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Making Email Subscription GDPR Heaven

email subscription

When people subscribe to something they find interesting, being part of a world that is continually described as ‘noisy’ doesn’t come into the equation.

Delivering messages as though you are the virtual paperboy with information someone else wants, is a stronger place than putting the local free paper through someone’s door, just because they have a letterbox. When did anyone want to read the free paper that is full of ads and Asda’s latest deals falling out? Even more importantly, did anyone even ask for the free weekly title?

That’s the same for many companies, who think that emailing the latest offers is the way to treat people. This is not a strong email strategy to adopt. The messages you communicate becomes stronger for people to buy-in when you send to an audience who have made a commitment and subscribed.

Brands Are Binning

Pub chain Wetherspoons (June 22nd) have decided to delete their entire email database (nearly 700,000 people). The database has been wiped clean. This is a brave move to put everything in the bin. Wetherspoons are saying that they will use their social channels to promote deals and their news stories will reside on their website.

I guess there are two sides to this story. The cynical side is that the brand is wary about the onset of the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) from 25th May 2018. How many of the 700,000 people who receive the monthly email, had actually subscribed and opted in to receive?

In 2015, Wetherspoons had used a third party company to run their website and hackers had accessed. The site was hacked and details of 650,000 people were compromised (read more here). So, if you look at the security side and potentially heavy fines next year, they acted now.

When it comes to abusing people’s trust, last month (June), Morrison’s were fined £10,500 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for sending over 130,000 emails to customers who did not want them in the first place.

The other side is Wetherspoons are acknowledging that sending blanket emails on curry nights and cider weeks just do not work. A recent article from Marketing Week commented, “it takes guts to start from scratch. Too often marketers persist with the old way, especially around data, through fear of change.”

GDPR And The Level Playing Field

This whole notion of making sure you know what you are getting into, rather than blanket sends and thinking that everyone is your audience, comes down to getting your house in order.

I spoke to Mark Gracey, owner of digital consultancy Flavourfy, who is currently educating businesses where the future lies when it comes to GDPR awareness.

I asked Mark what are the main issues small businesses need to be aware of when it comes to email? Mark replied, “Data protection has always been about having a lawful purpose for processing data. Processing for the purposes of marketing (an email marketing list) has always required consent, but the GDPR introduces much stricter rules around how that consent can be acquired.”

“Specifically, consent must be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous. What this means is that as well as providing information about what data you’re collecting, why you’re collecting it, how it will be used, who it will be shared with and how consent can be withdrawn. You also need to make sure the subject has taken a positive action to consent to the use of the data in that way. In marketing terms this means that it will no longer be possible to use pre-ticked boxes or vague wording.”

“These new rules though, don’t just impact new data collected. Your existing marketing data needs to be compliant too, so if your existing email list contains email addresses which don’t meet the new requirements you’re going to have to refresh your email list and seek ongoing consent.”

What About You?

Someone subscribes when they see something worthwhile to subscribe to.

It is the promise of something they don’t know (yet), but interested in finding out more.

When someone recognises a space they want to be a part of, they are more likely to give consent.

In the words of Seth Godin (10th July), “Online voices that were seduced by the promise of a mass audience are coming back to the realization that the ability to deliver their message to people who want to get it is actually the core of their model.”

By having GDPR looming on the horizon next May, it starts to provide clarity when it comes to having a genuine reason for others to opt in:

  • build a known subscribed audience


Today, we are all part of a level playing field, so why not take the initiative?

Those who manipulate, cut corners and look for the quickest return in the shortest possible time are the ones who will get found out. Have a look at all those companies you never knew you subscribed to by having a quick check at

I chatted to Anne Janzer, author of Subscription Marketing where the essence of a subscribed audience can become a huge asset to your business.

Anne explained, “When you connect with people on social media, you don’t really have control over the relationship. You can’t control when (or whether) people see your communications, and in what context they appear.”

“Social media is important, but an email relationship is more personal, if you do it right. A small email list of loyal, engaged subscribers is much more valuable to your business than hundreds of thousands of people that you blast content out to. The smaller group probably generates more long-term value for your business in sales and referrals.”

