How do you know when marketing automation is missing…or done completely wrong? This is the type of question that many may wonder about. Well, thankfully this week is the absolute perfect week to explore the successes and failures of businesses with their marketing automation. Why this week? I’m glad you asked. Because this Friday is the Y2K of the digital marketing era. What we are about to experience is potentially one of the most calamitous or greatest non-events in digital marketing history. I am of course referring to the GDPR legislation which goes into effect this Friday, May 25.

Not what you think

But what does this have to do with marketing automation? Contrary to your first thought I am not discussing the reasons why marketing automation is adversely affected (or even positively affected as some companies attempt to put a positive spin on losing their precious data). Instead, I’d like to focus on a different aspect of GDPR and how you can use this week in particular to determine if the companies you know and love are, first, using marketing automation, and second, using marketing automation correctly. Let’s go exploring.

What is GDPR

Okay, I’ve written about this previously on my own blog, and there are approximately 1 billion additional articles written on this topic from every major (and minor) company on the planet. I am absolutely not going to get into that defining and discussing aspect in this post. I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t handle yet another post on the topic. Here’s the shortest definition I can find:

GDPR gives residents broad rights over how data is handled, including the right to ensure that data is collected in a manner that’s accurate and secure with appropriate levels of consent. Individuals also reserve the right to have data erased, a.k.a. “the right to be forgotten”, and the right to data portability – meaning that data subjects can request their personal data in a commonly used and machine-readable format in order to give it to another data controller, and where feasible can require you to transmit it directly to the new data controller - Source

If you handle European Union residents’ personal data, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements apply to you.

Okay, make it through that? Or better yet, did you skip it because you already read it somewhere else? I’m okay with either answer, to be honest, and I don't blame you. But read the bold text. That’s what we care about. In fact two words in there jump out: European Union.

My Exemption Clause & Personal Indemnity

Before I go much further I just need to put this little aside in here. I’m not claiming this to be an adamant statement or even that all companies are misapplying things in this way. There are of course some nuances, various circumstances, and reasons for these emails. That is not within the scope of this post and I absolve myself from blame in those cases.

My supposition is that in spite of all the possible excuses there are many companies misusing or inadequately implementing marketing automation due to either their interpretation/understanding of GDPR, their marketing system shortcomings, or their incorrect usage of this software.

The Error in Marketing Automation

There are two types of GDPR emails that people are receiving as I hear about them. First, I hear quite a bit of noise from people getting notifications of Privacy Policy updates, and second is the ugly one, the email that lies at the heart of a major problem in marketing automation.

PSA, We’ve Updated our policies

Privacy Policy emails are system-wide and affect everyone, regardless of location, citizenship, residency, or any particular legislation. Of course these updates are occurring due in part to GDPR implications, but that’s beside the point in this instance. Privacy Policies for the most part are defined once for everyone and thus everyone should be updated when they are changed. If this is the email you receive, it gets a free pass, not a problem (although the sheer volume of them is a bit of a nuisance).

Everyone's inbox right now... #GDPR— Daniel Jackson (@cloakedninjas) May 22, 2018

The Bad Breakup

The second type of email is the real problem, by now you probably have seen one (or a dozen) and you will quickly recognize it based on the subject lines that read as follows:

“Let’s Stay Connected!”
“We need to talk, let’s not lose each other.”
“Are we breaking up?”
“The clock is ticking”
“Make sure you’re on the list”
“Can we keep in touch?”

Okay, I just can’t handle writing any more out. Needless to say they run the gamut from pleading to threatening in their tone. Tongue-in-cheek, they sound almost like a bad breakup with an unstable ex. This second type of email is where there’s a problem.

If the business is effectively using their marketing automation software then there is tremendous value in the concept of segmentation. This is a feature which lies at the heart of many aspects of marketing automation and demonstrates the true value of the software in the sense of automating personalized marketing messages. If a business is not properly using segmentation and personalization of their marketing messages…well, they’re doing it wrong. And when they do it wrong, the result is email spam. Lots and lots of email spam.

SPAM: unsolicited usually commercial messages (such as e-mails, text messages, or Internet postings) sent to a large number of recipients or posted in a large number of places
- Merriam-Webster

You know what this means? Marketing automation is not being done right. Businesses should be segmenting, personalizing, and sending appropriate messages to their audiences.

Please, again, read my caveat, there are valid reasons for mass-sending of the now infamous GDPR email; but there’s also mass abuse of this as well and the result is SPAM. If a business has the capabilities and the right marketing automation software to properly segment their customers and contacts, the result is targeted messages with relevant information for interested audiences.

And that's the real solution here: proper segmentation should allow a business to send the correct GDPR message to the part of their customer and contact base that is most affected by the regulations and changes. Not everyone needs to get blasted with the same email -- particularly when it doesn't affect them.

The unfortunate results

There’s a couple of unfortunate results which come from this behavior. First, the business is far less likely to get people to click on their email and as a result there is a higher likelihood of removing completely unrelated contacts from their database (unrelated = untouched by GDPR regulations). But perhaps second, and even more important, this SPAM messaging approach gives a less than ideal customer experience and makes the recipient think less favorably about the business. I don’t know about you but each time I get one of those emails now I look twice at who sent it. In many cases my view of the business is diminished as well.

Marketing automation is powerful stuff. Used correctly marketing automation can make the marketer’s life easier and the customer’s life better. However, if used wrong it has the exact opposite effect. And that’s not good for anyone. If you use marketing automation, use it wisely, if you don’t use marketing automation, consider this a strong reason why you should.