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GDPR and Email Marketing: Compliance Best Practices 2024

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For a long time, email marketing has proved to be one of the most effective methods to reach multiple people around the globe. Brands venturing into email marketing have databases full of their consumers' confidential and sensitive information, such as full name, home address, contact numbers, etc. In a serious effort to protect every consumer's data, the European Union established the GDPR. The GDPR and email marketing go hand-in-hand, and every marketer and brand owner must be well-informed about such regulations. This article will cover GDPR and email marketing and the best practices in complying with the regulations.

Key Takeaways

  • The GDPR and email marketing are interconnected, with GDPR impacting how businesses collect, store, and use personal data for marketing purposes.
  • The GDPR aims to safeguard consumer rights and data, requiring businesses to handle personal information with integrity, transparency, and accountability.
  • Key guidelines for GDPR and email marketing compliance include obtaining explicit consent, maintaining transparent privacy policies, implementing opt-in and opt-out mechanisms, ensuring data security measures, practicing data minimization, establishing data retention policies, ensuring third-party compliance, and conducting regular audits and updates.
  • Non-compliance with GDPR can result in significant fines, ranging from lower-tier penalties of up to €10 million or 2% of the company's global annual turnover to higher-tier penalties of up to €20 million or 4%.

What is The GDPR?

person using two macbooks
Security is imperative for users, subscribers, and consumers.
Like all citizens, every netizen (citizen of the internet) possesses the right to data protection. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a set of rules designed to give you more control over your data. It applies to organizations that collect, store, or process your data in the European Union (EU) or when offering goods or services to EU residents. The GDPR outlines specific rights for you, such as the right to access your data, the right to have your data erased, and the right to know how your data is being used. It also requires organizations to obtain explicit consent before processing their data and implement measures to protect them from unauthorized access or breaches. The GDPR ensures that companies and institutions handle personal information responsibly and transparently. Following its implementation on May 25, 2018, the GDPR took the internet by storm, as it does not just apply to businesses within the European Union but to businesses outside that handle the data of EU citizens. Now, you may ask, "Does GDPR apply to marketing?" Yes, the GDPR applies to marketing activities, especially those involving the processing of personal data. These include sending promotional emails, targeted advertising, collecting customer information for marketing purposes, and using cookies or tracking technologies on websites. Complying with the GDPR enables you to show your subscribers how much you value their data safety, building your business's credibility.

What Does GDPR Mean for Email Marketing?

email marketing stat
The GDPR aims to lessen and eradicate things that put subscribers at risk, but not this list. Source:
As mentioned, email marketing and GDPR go together. If you are into email marketing, you must know how GDPR and B2B email marketing work. The GDPR has significant implications for email marketing, particularly concerning how you collect, store, and use individuals' data for marketing purposes. Under GDPR, you must obtain explicit consent from recipients before sending them marketing emails. This means you need to clearly explain how subscribers' data will be used and give them the option to opt in or out of receiving marketing communications. Additionally, you must provide easy-to-use mechanisms for individuals to update their preferences or unsubscribe from your emails. GDPR also requires you to ensure the security and confidentiality of the data you collect, implement measures to prevent data breaches, and only retain data for as long as necessary for the specified purposes. GDPR encourages transparency, accountability, and respect for individuals' privacy rights in email marketing practices.

Key Guidelines in GDPR and Email Marketing Compliance

Compliance with GDPR in email marketing involves several best practices to ensure you handle personal data responsibly and by the law. Here are some key guidelines:

Obtain Explicit Consent

Obtaining your customer's consent and providing them with all honest details is crucial in email marketing.
When it comes to GDPR and email marketing, obtaining explicit consent is crucial. Doing so means you need to seek permission from individuals before using their data for marketing purposes. When seeking explicit consent, you need to communicate about what you're subscribers will be consenting to, such as the types of emails they will receive, how often they'll receive the emails, and any special offers. It's also important to ensure that email marketing consent is separate from other terms and conditions, avoiding bundling consent with unrelated actions or agreements. Instead, go for opt-in mechanisms that require subscribers to take a proactive step, such as ticking a box or clicking a confirmation link.

Transparent Privacy Policies

Maintaining transparent privacy policies is crucial for you to comply with GDPR and email marketing, ensuring that you have easily accessible policies outlining how you collect, store, and process personal data obtained through your email marketing efforts. Your privacy policy should provide subscribers with a comprehensive understanding of their rights regarding personal data, including the right to access, rectify, and delete information. Additionally, your privacy policy should detail the purposes for which you collect data, such as sending marketing emails, and explain the legal basis for processing this data. Transparency in your privacy policies involves using clear and understandable language for an average person and avoiding complex legal jargon that may obscure important information.

Opt-in and Opt-out Mechanisms

In GDPR and email marketing compliance, opt-in and opt-out mechanisms are crucial, especially in email marketing. Opt-in mechanisms require subscribers to provide consent before receiving marketing communications, ensuring their data is only used for the specific purposes they have agreed to. This can be done through checkboxes or confirmation emails that subscribers must interact with to indicate their consent. Opt-out mechanisms allow subscribers to easily withdraw their consent and stop receiving marketing emails at any time. Opting out usually involves providing unsubscribe links or preferences management options in every marketing communication, giving subscribers control over their data and preferences.