How To Build Locked-In Subscribers

What can you do, to start nurturing a subscribed audience? Here are seven areas to think about:

– A unique voice. The topic area may not be unique within the entire marketplace, but the way that you deliver it, is unique to you. Finding your voice represents what you believe in and also helps shape your overall company message. Companies need to tune their voice to achieve differentiation. You can stop worrying about the ‘noise’ (that seems to be every marketers favourite word) when you have something ‘different’ to say.

– Time. Once you have a unique area to focus on, are you prepared for the duration to build your voice, let it resonate with others and for them to be convinced to stand by what you believe in. By investing time, you are probably going to be taken down some cul-de-sacs that leave you empty. There is no return when the activity you pursue does not align with what you do. I have experienced this, click here to have a read of a March article that you cannot just inform people and not tie back with what you do.

– Reach may not be enough. Thinking that more people subscribing is a sign of success and the opportunity for more people to watch, read, listen, let’s add a further layer. Not everyone in your audience is equal. A better form of return is retention, not wider reach. It is the old 80% of revenue will come from 20% of customers’ mantra. However, it makes sense, the people who stick around are more likely to buy from you, so you need to keep them there. Retention can be a worthier objective than acquisition. Your goal is to either grow you audience, or keep your audience.

– Following a trend is risky. Email etiquette has told us that pressing a button to a mass audience with something to sell, will create a valid return ie. someone will buy. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. Look at the emails from retailers, who all follow the same trend of using email as a price promotion tool. As proof here are examples when the fuse was lit for 2016 Black Friday, as reported on Econsultancy. When you move away from a trend of promotion and one of value, this is where people take things they may not have been aware of. Is there a cause that you believe in? Is there a place where you want to take others to, that is different from the rest of your marketplace?

– Build before you sell. I only started selling products via my You Are The Media email after three years (this was last year). You have to build an audience around content that has resonance before you start selling. Using your email to have a genuine point of view, over time, will attract more clicks than thinking you have to spend on Facebook to amplify. Email works and converts when you are consistent and go beyond the products and services that you sell. The minute someone subscribers (probably the most vulnerable time of a subscriber), the last thing you should do is to start sending them sales messages. They have just supplied their data (their email address) on the promise of value. You can’t betray that trust. You will turn them into someone who is no longer interested in you.

– Empathy. Anne believes that “the subscriber should feel that your business is a single entity, even if it’s made up of many people.” You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Anne continues, “Read everything you send from the subscriber’s perspective. Ask yourself questions: why would someone keep opening emails from my business? What value am I providing? If you don’t provide value, people will unsubscribe. Your email open and click-through data can provide important clues as well. Watch what your subscribers respond to, and then offer them more of it.

– Clear Call To Action. Do you have a call to action? Are you trying to make an unknown visitor a known subscriber? You can’t be in it, just for the goal of more traffic and then telling everyone how many people come to your site each week/month. When you have people clicking to your side it presents the opportunity to make someone you don’t know into known traffic, by making them a subscriber.

Lets Round Up

People will opt in when they see something that they can relate to and not being coerced into something they don’t want.

Anne concludes that a subscription is just that – a relationship. Anne mentions, “There is a growing chasm between those businesses that treat email as a one-way sales channel, and those use it as a way of building and supporting an ongoing relationship. In the long term, the second group will win.”

With new principals on the horizon in the form of GDPR, audience building via a subscription-based initiative has to be something to act upon now, in terms of having an audience that you have control of, is genuine and is valid. You need to provide people a reason to come to your place. No one wanted an invite to a party, only to find out it’s a glorified networking event where business card ninja stars take centre stage.

GDPR is not bad news for companies who use email as a communication tool. There is a focus on the audience and for businesses to take an email strategy seriously and not a half-hearted attempt to cram old practices (direct advertising) in relatively new spaces. A fresh approach can help everyone. It is time to get things in place where you have resonance in someone else’s in-box.

READ A BOOK – Anne’s latest book (released 18th July), The Workplace Writer’s Process: A Guide To Getting The Job Done, you can buy here.

JOIN A WEBINAR – Mark is scheduling a free webinar on 24th July on GDPR, click here to be part of the lunchtime session.

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