Email

GDPR

No, I am not asking you to re-sign up to my website. You’re OK.

But if you’re based in the EU like me, then you’ve probably been swamped with direct emails from businesses asking if I can confirm that I’m happy to continue to receive their missives. This Friday, GDPR comes into effect and appears that essentially every company ever, has only considered the implications of this in the last month or so, despite it coming into law back in 2016.

The thing is that there is a lot of, often contradictory, advice floating around, and a lot of medium to smaller sized companies feel like they’re going to lose out.

The general principle of GDPR – that citizens should be in control of their own data – is excellent. And yet, we know it’s never as simple as that.

Furthermore, advice is often not entirely clear. Unless you’ve actually hired lawyers expert in this field, you may be lost. Indeed, even if you do speak to lawyers expert in this field, you might still be lost. And that’s difficult, because people and businesses want to understand what practical steps they need to take.

Hence we’ve had a barrage of emails in the last couple of months, which has become a torrent in the last weeks.

But amidst that torrent, there seems to be two general types of email that are being sent out:

  1. Please confirm that you want to continue to receive email from us.
  2. We’ve updated our privacy policy. Have a look here.

It feels like the smaller the company you are, the more likely you are to send the former – perhaps because you don’t have advice to do anything else.

While the larger company you are, the more likely you are to have sent the latter.

A case in point would be businesses who use Mailchimp for their email solution. In general terms, these are likely to be smaller companies – since big groups tend to invest in their own often internally-managed email systems. Users of Mailchimp have in effect told their customers that they must collect consent from all their subscribers. Therefore, it’s been noticeable that many of the Mailchimp powered lists I’m on have been busy getting me to resubscribe.

And the reality is that in many of these cases, I purposefully gave a company my email address in order that they could send me emails, and as long as they said they weren’t doing anything dubious with my details – selling them to someone else for example – then I don’t believe that these resubscribe missives are always necessary.

But given that there are enormous fines attached to GDPR misuse, everyone plays it safe. And that comes with an enormous cost – more of which later.

Compare and contrast with much larger companies. They are also affected by GDPR, but their messaging is very different. For the most part, they have been sending me emails saying that they have updated their privacy policy and providing me with a link to go and have a look. They also provide a link to unsubscribe, and probably include a message about how seriously they treat all of this. But they key is that, if I do nothing, I remain on their lists.

Now it may be that these larger companies have been more GDPR compliant for a while now, and that their batteries of lawyers have meant that they have consent already for everything they do. But this is essentially the approach taken by some of the giants of the industry. And these titans are far more likely to do things that have a real-world impact on me. Consider Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for starters.

The reason I said that there’s a cost to smaller businesses is that their email lists are likely to be decimated come Friday.

For starters, email open rates tend to be considered good if they reach 25%. So a single email is unlikely to be seen by upwards 75% of people to start with. Add to that the need to positively do something off the back of that, and you’re potentially facing an enormous fall-off.

Now add into the mix that everyone else is doing the same thing at pretty much the same time, and you can probably mark down that already small number again, as email recipient fatigue sets in.

By this Friday, a lot of businesses are going to have a lot smaller email lists that they did this week. I wonder if any of them will share that information?

Email marketing is perhaps the cheapest marketing a business can do. Even with low open rates, the cost can be close to zero in producing those emails, and if some companies’ marketing campaigns are to be explained, they counter this by using volume. You didn’t open yesterday’s or today’s email, but by God, you’ll open tomorrow’s!

Furthermore, email marketing can mean upselling products to your best customers. You already have a relationship of some sorts, so getting that person to spend more is easier than getting a new customer on board with a brand they may not have heard of.

This time next week, emails from Amazon won’t have stopped, but they may have dried up from that small UK-based cycle clothing manufacturer that I once bought something from, and who’s GDPR consent email I missed in my busy inbox.

News by Email

On the one hand we keep hearing that email is dying. The young don’t use it, and anyway, we have an app for that.

On the other hand it still feels pretty much impossible to do a lot of things without email. Where do your online purchase confirmations go? A myriad of apps? What if my friend isn’t on Facebook or Twitter?

There seems to have been a bit of a flurry of emails recently in the quality end up the news market. A couple of weeks ago, the FT launched FirstFT – described as “your essential daily briefing.”

It launched two weeks’ ago, and is sent out via email at 6am each weekday morning with a quick summary of top stories both on the FT.com website, and elsewhere. It replaced some previous email offerings.

No sooner does that arrive then today we learn that The Economist has launched The Economist Espresso. This is both an early morning email, and an Android/iOS app that gives you a five minute summary of things that you need to know. Judging from their first day, no story is more than a couple of hundred words.

THe difference between the two is that the FT’s service is free to all, although FT stories do come out of the small number of stories non-FT subscribers can read a month. Other links may be free. The Economist’s service is either £2.49 a month on its own, or more usefully perhaps, free to current subscribers (of which I am).

So yes, with The Economist Espresso, there’s an app as well as an email, but I think it’s interesting that email is still so important. That’s perhaps not surprising because however much people suggest that we can get our stories from social media, that becomes a lot harder if you have a broad social media footprint following or friending many people. An email still offers the ability to coral an array of stories or links into one place.

For me, that one place has always most usefully been an RSS reader. That’s why I still use Feedly heavily – and indeed pay for a Pro account. But I’m aware that the wider community find something like a feed reader harder, even with apps like Flipboard taking some of that hard work out of the equation.

Of course the FT and Economist are two of the latest of many news organisations that offer emails – The Guardian has a wide range of automatically generated emails. And then there are more authorial ones like the excellent Fiver.

Election Fundraising

democrats

Last week Jon Stewart did a very good piece on the emails that the Democratic campaign has been sending out ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections.

(Theoretically you can see the video here. Except that in the UK, you can’t. It suggests you go to Comedy Central’s UK site, but that only has some extended interviews, and little in the way of the political pieces.)

Anyway, that’s all very well. What bearing does that have on a Brit like me, not living in the country and not having a vote?

Well for some unknown reason, I’ve ended up on the mailing list of the “Ready for Hillary” PAC. Now I’m sure that I could have taken myself off this list if I’d used the unsubscribe button. But I thought – why not get an idea of how this all works and what gets sent through? So I’ve been quietly ignoring and “archiving” their emails for months. I’ve ignored all the hullabaloo surrounding a not-very-good book. I don’t want to pay thousands of dollars to go to a meal with her. I don’t want to sign her birthday card. In general, I’m a disinterested observer.

But while we wait to see if Hillary actually runs (OK, wait to see when she runs), my email address must have been shared with others in the Democratic campaigning world. Because I’ve been getting an awful lot of emails about an election that I don’t get a vote in, and taking place in a country I don’t live in.

In this instance it’s the “House Majority” PAC or Political Action Committee. And in a relatively short time, they’ve been sending a lot of emails over a relatively short period of time. This is what Stewart was talking about.

Since 28 September, so about three weeks ago, when I think the emails the started, I’ve had close to 60 messages. That obviously means plenty more than one a day – more like two a day. Then last week it was:

Oct 13 – 2
Oct 14 – 4
Oct 15 – 6
Oct 16 – 7

I think there was some kind of cut-off around then for fundraising. But 7 emails on the same subject in one day?

And then there are the subject lines. Full of gloom and despair:

“I am worried Adam”
“good news and bad news…”
“it gets worse…”
“we weren’t expecting this”
“utterly crushed”
“even more of a shock”
“no easy way to say it”
“..not in a good place”
“our kitchen sink is next?”
“we are still grinding away”

Well I suppose that last one was vaguely encouraging. But otherwise, those are a selection of subjects (with punctuation intact) in chronological order. Given the overall nihilistic tone of this campaign, I don’t think I could summon up the will to “Chip in $25” after that lot.

I know the Tories and Labour have all been hiring their American election campaign managers and strategists. Top tip: don’t go all gloom and doom on us.

Update: I’ve received another THREE emails between first writing this piece earlier this evening, and hitting publish just now. I’m also slightly concerned that 38 Degrees are using the “Did you see this email…” format that sees multiple emails being sent with the same subject line.