Email Marketing Post-GDPR: So What Now?

So the apocalypse has come and a new day has dawned for one and all.

Yes, friends out there in marketing world, the GDPR has come and everyone’s inboxes have been completely FLOODED with notifications about how privacy policies have changed – proving how piss-poor most people’s data privacy and email contact collection practices were previously – to the point where it has become a meme.

Some people did well with the transition while some people completely botched it but either way, you’re probably left wondering ‘what now?’

Therefore, I figured now would be the perfect opportunity to do a quick overview of how you can still send your email marketing campaigns without inviting ICO to your door.




This should go without saying so I’m going to get this out of the way because I know some of you are out there still trying to be cute.

“They won’t get me! I don’t have to change! I can still buy that list! I still need to send my emails! We have a right to market our products!”

First of all, no one has the ‘right’ to send spam. Let’s get that nonsense out of the way right now.

Second of all, hate to break it to you, chief, but you will get caught. Maybe you missed it but on May 25th Ico, the enforcement body, had so many people reporting spam emails for GDPR violations that they had to take the tool offline. The message literally said they took it down due to an ‘overwhelming’ number of reports.

So you will get caught. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow but you will get reported and you will get caught. It’s not a matter of if someone will report you but when.

Also, the reporting process, according to the tool here, says it literally takes less than five minutes – do you think if you’ve been spamming someone with your garbage for two years they wont take five minutes to get you in trouble? Stop kidding yourself.




Another good reason to knock that nonsense off is that your ‘spray and pray’ emails probably don’t do what you think they do anyway. Go to your Google Analytics or whatever tool you use to track conversions, opens, clicks, whatever and just run a report.

If your email marketing ROI isn’t the number one channel for you or close to it, you’re email marketing wrong.

If you started out with a list of about 75k people on it and your message had like 5k bounces and 10k unsubscribes, you’re email marketing wrong.

If you’re sending out like 100k emails per month and it’s only driving like 3k sessions to your site, you’re email marketing wrong.

If your list came from an outside source like a list vendor or harvester or rental agent – and that totally includes lists you bought from industry trade shows and the like – you’re definitely email marketing wrong.

Real talk: if your list came from a source that would violate the terms and conditions of and get you kicked off of major email marketing services like iContact, Constant Contact, Bronto and others, your email marketing is trash. Pure trash.

Lots of risk, no reward.

Wanna see how serious Ico is? Go ahead and visit this link where they detail exactly how they’re enforcing things.

Stop spamming people. It’s really not that hard.


4. Cross Sell On Your Transactional Emails


Full disclosure, this one is not a Smokehouse SEO original idea. I snagged this one from the Databoxer post-GDPR email marketing article that I came across that has some really good stuff in there.

This is only useful after someone has made a purchase from you but this could be pretty powerful in a post-GDPR world.

This is basically when you send out or transactional emails (e.g.: order confirmation, shipping notifications, etc.) to a customer –  you know, the stuff you know people are actually going to open and read – and then try to cross sell or upsell on there.

There is plenty of opportunity to add a ‘customers also bought’ content block, a ‘Since you bought X, we think you’d love Y!’ content block, a ‘Thanks for buying! Here’s a coupon code for your next order!’ or even a ‘Thanks for buying! Share the love! Here’s a coupon code for you AND A FRIEND for your next orders!’

Do you see how this works?

You know people are going to open their shipping notices, you know people are going to open their order confirmations so why not make the most of something you know someone is going to open?

They’re already your customer, why not make it easy for them to become your brand evangelists with codes to share with a friend?


3. Only Send What People Expect To Receive


This one is so important, one of the easiest to get right and yet so many people get this one so very wrong.

Look, the concept is simple. If you told me that I’m signing up on a form to get information about, let’s say, your training classes and you start also sending me separate emails about your products, events, t-shirts, movies, beer steins, pet foods, breakfast cereals, pig-pickin’ shindigs and five thousand different messages from ‘your partners’, I’m going to get really mad really fast.

So would you.

Imagine if you went to a restaurant and ordered a steak and the waiter brought you eggs, cheese, toast, ham, salami, caviar, egg foo yung, pizza, breakfast burritos, a glass of dirty dishwater, a spatula he found in the kitchen, burritos, lentils, somebody’s left shoe, hummus…and, oh yeah, a steak. It’s literally the same thing here.

