List Management in the GDPR Era

May 2019

person emailing on laptop

Image: iStock

I will never donate to certain charities. It’s not that I don’t support their missions; it’s because they keep asking my dead parents for money.

After numerous attempts to halt the haunting mail through the U.S. postal service, email and phone requests, the solicitations keep coming— now to my home address 1,500 miles away from where my parents once lived. I don’t ever want my survivors to experience the same emotional pain from such persistence.

These organizations do good work, but they are lousy at list management. Maintaining accurate mailing lists is more important than ever. That’s because the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, come January, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), means impacted citizens must consent for companies to use their personal data or risk hefty fines.

What this means is every marketing team needs to pay closer attention to content marketing channels and perhaps appeal to people differently. Consumers (and donors to non-profits) are more in control, so here are some tips for staying on the right side of the law.

Ask permission

Do not send unsolicited emails or direct mailers. You must have someone’s permission. There are several ways to gain it, from sign-ups on websites and in newsletters to scanning IDs at trade shows or opt-in buttons on post-webinar communications. It’s important in the messaging or footer to tell people how they ended up on this mailing list. If you’re cold calling, be sure to explain how you came across their name and contact information.

It’s also a good idea to touch base with people who you’ve been sending content marketing for years and ask if they still want to hear from you. This is not just sound list hygiene; it’s good customer relations. Let them know what they’ll be missing since a little FOMO goes a long way.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

People receiving unexpected newsletters or emailers sometimes are reluctant to click the unsubscribe button or hyperlink, believing it could unleash malware or a torrent of unwanted messages. That could happen, and one countermeasure is to merely block someone and/or add them to a blacklist. But it should be easy to unsubscribe. Show you care—and comply.

Don’t forget to ask why they want out. It could be frequency, not the content, that’s driving them away. Offer other options before they click the universal opt-out.

Review your lists regularly

By regularly, it could be daily or weekly or monthly, depending on list sizes, staffing and campaigns. Generate weekly/monthly reports showing trends in your subscription base such as:

  • What are the best referral sources?
  • Which marketing campaigns led to the most unsubscribes?
  • Who hasn’t opened an email in six months?

Be sure also to routinely scrub your list of:

  • Duplicate addresses
  • Invalid addresses
  • Misspelled addresses
  • Bounced addresses

Be very wary of third-party lists

Most professionals tell you to never use them; they are considered illegal under CAN SPAM. We don’t recommend doing business with list brokers, either, especially given the ROI on these is almost certain to be low because recipients don’t know you and don’t know why you’re contacting them. (Not to mention most addresses likely aren’t accurate, either.)

Instead, build your own lists organically—you’ll have a much stronger ROI anyway because people want to hear from someone they know, or at least know of.

Align content with the right audience

Segmentation is important to boost open rates. Are your messages customized enough? Do your subject lines maximize engagement? Is it coming from the right person (and not a company or unknown name)?

It also goes without saying that every piece of content marketing should provide some value to the recipient. Whether it’s a promotion offering discounted or free product or notice of a new webinar or white paper, presentation matters. So does frequency.

Our own company enjoys a high open rate for our monthly e-newsletters and direct mail campaigns because we follow all of the above best practices. Best of all, whether it’s GDPR, CCPA or whatever privacy legislation comes next, we’ll be prepared and, most likely, already in compliance.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne