How Bad Was GDPR’s Impact on Email?

According to one estimate, nearly a quarter of email recipients unsubscribed in response to those GDPR privacy disclosure emails marketers sent at the end of last month.

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation has been in effect for nearly a month at this point—and already, it’s having a devastating effect on many email lists.

A recent CNBC piece reported that many major marketing agencies have seen steep declines in their email lists as a result of the rules, which require updates to privacy disclosures and, in some cases, mean marketers must reverify their lists. These emails, according to data by the marketing firm Huge, have often gone unheeded.

The agency reported, based on its own internal data, that 38 percent of U.S.-based email recipients were ignoring the privacy requests, while 23 percent were using the information to opt out of the lists entirely.

“People are not opting back in,” Huge Director of Data Science Michael Horn told the outlet. “It’s one thing for your customers who don’t have a relationship with the brand to decline and not respond, but you’re also losing a sales channel.”

Other firms reported even more dire findings—PostUp told CNBC that just 15 to 20 percent of Americans opened the emails at all.

Of course, there’s a good reason why so many of those emails were ignored: There were a lot of them. During the two-week period just before and immediately after GDPR took effect, a deluge of emails filled inboxes.

And the nature of many of these emails might have come as a surprise to recipients. As The Wall Street Journal [subscription] explained:

For many marketers, the first step was simply to let people know that the situation had changed. In the weeks leading up to May 25, when GDPR came into force, inboxes world-wide were jammed with emails from companies they may never have remembered interacting with—from major consumer brands to the hotel they stayed at eight years ago. Consumers were barraged with information about changes to our privacy policy or encouraged to opt in to receiving further communications, with prize draws, discount codes and freebies dangled as incentives.

With so many organizations sending such emails at once, a lot of marketers were destined to get lost in the shuffle.

Seeing the Bright Side

For organizations reliant on email, this situation highlights some major challenges, but there are some benefits to the cleanse.

For one, the people who do stick around are likely to be more willing to share their data, something noted by a recent study by the Global Alliance of Data-Driven Marketing Associations (GDMA), the UK’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA), and Acxiom. In their report Global Data Privacy: What the Consumer Really Thinks, the three organizations found that more than three-quarters of global respondents were not generally opposed to sharing their data, with 58 percent of Americans tending to be pragmatic about the issue and 18 percent of Americans generally unconcerned about their data rights.

“Our research shows that consumer attitudes are changing in a positive way that makes us optimistic,” explained GDMA board member and DMA CEO Chris Combemale in a news release. “But, as we move forward, it will be a challenge to see how businesses can capitalize on this positive consumer attitude and ensure that consumers’ relationship with the data economy does not end with a reluctant acceptance of its existence.”

Possibly losing a huge chunk of your email base is certainly not ideal, but the potential for higher engagement with the people who are still there might prove a desirable salve.

(stockcam/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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