You want what you want and so do your customers and people signing up to your lists. I don’t care who wants to ‘cross promote’ to your lists. I don’t care how ‘clean’ of a list you have there with lots of ‘potential leads’ on it you have, you need to follow the golden rule of email marketing:





Not doing this is not only a GDPR violation but it’s also annoying, earns you a reputation as a spammer, makes your messages wind up just floating among the five thousand other ones they don’t open that come in every day and is a complete waste of time.

Just don’t do it unless you want to get reported.


2. Start Segmenting Your Lists


This is something you should have been doing for a long time even without the GDPR but a lot of people just don’t.

Whether it’s because they haven’t been using custom fields or can’t be bothered to create segments in their platforms, a lot of people are still doing ‘spray and pray’, spaghetti-style marketing where they just blast their message out to a generic list and say ‘Gee, I hope somebody buys this!’

Stop it.

That’s not efficient and it’s just not the best use of your time.

Put it this way, imagine you owned a department store. Old school, brick and mortar style location. If you had an upcoming sale for a 50% discount on men’s pants, would you walk out to the sidewalk and just start screaming “Come in now!! Men’s pants half off!!”?

It’s basically the same thing. Ok, well maybe its not the exact same thing but it’s pretty close.

You need to target your message to the right audience, not just shouting your nonsense from the internet rafters.

If you’re having a sale at your store in Houston, don’t email people in Oklahoma about it. At best, they most likely aren’t going to drive there and will probably wonder why you even bothered to send this message and at worst, they may drive to the local branch of your store and get angry when the Tulsa location isn’t having the same sale.

Just make good segments, send the right messages to the right people and you’ll see your unsubscribes decrease and your opens and clicks increase.


1. Stop Sending So Often! 


If you don’t understand this one, I’ll just put it to you like this:

Go to your email right now and look at exactly how many promotional emails you have in there right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Back? Unless you recently emptied your email, I’ll bet you had at least ten, right? I’m also willing to bet after the third one, they all started to run together on you, didn’t they?

If you’re anything like me, you also probably can think of at least one or two companies that flat out just wont leave you alone.

All day long, when your phone goes off it’s probably that same company with a ‘Flash sale starting now!’ email or a ‘You wont want to miss this one!’ email or a ‘You’re in luck!’ email and blah blah blah.




You don’t really want to unsubscribe because you know they might accidentally send you something that you really will be interested in but in reality they’re on your last nerve and you’re kind of sick and tired of them blowing up your inbox – and by extension, your phone – all day long trying to get their hands in your pockets.

I’ve got three companies I get emails from right now like this. Two are services (one for my lawn, one for my home) and another is a national furniture store that I bought a dresser from once like a year ago and they’ve been sending me DAILY EMAILS EVER SINCE.

I’ll reiterate this.

I bought a dresser from them a year ago and they have sent me at least one sales email EVERY SINGLE DAY EVER SINCE. This is not an exaggeration, this is not me trying to be funny and this is not from a fly by night company.

Can you imagine how obnoxious this is for me but what’s more, can you imagine what a massive waste of time this was for whoever has to craft these emails and then set them in the campaign and then set the automation rules (or even worse, has to do all this pointless nonsense manually!). Who over there thought I’d be interested in buying a new piece of furniture ON A DAILY BASIS? Who does this? Where do they do this?

Don’t be this kind of company. Nobody likes it, this will increase your spam complaints and unsubscribes and, as I said before, it’s just a waste of time.

I can’t tell you your best days and time to send because that varies from company to company and industry to industry (though as a general rule, Mondays and Fridays are usually not great)  but I can say that daily isn’t optimal for anybody at all. That’s just obnoxious. Don’t be that company.

Drill into your data, see the days and times that your particular audience engages with your messages and just do more of that. It’s not that hard, just a bit time consuming on the front end.


The Bottom Line


While the GDPR did change a lot of things you need to do in terms of email marketing, it really just made mandatory things you should have been doing already. Spamming, buying lists, spray-and-pray and just sending messages day after day with no plan or reason behind it was never a good look for your business.

It’s time to do email marketing the right way and it’s really not that hard. The bottom line in this case is before you send any email to any list at any time, just ask yourself:

Why am I sending this email?

Why am I sending this email right now?

Why am I targeting these people on this particular list?

Why would they want this message right now?


and most importantly:


What would I think of this message if someone else sent it to me?

If you don’t have a good reason for it beyond “Well, it’s Tuesday! we always send this out on Tuesday!”, don’t do it.

It is still possible to have email marketing campaigns in a post-GDPR world but you’d better make sure you step your game up or be prepared for the consequences.

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