• Chris Silberston

Everyone panic! GDPR is coming!

Is this the end of marketing as we know it? Wetherspoons have shown us the perfect solution for complying with GDPR: delete your email database. Then delete your social media accounts. In fact, you may as well get rid of your phone lines and computers too. That’s what the EU want, right? To send the UK back to the 1890s? The 25th May deadline is probably keeping at least one person in your team up at night. But the fact is that the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) have been in force for a while now. In terms of email marketing, there’s actually not a huge amount of change to worry about. So, first step – don’t panic! And don’t delete your email lists… There’s still (just) time to make sure your systems and policies are up to scratch. But if you need to communicate changes to your mailing list, now’s the time to do it. There are quite a few different elements of GDPR that you’ll need to tackle. But since we’re copywriters there’s one in particular we’re going to focus on – communicating with data subjects (or as we call them at A Thousand Monkeys, people). Talking to your database Before the new rules come into effect, you’re probably trying to achieve one of two things:

  • Getting consent by asking people to opt in to marketing

  • Informing people about the changes, mentioning your new privacy policy or your legitimate interest in marketing to them

The first option is what has a lot of marketers panicking. The second option has the advantage that people don’t need to take an active step – but in each case, you’ll still need to check you’re compliant. We’re not legal experts, so we recommend doing some research! But here’s our take on how to communicate GDPR to audiences on your database. We’re assuming it’s an email list, because let’s face it, who uses snail mail these days? Option 1: opt in emails It seems like an impossible task. Get people to actively click something to opt in to hear from you. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to receiving questionable emails that we’re sceptical of our own efforts. But GDPR is a good thing – if people don’t opt in, maybe they’re not engaged enough to be worth marketing to anyway. There are three key elements to pulling it off:

  • You’ll need to be straightforward to explain the situation simply.

  • You’ll need to be honest to show people they can trust you.

  • And you’ll need to be persuasive to convince people it’s worth it

Explain the situation People won’t opt in if you don’t give them a reason. They’ve probably had a lot of emails telling them about changes to data protection law, but it’s worth repeating anyway:

The law is changing and we won’t be able to contact you soon.

You don’t need to go into a huge amount of detail – the legal context isn’t very exciting. Just point out that they won’t be able to hear from you anymore if they’ve not opted in. Here are the main points you might want to cover:

  • what people can expect from your emails

  • how to opt out if people change their minds

  • what will happen if people don’t opt in

  • how to find your privacy policy or contact your data protection team for more information

Be honest

If you sound like a real person, people will trust you. You can try a few different angles, like vulnerability:

We’re a small business and we depend on our loyal customers to spread the word. But we can’t do that if you’re not opted in to hear from us.

Or humour:

You’ve probably received dozens of these opt-in emails already. So one more can’t hurt. Go on, click the button to keep hearing from us. Your inbox isn’t full yet.

This example from a local chain of restaurants is fun but still manages to get in all the important info:

Add some persuasion Finally, a bit of persuasion can’t hurt. You’re competing for inbox space, so you need to sell your email content to convince people to opt in. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can trick people by using small fonts or confusing language – they still need to make up their own minds. Do you send email newsletters? Try highlighting exclusive content.

Our delicious recipes are only available in our email newsletters. Don’t miss out!

Or maybe you promote assets or events? Dramatise the problems you help solve.

Sometimes it’s impossible to navigate all that data protection advice out there. Our expert workshop leaders cut through the crap so you don’t have to!

Here’s what happens if you don’t add a bit of persuasion (and no, they didn’t even put my name in):

There’s no way I’m going to update my marketing preferences. What’s the point? What are the “benefits of being a registered customer”? There’s not a single thing in this email that persuades me to opt in (if that’s what they’re even asking). Option 2: update emails While you’ll need explicit consent for b2c, if you’re marketing to other companies (not sole traders), things are a bit different. GDPR only applies to named individuals, so any info@ email addresses are exempt. But if you’re marketing to a specific person at a business, e.g. richard.branson@virgin.com, you’re still dealing with personal information. It seems that the “legitimate interest” clause of GDPR is going to be most relevant in this situation, as long as you pass the three-part test. Using legitimate interest grounds to contact people might seem easier than getting consent, but you’ll still need a clear opt-out procedure. So you need to show how your emails are useful and relevant to stop people unsubscribing straight away.

Running a cleaning company can be tough. To show our support, we’d like to contact you every now and then with money off coupons for our bulk packs of bleach.

And it’s still worth being upfront with people about what you’re doing – even if you don’t need a clear opt-in.

We’ll be contacting you from time to time because you’ve used our services in the past. You might need us again one day, but if not, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Keep information user-friendly Whether you’re sending people an email asking them to opt in, or you’re rewriting your privacy policy, the Information Commissioner’s Office says that information needs to be easy to understand. Dodgy marketers can’t hide behind a wall of legalese any more. This example from giffgaff is informative and clear, and still manages to keep their down-to-earth tone:

The best way to solve corporate waffle is to test your copy. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Read it out loud. If it sounds unnatural when you speak, it needs some work.

  • Get your friends and relatives to check it. If your teenage child or your grandparent can’t understand your copy, it’s too complicated.

  • Use online readability tools like Hemingway app to help you spot complicated text

Stay positive Meeting GDPR requirements might seem like a chore, but remember to think of it as a good thing. People should have a right to more control over their data, and it’s up to us to make sure they’re happy to keep receiving communications. If marketing is honest and open, people will develop trust in brands. And everyone will live happily ever after. Besides, it’s about time you culled some of that old database, isn’t it?