The GDPR emails we didn’t hate

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The reckoning is upon us, otherwise known as the implementation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR for short. Yes, all of those emails you’ve been receiving.

The regulations themselves concern how businesses collect, keep, and use data about their customers, so they’ll only be able to send you emails if you specifically opt in to receive them. If you don’t, these companies will no longer be able to keep in touch and your inbox should be freed up from information and offers. So why has this led to the flooding of inboxes?

Businesses have up until May 25th, the day the new law goes into effect, to get customers to opt in. Company mailing lists will be reduced to just the people who have opted in and their only way to pick up new subscribers will be through people signing up on their websites or in person of their own accord. It’s caused relentless GDPR-related spam, making most of us look forward to May 25th and the quieter inboxes it will bring.

The whole affair has highlighted how terrible email marketing can be. Email newsletters can be a great way to stay in touch, provide entertainment to customers, and stay top of mind. It also helps to deepen relationships with customers and if done well, it’ll bring in more business, purchases or donations. However, many businesses and charities send uninteresting updates on a regular basis which mostly only serve to irritate. In the UK, 60% of customers don’t think any brands deliver good email communications, 59% say most emails are irrelevant, and 41% want to receive less. This has been reflected in a lot of GDPR-related emails – especially the ones that read like legal contracts filled with jargon. It’s a strange route to take seeing as this is the last opportunity for many organisations to convince people to stay on their mailing lists.

Thankfully, we’ve spotted some more creative and interesting emails. They tend to start with an intriguing subject line, which is rule #1 of good email marketing. ‘We’re Updating our Privacy Policy’ likely doesn’t even register on someone’s radar as they wade through their deluged inbox. In contrast ‘WTF is GDPR?’ from Missguided was funny, in your face, and struck the right tone for their young demographic who probably was thinking “what is it, actually?” The email itself laid out information on GDPR in an easily digestible way then gave readers 5 short reasons to stay subscribed, including news, offers, and trends relevant to them – the reasons they signed up in the first place and haven’t unsubscribed.

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The Ramblers, a charity that promotes walking in Great Britain, also sent out a good GDPR email. Asking ‘Can we stay in touch?’ in a subject line addressed to each recipient, it featured a photo that appeared above the fold of a sign post on a walking trail with directions to carry on or go to the end of the trail. Underneath were ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ buttons the user could select to opt in or out of the mailing list, along with some text explaining what was going on. It was short, to the point, interactive, and relevant to the brand and its recipients.

While it might seem like GDPR will only benefit customers who get a spring clean of their inbox, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for marketers. Mailing lists might be slashed, but those who stay will be the people who want to hear from you, leading to better open and response rates. If not, it might be time for an overhaul of your newsletter strategy.

At Smoke, we like to make things people want to spend time with and our approach to email newsletters follows that ethos. We know email inboxes are more of a private and personal space compared to social media. People expect their social spaces to be invaded but receiving unsolicited emails can feel just like getting physical junk mail. The importance of quality shouldn’t be taken lightly just because email is digital.



So we make sure to craft email newsletters with great storytelling by getting under the skin of what audiences want and working with writers who live and breathe the stories they’re writing about. We’ve gotten people thinking about housing policies through interesting angles for Shelter, heard from host families of volunteers around the world for VSO, and given grey seal spotting instructions for Canal & River Trust. We strike a balance between quick-to-read pieces, long-form articles, Q&As and quizzes that are all relevant to audiences and their interests, with the emails personalised and regionalised so they’re tailored to recipients even further. It’s how we help clients achieve open and click through rates that are far above industry average.

With GDPR coming into force, email marketing needs to prove its worth and it will only do that by being worthy of people’s time.