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Business-to-business (B2B) direct marketing to many people is just email marketing; but what impact will the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), effective from 25th May, have on your campaigns?

This article is part one of three providing observations and practical tips about maintaining contact with your existing customers and new contacts in order to develop and keep your database compliant after GDPR takes effect. PLEASE NOTE THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED TO BE DEFINITIVE ABOUT GDPR ITSELF. The regulating body, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), have lots of GDPR guidance on their website


First it is important to recognise that email marketing shouldn’t be instead of other forms of direct marketing such as direct mail. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but in the context of GDPR it’s what you do with data you have now and the data you collect in the future that will need your attention.

Your aim should be marketing data collection best practice ready for May 25th. Undertaking this task provides an opportunity for you as say, a B2B service provider, to build a better relationship and greater trust with your customers and contacts by being transparent about how you use the data you hold about them for marketing purposes.

The key issues for marketers is whether you have consent to use this data and if what you send is of legitimate interest. In practice this means deciding if the grounds for your approach to a customer or prospect is either ‘consent-based’ i.e. you have permission to be in contact – or  is of ‘legitimate interest’ i.e. the subject matter is relevant to their job role.

Whichever approach you decide – ‘Consent based’ or ‘Legitimate interest’ – choose one and stick to it – don’t switch from one to the other just because you want to keep sending emails.

1) ‘Consent’ – have I got permission to be in touch?

It will be wise to utilise the time between now and May 25th to contact as many existing customers and prospects as possible to check they have given their permission for your firm to be in touch.

  • Note that customers and prospects need to be treated differently. This includes agreeing what an ‘existing customer’ is – someone who has placed business with you in the last 12, 18 or 24 months?
  • Those who are ‘only’ a contact/enquiry cannot be considered the same after May 25th.
  • With regard to making contact before then, common sense says be reasonable in the number of approaches you make when seeking re-permission to stay in touch.

Consent includes has that person legitimately ‘opted in’ in the first place? Best practice, though not mandatory for B2B marketers (but is for business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers) is getting recipients ‘double opted-in’. This involves them confirming the email address you have as theirs and that they wish to continue receiving communications from you. Having this process in place will help should you need to prove you have permission to use this data to the ICO if requested to do so.

2) ‘Legitimate interest’ – the grey area?

It has been stated that ‘B2B marketers will be able to make use of the legitimate interest legal ground for their marketing activity in most instances’. Interpreting legitimate interest i.e. relevancy to the recipient could become a big issue.

Average open rates results for UK SME email campaigns are about 25%, with a click-through rate of about 4% – results that most business would be happy with. But ask yourself a question from the recipient’s perspective ‘Why do you keep sending me emails that aren’t wanted or even opened? There is an opportunity now to speak (and not send another email) to your customers and contacts to find out if they are still interested in your firm and indeed, what they are specifically interested in. Find out more about this in Part 2…

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Common sense is as rare as genius

Ralph Waldo Emerson