Data Security Measures

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The GDPR secures user data.
Data security measures are fundamental for your GDPR and email marketing compliance. GDPR mandates that you implement robust measures to protect the personal data you collect, store, and process. For email marketing, this involves employing encryption techniques to secure data, implementing access controls to limit who can access sensitive information, conducting regular security audits to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities, and providing ongoing training to employees on data protection practices. Additionally, you must ensure that any third-party services or tools you use for email marketing, such as a software like the one in our Ongage review, also adhere to GDPR's data security requirements. This ensures a comprehensive approach to data security and minimizes risks related to unauthorized access or breaches in your email marketing activities.

Data Minimization

Data minimization is a key principle of GDPR that emphasizes collecting and processing only the personal data necessary for your specific purposes. In GDPR and email marketing, data minimization means you should avoid collecting excessive or irrelevant information. Instead, focus on gathering data essential for effectively carrying out your marketing activities, such as email addresses and preferences related to email communications. By minimizing the amount of personal data you collect, you can reduce the risk of data breaches, limit potential privacy infringements, and enhance overall data protection and security measures. Adhering to the principle of data minimization helps you comply with GDPR's requirements and demonstrates your commitment to responsible data handling practices that prioritize subscribers' privacy rights and interests.

Data Retention Policies

Data retention policies are an important aspect of GDPR and email marketing compliance. GDPR requires you to establish clear guidelines regarding how long you will retain personal data, including data collected for your email marketing purposes. Your data retention policies should be based on the principle of retaining data only for as long as necessary to fulfill the purposes for which it was collected. In email marketing, you should define specific retention periods for different data types, such as subscriber information, email engagement metrics, and consent records. GDPR also requires you to retain personal data in a manner that complies with legal obligations. Your data retention policies help ensure that data is maintained appropriately and deleted when no longer needed. This ensures that you handle personal data responsibly and by GDPR's requirements.

Third-Party Compliance

Ensuring third-party compliance with GDPR is crucial for you, especially in email marketing, where you often utilize external tools and services like this in our Campaigner review. Under GDPR, you are held responsible for the data protection practices of third parties you engage with, such as email marketing platforms or data analytics providers. To achieve third-party compliance, you must conduct due diligence to assess a third party's GDPR adherence, security measures, and data protection practices. Continuous monitoring is necessary to ensure that third parties maintain GDPR compliance throughout their engagement with you. This includes conducting regular audits, reviewing security protocols, and verifying that data processing aligns with GDPR principles.

Regular Audits and Updates

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Provide audits and updates regularly.
Regular audits and updates are essential for ensuring compliance with GDPR, particularly in email marketing. Conducting periodic audits of your data processing practices helps you identify gaps or areas of non-compliance, allowing you to take corrective action promptly. Audits should cover data collection, storage, consent management, security measures, and data retention policies related to your email marketing activities. Additionally, staying updated with changes in GDPR and email marketing is crucial for ensuring that your practices remain compliant over time. This includes keeping abreast of new guidelines, amendments, and interpretations of GDPR requirements that may impact your email marketing strategies. By prioritizing regular audits and staying informed about GDPR updates, you can maintain a high level of compliance and lessen potential risks related to data protection.


  • What is the GDPR and email marketing fine? Lower-tier fines can go up to €10 million or 2% of the company's global annual turnover, whichever is higher. These fines typically apply to less severe infringements, such as not conducting data protection impact assessments or not keeping records in order. Higher Tier Fines can be as high as €20 million or 4% of the company's global annual turnover, depending on which amount is greater. This tier applies to more serious breaches, such as violating the core principles of data processing, not having appropriate customer consent, or failing to notify authorities about a data breach.
  • Are emails protected by GDPR? As mentioned, the GDPR and email marketing go together. Emails are protected by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when they contain personal data. The GDPR applies to any processing of personal data, which includes collecting, storing, using, and transmitting personal information such as names, email addresses, phone numbers, and any other data that can directly or indirectly identify an individual.
  • What constitutes personal data under GDPR? Personal data under GDPR includes any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person, such as a name, email address, phone number, location data, online identifier, or factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural, or social identity of that person.
  • How does GDPR affect email marketing outside the EU? GDPR applies not only to businesses within the European Union but also to businesses outside the EU that handle the data of EU citizens. Any organization that offers goods or services to EU residents or monitors their behavior falls under the scope of GDPR, impacting their email marketing practices regardless of their physical location.
  • Do I need consent for email marketing under GDPR? Yes, under GDPR, you need explicit and informed consent from individuals before sending them marketing emails. This means individuals must actively opt-in to receive marketing communications from you, and you must clearly explain how their data will be used for marketing purposes.
Aside from staying on top of the GDPR and email marketing updates, you can benefit from keeping abreast of this year's email marketing trends in this "Top Email Marketing Trends to Watch Out For in 2024" article.
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