In 2018, customers receiving marketing emails were assured an increased shield of security by a new European data protection law. Since then, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has consistently helped email marketers forge a great bond with customers on the grounds of safety, security, and transparency.

The GDPR has changed the way email marketers treat subscribers' data. As protecting this data took precedence, engagement approaches underwent a steep change. Let's look at some fundamentals around GDPR that'll prepare you to better embrace this evolution.

What's the GDPR all about?

The GDPR is a European Union law that imposes strict obligations on the way a business uses its subscribers' personal data. Per its regulations, every business is required to be transparent with their audience and collect only the necessary information from them. Businesses are also liable for the safety of their subscribers' information and are subject to penalization for any breaches.

In short, the regulation lists a set of rights for data subjects (people whose data is managed by a business), for which every marketer (of a business) must comply.

How does the GDPR affect email marketers?

With permission-based engagement in the limelight, marketers are tasked with capturing, processing, and managing users' data efficiently.

Data Collection

Recommended double opt-in

Marketers can choose the double opt-in method to obtain consent from their users while collecting data.

Proof of consent

Even in cases of single opt-in, marketers need to possess proof (documented evidence) of consent from subscribers.

Inform the data subjects

You also need to educate them on why you're collecting their data. Performing an internal audit will help you understand what subscriber data you already have and what you further need to collect from your users. Mention consent in simple terms, and make sure to obtain separate consent for different purposes.

Discretionary action

Remember, consent has to be voluntary, so don't use any form of default consent like pre-ticked boxes or filled fields. Subjects should be allowed to provide consent freely without any compulsion.

Withdraw consent

You should let your subscribers withdraw their consent anytime they want. You should be respectful towards their decision and make the process hassle-free.

Data Processing

Provide complete information

Any personal data you collect from your data subjects must only be used for the purposes that you clearly stated when they gave their permission. Inform the data subjects about the possible risks, rules, safeguards, and rights associated with the processing of their personal data. Also, tell them how they can exercise their rights in possible situations.

Written document

The email marketer is required to maintain a written record of the procedures used to process the personal data of subjects. Procedures may contain but are not limited to categories of data, processing purpose, and more.

Careful handling of data

Once you collect the necessary data, the way you handle it is crucial. You shouldn't use this data for any inappropriate objective.

Review and update

Periodically review your data to ensure that it's up to date. Whenever you make changes to privacy notices, immediately inform your users. Your subjects can restrict the processing of their data when they have any issue with the content you hold or the way you handle it. You must respond to their restriction request and make preparations accordingly.

Data Storage and Access

Shortest storing period

As per the GDPR, email marketers should store their subjects' data for the minimum possible period. During this period, the email marketer's organization should consider the reasons behind the processing of such data. Legal obligations, if any, also need to be considered that can state the reasons behind storing data for a given period.

Ensure safety

It's your responsibility to safeguard your users' personal data, and in the event of any loss or breach, you'll be strictly punished. Inform your subscribers about where their data is stored, and don't allow any third-party services or unauthorized people to access your stored data at any point in time.

Review and update

Periodically review your data to ensure that it's up to date. Whenever you make changes to privacy notices, immediately inform your users. Your subjects can restrict the processing of their data when they have any issue with the content you hold or the way you handle it. You must respond to their restriction request and make preparations accordingly.

Right of access

Subjects have the right to access their data—they can seek any data-related information mentioned in Art. 15 of the GDPR, and the email marketer has to provide it. Subjects also have the power to make modifications to their information, so let them access their data and make updates when needed.

Data Erasure and Transfer

Erasure rights

An individual can demand the deletion of any and all personal data they feel is not being appropriately used by your business. They can ask for the erasure of their personal data for any of the reasons stated under Art. 17 of the GDPR.

Data transfer rules

You must permit the transfer of personal data from your system to third-party services when an individual requests it.

Respond immediately

In both the cases of erasure and transfer, you cannot penalize a user who makes this request, and you must promptly respond to their needs by providing immediate arrangements.

Clarity in access

It's also important to allow users to access their data in a readable format so that they can view their information, at any time.

What if you don't comply with the GDPR?

Non-compliance with the GDPR comes with a huge monetary penalty. Sanctions for not complying with the law can be very high—20 million Euros or 4% of your company's total worldwide annual turnover from the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.

How can you benefit from being GDPR-compliant?

  1. Efficient email marketing: Abiding by the laws of this regulation, you reach out only to the people who want to connect with you. Your email engagement rates will go up and you'll achieve better conversions.
  2. Goodwill from customers: Due to the transparency in your email marketing approach, customers will tend to stick with you, and a sense of trust can be built between them and your brand.
  3. Increased revenue: With higher conversions and improved email performance, you can improve your ROI and, ultimately, build a better brand image.

The bottom line

The GDPR isn't a stressful thing for the email marketing industry. It's a boon, as it helps in cleaning up your mailing lists and also targeting the right set of people. While complying with the laws might initially seem laborious, the payoff is definitely worth it—you become a smarter marketer! So, say "yes" to the GDPR for robust and successful email marketing.

The role of Zoho Campaigns in the GDPR space

Zoho Campaigns provides some advanced features that help you manage consent from users, adhere to the rights of your data subjects, and achieve remarkably clean email engagement. Click here

Are you GDPR-ready?

Now that you know how the GDPR influences email marketing, are you prepared to champion it? Take a look at the GDPR-ready checklist that we've specifically designed for email marketers so you have a better idea of what you need to know about the regulation.


Disclaimer: The information presented herein should not be taken as legal advice. We recommend that you seek legal advise on what you need to do to comply with the requirements of GDPR.