In the run-up to the implementation of GDPR at the end of this week, heaven knows how many organisations are frantically emailing their customer and prospect lists asking them to opt in to continue to receive their communications – certainly hundreds, probably thousands, possibly tens of thousands. It’s a level playing field, or almost – give or take the odd regulatory quirk, everyone has to say the same things and deliver the same call to action (“opt in if you want to keep on hearing from us”). So how’s everyone getting on?
But what I do know is that, looking at the hundred-or-so emails that I’ve received over the last few weeks, the quality runs the gamut, as Dorothy Parker nearly said, from pitiful to mediocre. I don’t think I’ve received a single communication that really did anything positive or good for my relationship with the brand. And I’ve received a great many which, when they caught me in two minds about whether to opt in or not, filled me with such negativity that I decided not to.
Much of what’s worst about many of the messages are the headings. I can’t decide which was the most hopeless from a shortlist including one which said only “General” and another which said “GDPR Survey Link.” (I’m pretty sure, though, that in third place was “GDPR updates to DIBOR emails,” not aided by the fact that I haven’t the faintest idea who or what DIBOR is.)
Most aren’t quite that bad, but they’re not a lot better. I’d say that only one rung higher up the ladder of effective communication are the ones where, as so often in our industry, stupid useless “creatives” think their job is to do something with words which makes the message incomprehensible rather than actually helping to tell the story. A retailer called Thyme kicks off “Thyme to opt in.” The Gatwick Express says “Final call before boarding.” Given the crisis that generally surrounds email open rates these days, it’s very hard to believe that this kind of opacity is the way forward.
Next there are a few odd men out (and in the case of the first of these I use the word “men” advisedly, since it’s from male moustache-growing charity the Movember Foundation). Plainly defeated by the whole thing, their email begins “We have to say goodbye soon,” which is strange because the whole point of the communication is that we don’t have to. And online retailer Hush comes on to me with the line “A love letter from Hush,” which I have to say since I can remember nothing about ever doing business with them is love of a sadly unrequired kind.
Amidst these exceptions and anomalies, the large majority adopt a consistent approach with a headline about staying or keeping in touch, and a short piece of explanatory copy. This is fairly sensible, although maybe a little short of “what’s in it for me?”, so you might imagine all is well with this lot: but not so, because there turns out to be a wide range of things that can go wrong during and indeed after the opt-in process. Lengthy and complicated questionnaires, forms that don’t work, pre-populated forms pre-populated with the wrong information, processes that take you to websites you had no interest in – a significant proportion of emailers (up to half, I’d say) offer experiences bad enough to put us right off the idea of remaining in contact.
And then of course it hardly seems fair to mention it, but there is the whole tricky business of offering some kind of distinctive brand experience, intended to play some part even if only a small one in shaping our perceptions of difference. Do you know, in all honesty I don’t think I’ve received any of those.
And one more thing: although the GDPR timetable has been entirely clear for months, it does all seem to have turned into the most monumental stampede to hit Friday’s deadline. The first email I received was on Wednesday 9th May, and all the others have been jostling for attention in a period of a little over a fortnight.
It’s true that it’s in the interest of both providers and consumers alike to clean up the database from time to time. There’s little point in maintaining records of millions of people who have no further interest in what you have to offer.
But the depressing thing about these last couple of weeks is that in quite a few cases, I did have an interest, if perhaps a slightly less-than-red-hot one. It was only irritation at the uselessness of the message that made me pretend I didn’t.