The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in May this year was one of the biggest changes in data protection law ever, and has had huge implications for businesses large and small. The new legislation completely changed the way that companies collect, process and store data and this has had touched almost every element of business. One key area that has seen a seismic shift as a result of GDPR is digital marketing, in particular email. In this article, we take a closer look at inbound and outbound marketing post GDPR.
Understanding digital marketing – inbound vs outbound
Before delving deeper into the effects of GDPR on your marketing efforts, it is important to establish a clear definition of the difference between inbound and outbound marketing. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on digital marketing.
One of the best definitions of inbound marketing is presented by Hubspot, a leading CRM software platform that is designed with digital marketing in mind –
“Sharing is caring and inbound is about creating and sharing content with the world. By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your dream customers, inbound attracts qualified prospects to your business and keeps them coming back for more.”
In contrast to inbound marketing, outbound marketing refers to any kind of marketing where a company initiates the conversation and sends its message out to an audience, typically through traditional techniques such as advertising, promotions, public relations and sales. Customers have become much more resistant to this traditional approach to marketing in recent years, leading to it being frequently labelled by the very unflattering term ‘Interruption Marketing’.
Why these definitions matter under GDPR
One of the most fundamental principles of GDPR is that a company cannot email an individual without their express permission. Although it has been best practice for a long time to request permission to add somebody’s email address to your email marketing list, this is strongly reinforced under GDPR, and failing to follow the correct principles can land your company in a huge heap of trouble – including the possibility of fines up to €20 million or 4% of annual turnover. Simply put, extreme care must be taken if you wish to use email as a channel for marketing – and traditionally, this has been one of the main methods of outbound marketing online.
Although the rules are slightly different for other channels such as cold calling or mailshots, if GDPR has achieved one thing it is this – customers no longer believe that they have to accept the kind of spamming they have been subjected to for far too long – and as a result the value of outbound marketing has been hugely diminished, not just as far as email is concerned, but across the spectrum. It would, however, be unfair to blame GDPR for the death of outbound marketing – more specifically, GDPR reflects in law a gradual shift in consumer sentiment that has been taking place over many years.
How to win with email marketing after GDPR
Although it would be easy to assume that email marketing is dead, this is very much not the case. What has changed is the way in which businesses need to use email as a tool – and the real beauty of it is that done properly, email marketing can be turned into the far more valuable inbound marketing. So how does GDPR work in your favour?
Because of the requirement for a customer to give their explicit permission to receive email communications from you, ideally through a double opt-in process, there is a much more active process of engagement by the customer. Effectively, they have made the first move and chosen to hear from you. Consequently, any email communications have been pre-approved – transforming email from outbound to inbound marketing. As long as you keep your email marketing efforts relevant and of value to the customer, the chances are that you will see excellent open and response rates as a result.
In order to make sure that your email marketing continues to work for you, it is worth taking the time to develop a much more strategic approach. Consider the following strategy:
- Set SMART marketing goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound
- Identify key metrics for each campaign
- Analyse campaign performance data
- Use insights to adapt future campaigns
To summarise, done right you can convert your email marketing from outbound to inbound, and see significantly higher conversions as a result.
A note on email marketing for the B2B sector
It is worth noting that broadly speaking, GDPR does not apply to the B2B sector. However, there remain some very important areas where your actions are very much within the jurisdiction of GDPR. Although it is considered acceptable under PECR to send unsolicited email to other businesses, there is a general requirement in law to have a demonstrable ‘legitimate business interest’. With this in mind, it would be acceptable, in theory, for a commercial ink supplier to initiate email contact with a photocopier wholesaler. Unless, that is, it turned out that the photocopier company was not technically a company but a sole trader – if this is the case, you are back to the fundamental rules of GDPR and it is not acceptable to email the lead.
With this in mind, even B2B businesses should strongly consider whether they are comfortable to rely on outbound marketing, given the risks involved. In practice, it would be far better to adopt the principles set out in GDPR and encourage all email contacts to expressly opt-in. Whether you are in the B2C or B2B sphere, done right this will boost the effectiveness of your email efforts.
Effective strategies for inbound marketing
Clearly, the focus now is on the customer initiating the relationship with your brand and your product or service. So email aside, what are the best inbound marketing strategies to adopt. Here are some of the most effective techniques to consider.
Pay per click
Pay per click (PPC) is a highly effective technique that puts your product or service in front of people when they are looking for exactly what you have to offer. Because you are in the right place at the right time, there is a very high likelihood that the customer will engage. Unlike traditional advertising, PPC adds value to the customer and is therefore perceived as something useful as opposed to an interruption. In this sense, PPC advertising is very different from the kind of advertising that you might see on television or in a magazine.
A well written, relevant blog is another powerful tool for inbound marketing as it provides the customer with content that is of value to them. Instead of directly selling a product or service, a quality blog serves to inform and ultimately encourage to the reader to take action of their own initiative – meaning that you are likely to generate significantly more leads and conversions compared with a direct advertisement.
It is worth noting that blogs are extremely effective for both B2C and B2B businesses.
Social media is all about the conversation, and engaging with customers who have already made the decision to follow or like your content is another proven way to generate leads and conversions, especially in the B2C sphere. Again, the principle is of qualified interest. In order to keep your social media marketing working effectively, don’t mass follow accounts in the hope of inflating your numbers, as this will be a waste of resource and put you straight back into the category of interruption marketing. Instead, build your fanbase and engagement by investing in original, creative content and consider supporting this with techniques such as:
- coupon codes
- links to exclusive offer pages
- limited-time deals
Both blogs and social media campaigns also have a positive effect on another key element of inbound marketing – SEO.
The importance of SEO for inbound marketing
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has always been of major importance. In the world of marketing post GDPR, given that outbound marketing is essentially a no-go area, the importance of SEO has leapt. In a nutshell, the marketing game is no longer about you finding customers – it is about customers finding you, and organic search engine results are one of the most trusted ways that you can achieve this objective.
Despite search engine results not being any form of endorsement, customers place a huge amount of trust in sites that rank highly in search engines such as Google and Bing, and research indicates that websites appearing in the top three organic positions have an extremely high likelihood of converting the customer. As a result, an even greater emphasis should now be placed on your organic SEO efforts. It is well worth investing in support from a professional to achieve and maintain a top ranking.
The final word
Whilst GDPR has introduced some serious challenges to the way that marketing is conducted, it is important to remember that this is very much a reflection of changing consumer behaviour rather than a sudden game changer. The pressure for companies to evolve their marketing strategies has been on for a long time – now, it has become an absolute requirement.
Ultimately, the requirements for consent to marketing under GDPR, whilst posing a challenge, also add a new dimension to marketing that, if used to your advantage, has the potential to increase leads and conversions – making your marketing efforts more focused, more strategic and as a result, generate more ROI.