstances, no matter what the subject line was? 

Maybe, in truth, the actual number of potential opens was 600. With a cleaner list, the open rate would be closer to 40%. The campaign was in fact a (relative) success.

So, yes, prune away! Don’t be afraid to cull addresses that haven’t engaged with you in the last 6 months. It’s over, they’ve moved on. You should too!

How Xtremepush helps you stay GDPR compliant

With the Xtremepush engagement platform, we help our clients to automatically manage their marketing permissions across all channels, not just email. So when a consumer decides to withdraw the consent they can do so easily.

Our platform is fully ISO certified and regularly penetration-tested. We also have a full-time Data Protection Officer who oversees our cybersecurity frameworks and policies. You can read more about our credentials and how we keep you and your customers’ data safe here.

Taking the next step

If you are considering switching email service providers then talk to us. We’d be happy to give you some advice and talk to you about the benefits of our industry-leading platform and service.

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