GDPR and Email Marketing: Staying Compliant in 2024

Marketing emails are a great way to keep in touch with existing customers and get your brand in front of those who haven’t quite transitioned from simply shopping around. However, email marketing campaigns must follow strict guidelines to regulate data collection, not to mention keep your marketing communication out of the spam folder. Ensuring your email marketing is GDPR-compliant keeps your business competitive and builds consumer trust, but what does that mean? In this guide, we’ll explore what it means to be GDPR-compliant in your email marketing strategies, why it’s necessary, and how you can create and verify compliant communication.

What is GDPR Compliance?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a set of principles regulating how personal data for EU citizens is processed by businesses both inside and outside the EU. Overall, GDPR requires companies to clearly inform customers about the information being collected, why it’s being collected, and how it will be used.

The GDPR follows seven key principles to form the foundation of data privacy and protection, including:

  1. Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency: There must be a lawful reason to collect data, and the reasoning behind the kind of collecting must be communicated upfront.
  2. Purpose limitation: You must have a clear purpose for processing data and inform people of this purpose in a privacy notice.
  3. Data minimization: Data collection should be limited to the absolute minimum required to achieve your needs.
  4. Accuracy: As a data collector, you are responsible for ensuring the data collected is accurate and kept up to date.
  5. Storage limitation: You should not keep collected data any longer than necessary, and data should be stored in a way that allows for individual identification for only as long as needed.
  6. Integrity and confidentiality: You must take adequate physical, technical, and organizational measures to protect data confidentiality and security.
  7. Accountability: The data controller must be accountable for data protection and be able to show GDPR compliance with relevant documentation.

These principles translate to email marketing by making it important to protect customer data through email encryption technology, email data erasure or expiring email capability, clarify terms of consent, and provide insight into proper technical and organizational measures for email security.

Why is GDPR Compliance Necessary?

According to our internal Email Marketing guru, Zoe Aughinbaugh, “Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, damage to your brand’s reputation, and a decrease in email deliverability rates.” Fines can cost companies over ten million dollars, even for less severe violations. Your ability to comply with GDPR regulations also shows your customers that you value their privacy and security, making them more inclined to purchase from you or trust their services and share that trust with others.

You also don’t want your direct marketing emails to bounce out of inboxes or be labeled as spam. The rules for being GDPR compliant follow best practices for email deliverability to minimize the risk of never having customers see your messages.

How Do I Comply With GDPR Email Marketing?

Creating emails that comply with GDPR heavily involves consent and data protection practices. While obtaining consent may feel difficult, Zoe views it a bit differently, looking instead at how such practices can benefit your business. “Consent is not a hurdle; it’s an opportunity. It allows us to engage with an audience that’s genuinely interested in what we have to offer.”

Here are the keys to ensuring your company’s email marketing is GDPR-compliant:

Obtaining explicit consent and creating a clear opt-in is critical. You cannot rely on pre-checked boxes to capture new sign-ups, as the consumer must actively check any kind of checkbox. According to GDPR guidelines, consent is required on emails classified as promotional campaigns but will not be required in transactional emails or newsletters. If you’re ever in doubt about whether you need consent, remember, “Consent is King. Always obtain explicit permission from your recipients before sending them emails. This not only aligns with legal requirements but also enhances the quality of your email list, leading to higher engagement rates.” When it comes to your email sign-up forms, Zoe states, “Make sure your email sign-up forms are clear, concise, and include information about what subscribers can expect in terms of content and frequency.” They have to know what they’re signing up for.

Provide a clear opt-out for those who no longer wish to receive communication from your company. As much as we want users to sign up, presenting the option to opt-out in a visible way, such as an unsubscribe link in an email, is just as important. “Every email must include an easy-to-find, straightforward way for recipients to opt out of future communications,” says Zoe. “Respecting user preferences is crucial in maintaining a positive relationship with your audience.”

Craft compliant email content and subject lines. The content you use when sending your emails is equally important. “It should be clear that your emails are coming from your business. Misleading headers, sender names, or subject lines can not only confuse recipients but also violate compliance regulations.” Working with an email marketing agency experienced in copywriting can help craft these subject lines and email content to ensure compliance, engagement, and readability.

Implementing robust data management and security will protect your business from legal ramifications and secure users’ personal data.

What Happens if Your Business Does Not Comply with GDPR Regulations?

