Industry Insight: How GDPR Will Impact the Marketing Landscape

FeaturesPCmag

As the business world draws closer to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the limitations it will put on how businesses collect and use data, marketers will have to be smarter than ever to send timely and relevant messages to customers. How those messages look, what information they use and take away, and how customers live within your database is all about to change.

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We spoke with Marc Shull, Senior Vice President of Social and Disruptive Marketing Strategies at Yes Lifecycle Marketing, about the GDPR and basic email marketing strategy. During our conversation, Shull laid out a few best practices for generating leads, making customers happy with marketing messaging, and remaining compliant with GDPR regulation.

PCMag (PCM): Problems can occur when a business constantly tries to derive revenue from email marketing campaigns but it's important for marketing plans to be balanced. Can you explain why a balanced plan is more effective?

Marc Shull (MS): There are always problems when a marketer is too heavily focused on promotional communications. This approach can show great short-term gains but is incredibly damaging to subscriber retention and long-term revenue, which often isn't effectively measured. We have seen promotion-heavy marketers with "successful" campaigns that have unsubscribe rates 60 to 70 times higher than industry average and losses of 150 to 200 subscribers per conversion.

The right balance of relationship and promotional communications has repeatedly proven to be the most effective at generating revenue and improving long-term subscriber retention, which increases lifetime value. Our research has shown that marketers with well-balanced programs have 10 percent more of their subscribers engaged with their email programs than those with a heavy or exclusive focus on promotions. It is always easier to sell to customers when there is a relationship and engagement.

PCM: When it comes to email marketing and marketing automation, what are the biggest mistakes you see marketers making, especially in terms of one-off campaigns or even single-email messages?

MS: There are three big mistakes we see marketers make. First, there is too much focus on individual message logistics and not enough on how a particular message supports the bigger-picture strategy and goals. Our analysis of over 100 brands shows that, on average, only 41 percent of email subscribers ever open an email from a brand they subscribe to, and of those that do, only 47 percent ever click. With over 80 percent never clicking on a single message, there is clearly massive untapped potential that can't be seen without a big-picture perspective.

Second is reliance on top of the funnel metrics like open rate, which lacks insight into whether or not those that opened are the same ones that always open messages or if they are even valuable customers. Marketers should be looking at how individual messages affect ROI [return on investment], LTV [Life-Time Value], purchase behavior metrics, and overall database activity to better understand messages and the bigger picture.

Lastly, we see marketers continuing to have limited adoption of personalization. In our recent survey of retailers, 49 percent of respondents described their message personalization efforts as one-size-fits-all. We have seen basic targeting and content personalization lead to message-level conversion rate lift of over 200 percent, so it is surprising that so many marketers have not embraced personalization automation. On the bright side, most marketers recognize these challenges and are moving to make changes. But many find overcoming the status-quo inertia difficult.

PCM: How concerned should marketers be about GDPR? What can email software vendors do to help their clients remain compliant?

MS: Marketers should be very concerned about GDPR if they are not going to be compliant by May 25, 2018. After reviewing hundreds of marketers' databases, we have yet to find a single one without a meaningful number of probable EU [European Union] citizens and residents, so this really impacts everyone. On the bright side, GDPR does make a marketer's life easier in some ways. It reduces the number of country-level laws marketers must contend with, provides clearer direction on marketer obligations, and gives them more control over the protection of their customers' data. We see GDPR as a natural step in the overall shift in the marketer-customer relationship that has been going on over the last decade. Given the number of high-profile data breaches reported each year, data privacy should be a brand issue for marketers.

All vendors, not just email service providers, that touch personal data have their own set of requirements under GDPR and are required to support their clients' GDPR-compliance efforts with regard to the services they provide.

ESPs [Email Service Providers] need to do the following at a minimum to support their clients' compliance efforts: Provide a clear description of their processing activities so the consent terms a marketer provides to data subjects is accurate, work with the marketers to update agreements that conform to GDPR requirements, verify that all their sub-processors are compliant, implement privacy by design and automation to support data subject rights; and participate in data protection impact assessments, data reviews, data cleaning, and affirmative re-consent efforts as necessary.

PCM: What's the best method for creating lead-generation forms? How do you turn this static page into an active recruiter for your brand?

MS: The best approach to creating web forms requires marketers to effectively balance best practices with their use case requirements. From a best practice perspective, the most effective web forms are those that make it as easy as possible to complete, create a personalized experience, and address common objections head-on. To make it easy, minimize the number of data points being collected and pages to the bare minimum. Techniques such as pre-population, autofill, and inline validation can all improve the completion rate for those fields that need to be included. The use of widgets, drop-down menus, and radial buttons can also help speed up the completion process. Dynamic web forms can be used to improve content personalization.

However, keep in mind, inconsistent experiences in some applications, such as during the checkout process, can raise red flags or be a distraction, which are counterproductive. As customers become increasingly concerned about fraudulent online activities, marketers need to use branded web forms that use the primary domain URL and address how the data they provide will be used in clear and concise terms. This will help the customer feel more comfortable providing the data and help be GDPR-compliant.

PCM: Have you started thinking about the future of email as it relates to new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and even virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality?

MS: Technology innovation is always at the forefront of our strategic thinking as it directly impacts client satisfaction and retention. 2017 was a big year for buzz around AI and ML, but the reality is, these things are not new. They have been evolving for decades and, while still fairly immature, technology has hit a point where they are having increasingly observable applications in the daily life of the average consumer.

We are predominantly focused on the ML aspect of AI as there are clear and practical ways it improves the automation of personalization, segmentation, and insights today. There are so many new, flashy AI companies out there that it is hard to tell what is real and what is smoke and mirrors. Because of this, we think email technology has to be flexible enough to integrate with any AI tool and fill in the often-missing data piece. What is important is that marketers master the basics of personalization before implementing something new like AI.

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