Our GDPR Advice
On January 1, 2000, I was in the mountains of Norway away from civilisation, locked up in a cabin in mountains waiting for the end of the world…
The ‘millennium bug’ was about to hit
Computers could not transition to dates starting with ‘2000’, and would be malfunctioning…hence, planes, would fall out of the skies, computers would stop working, police and ambulance services would cease…. ANARCHY would reign.
It was the end of civilization.
You know what
Turns out it wasn’t the end of civilization after all.
We can laugh at ‘Y2K’ now, but for a few short months, the world went mad.
Almost everyone believed there was at least a chance we were going to be thrown back to a pre-technological age.
The hysteria back then reminds me very much of the hysteria we’re witnessing right now in the business community, around GDPR.
Businesses are committing suicide… Unnecessarily
For weeks now, business owners and marketing teams have been scrambling around to prepare for this upcoming calamity, as if the end of the world were nigh.
They have updated Privacy Policies, instituted strict double-opt-ins to their email lists, and worst of all, badgered consumers with those horrible form letters asking people to opt in again to their email list, or face being unsubscribed.
Everyone’s at it:
….from local butchers asking their customers whether they want to continue hearing about the latest offers on chicken. Small charities practically begging past donors to stay in touch.
Larger companies are emailing lists painstakingly compiled over a decade or more.
It will be interesting to see the stats when someone finally runs a survey, but I would be shocked if more than 5-10% of people on most email lists are responding to those notes.
In other words, many businesses are losing practically their entire contact lists.
Since your email database – your list of past clients, leads and prospects – is one of every business’s biggest assets, they are effectively committing business suicide.
All this would be understandable and commendable if it were legally necessary, but in most cases, it’s not.
Most companies do have to make adjustments for GDPR, eg. typically, privacy policies have to be updated.
But while there are exceptions, most businesses should be able to continue emailing most of their existing list without forcing people to opt in again.
You quite possibly already have the required consent; and there are other criteria which allow you to continue using your data, such as ‘legitimate interest’.
See the ICO website for further details.
Companies jumped the gun with GDPR
The confusion arises for two reasons. First, the GDPR regulations were not finalized until relatively recently, leading to ambiguity and confusion about what actions were going to be necessary. And so some jumped the gun.
Too many companies wiped thousands of people off their databases, shifted their focus away from email and even stopped emailing altogether (!) before the terms of GDPR were clear.
Some companies have stopped emailing their lists altogether
But the second is simple mass hysteria. Once some companies started asking their subscribers to opt in again to their email lists, others assumed this was the correct course of action, and followed suit.
They didn’t understand that many of these companies were acting unnecessarily.
Or, in some cases, that these companies had legitimate reasons to ask people to opt in again, which did not apply to them.
Soon the flood of opt-in emails was impossible to stop.
Everyone became convinced that the law told them they had to get subscribers to opt in again, even though this was rarely the case.
As the May 25 deadline gets closer, cue panic.
Do not follow the crowds blindly
The lesson is clear: Do not follow the crowds blindly.
When it comes to legal issues – which GDPR is – invest in proper legal advice. Every business is different.
And when it comes to marketing issues, do not assume that your peers, your competitors and even market leaders know what they are doing and are worth copying.
There are strong trends in the marketing world, and it’s easy to feel that if you don’t jump on the bandwagon, you’re going something wrong….
That if “everyone” is suddenly on Snapchat, that’s where your company needs to be, too….
Or that if all your competitors are sending out dry email newsletters, you should too.
But in all too many cases, they are just making it up as they go along, figuring out their own path, making their own mistakes and applying strategies which do not apply to you.
So do not assume they know better.
Seek expert advice
- Seek out your own expert advice from businesses that have built the kind of company you want.
- Stay focused strongly on core strategy instead of getting seduced by shiny new tactics
- Above all, maintain a healthy scepticism about what other companies do online, unless you have seen clear proof that it has impacted their bottom line.
In just a few months’ time, when all this has died down, I have a feeling that many people will be looking back at the panic around GDPR with puzzlement.
Companies will not be able to believe they allowed most of their subscribers to disappear, for no good reason; and they will not believe they allowed themselves to be led astray by the spirit of mass hysteria, without investigating the legal issues properly.
Luckily, unlike Y2K, the end of world is not at stake – “merely” the ability of your business to market itself freely over the most profitable of all digital channels, email.
On second thoughts, for many companies that is the end of the world.
So do not act in haste.
Before you hit ‘send’ on that opt-in email, contact your Privacy lawyer, to make sure you understand how GDPR applies to your organization…
And in the best British tradition, keep calm and carry on!