If your business does not comply with GDPR, it could be subjected to hefty fines. Businesses can face a fine of ten million euros (roughly $10.8 million USD), or two percent of a business’ prior year global turnover, for a fairly low-severity violation. If a violation is more severe, administrative fines can be up to thirty million euros (around $32 million USD), or four percent of the prior year’s global turnover for the business.

Some violations may also face criminal penalties or penalties for infringements of the adopted national rules based on GDPR flexibility clauses. These violations or punishable situations may be brought forward by data protection authority inspections, unsatisfied employees, current or potential customers, the company’s own self-denunciation, or the press.

The Latest Updates in GDPR Regulations Related to Email Marketing

While regulations themselves have not necessarily changed since GDPR’s introduction in 2018, the importance of compliance has grown due to consumer demand. According to a Data Privacy Pulse survey, 73 percent of shoppers are more apt to do business with brands that transparently manage data, which is the overall goal of GDPR.

In looking at the customers’ increased desire to protect personal data, there are several ways you can use GDPR compliance to make your marketing emails more successful:

  • Increase personalization to respect the data choices of each customer to convert promotional emails into relevant, tailored messages
  • Effectively segment audiences based on GDPR-compliant data to send content that resonates with your audience to boost engagement
  • Automate email campaigns that are GDPR-compliant for a more efficient process without compromising personalization and data security

Tools and Resources to Ensure Your Emails Satisfy GDPR Compliance

When it comes to ensuring GDPR compliance, there are several online tools and resources to help you satisfy these requirements. Here are some excellent compliance tools and platforms that may be great for your business:

  • Dataships: This Shopify and email marketing-focused service helps with data privacy compliance and facilitates the growth of organizations through data collection.
  • Enzuzo: As an all-around software, it offers well-integrated tools, including consent forms and data subject requests, together in an easy-to-use interface.
  • Auditboard: This is a comprehensive data compliance, network auditing, and IT protection digital security platform helping with compliance of over ten different global regulatory systems, including GDPR.
  • OneTrust: Ideal for companies with larger budgets, OneTrust helps you stay compliant with over 25 regulatory systems, including GDPR, and has many features that enhance privacy management, data governance, and IT risk and security assurance.
  • Transcend: Recognized as one of the most user-friendly solutions, the software helps keep you compliant thanks to solid privacy management tools.

Using these tools can help boost the overall security of your website and, in turn, your email marketing. However, working with an email marketing agency experienced in compliance regulations will help ensure your campaigns meet or exceed these requirements without additional costs.

CAN-SPAM and CASL: Additional Email Marketing Compliance Laws

While most companies will need to comply with GDPR, it is not the only regulatory body to be aware of for email and direct marketing purposes. Here are some others to comply with that will create even more success with your email marketing:

CAN-SPAM Act (United States Compliance Law): Passed by Congress in 2003, the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act addresses the issue of consumers receiving “unwanted commercial electronic mail messages.” The regulations apply to commercial email and some text messages sent to cell phones. In order to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, businesses must follow these main requirements:

  • Do not use false or misleading information in the header, such as domain name and email address
  • Subject lines must reflect the message content and refrain from deceptive language
  • Clearly disclose that the message is an advertisement
  • Provide a valid physical postal address in the message
  • Provide clear direction of how recipients can opt out of future marketing emails, and subscribers or members are also eligible to unsubscribe from email communication
  • Opt-out requests must be honored within ten business days
  • Your company and any third-party email marketing company being used must comply with the law; monitor what the hired company is doing on your behalf

CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation): CASL protects consumers and businesses from the misuse of digital technology, including prohibiting sending unsolicited commercial messages, such as email, text messages, or private social media messages, to Canadians. Here is what CASL requires of marketers prior to sending promotional messages:

  • The recipient has provided explicit consent to the email or message or meets a CASL exception
  • The email accurately identifies the sender and includes contact details
  • The email includes a clear unsubscribe option and when clicked, is processed within ten business days
  • The email does not include any false or misleading information

GDPR Compliant Email Marketing With the Timmermann Group

Email marketing communication is an excellent tool for businesses to boost brand awareness and encourage interaction with customers, but they have to be created in a way that is compliant with regulations and prioritizes customer privacy. Taking the extra steps to ensure total compliance with GDPR and other regulations will greatly benefit your company; like Zoe says: “Every compliant email sent is a step towards building a stronger, more engaged, and loyal community around your brand.”

If you need help improving your existing email marketing campaigns or want to kick off a successful, ongoing strategy that integrates well with your other marketing efforts, contact our experts at Timmermann Group today.