Coming along like a steamroller to organisations which store personal data is GDPR – the EU General Data Protection Regulation. Although intended primarily to counter some of the massive personal data losses we’ve seen in the news, GDPR encompasses all forms of personal data held by organisations.

For marketers, this specifically impacts on mailing lists and e-mail marketing. One way or another, many e-mail campaigns have been traditionally sent to – ahem – lists of unverified provenance. After 25 May 2018, doing this could be a significant business risk. We’re talking fines of up to €20 million or 4% of your global turnover.

E-mail marketing is likely to move out of the ‘quick and easy’ camp with some alacrity.

Good. It’s about time.

Like many forms of marketing, e-mailers are statistically ineffective – partly because they’re intrusive, partly because they’re untargeted, but mainly because a large percentage of the recipients are not yet ready to buy (regardless of whether they’re interested in what you’re peddling). Chet Holmes’ buyers’ pyramid tells us that up to 97% of sales and marketing falls on stony ground. At any one time, just 3% of people are typically in ‘buying mode’ (ready to buy now). 6%–7% are ‘open to buying’ so could be persuaded, with the right pitch. But 30% of people are not thinking about buying, 30% ‘don’t think’ they are interested and 30% ‘know’ they are not interested.

We can debate the actual percentages, but I doubt that Holmes was that far off.

E-mail marketing gets around this rather inconvenient truth with sheer volume – whether that’s numbers of people targeted or the size and scope of campaigns. It’s not that marketing doesn’t work – it does – but when not properly targeted it’s statistically wasteful.

There has been a place and need for indiscriminate mailings, now and again. But it needs weight of numbers to succeed and it’s really not a marketing strategy. GDPR’s need to ensure the provenance of every person on a list pretty much rules out continual blind mailings. Companies must be sure of their data.

A sure-fire consequence of GDPR is that many mailing lists will be culled – significantly.

Companies are scrambling to improve the compliance of their lists – sometimes sending out mailers to ask people to ‘opt in to continue to receive mailings’. But if a company is sending out irrelevant, intrusive e-mailers, just how likely is it that people with whom they don’t have any kind of real relationship will sign up?  

Some have predicted that this will be the end of e-mail marketing, but that’s highly unlikely. It is a hammerblow and it will force a creative rethink as well as compliance.

Without sheer numbers on which to rely, the creative focus has to be relevance and quality. This means building and maintaining opted-in lists, growing social followers and, most importantly, giving people what they want – great content – rather than what they don’t.

These are all sound marketing principles – and the key foundations of good content marketing. To talk to people for more of the time, you have to give them what they want. Something that interests them, scratches their itches or fixes their problems. You can’t just sell, sell and sell to them. They’ll buy when they’re ready – and it’s up to you to have positioned yourself as more than a street trader by then.

Great content helps you do this. It provides people with something useful, or something entertaining. Something they will want to receive, absorb and share. Its relevance attracts people who have a genuine interest in your products and services. That may mean your mailing lists have fewer people on it, but 10,000 targeted prospects are worth more than 100,000 indiscriminate ones. It’s common sense and good marketing.