Marketing in the age of GDPR by Lee Schneider

How do you market, promote, and communicate online in the age of GDPR?

If you’ve checked your email Inbox lately, you know a new regulation went into effect a month ago that changes the way businesses, startups, and online communicators reach out on the web. In the EU, GDPR is the law. Here in the US, it’s an option, but the right choice to make. If you want to comply — I’ll give you a few reasons in a moment — you will have to stay away from your old ways.

Falling into Old Habits

I’ve stopped running Facebook ads for client campaigns. It’s a bold move, but I don’t want to operate under a surveillance marketing model that allows Facebook to collect data about my clients and people who visit my clients’ website. I’m not happy that Facebook might handle that data carelessly, allowing it to be misused by the likes of Cambridge Analytica. I used to run a lot of Facebook advertising. I also advertised on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. My thinking has evolved on this. I’ve changed. Now I think surveillance marketing is wrong. You may not agree. But if you do, you know you can’t use Facebook advertising, Google advertising, or any kind of advertising that collects data without user consent and then uses that data to bombard them with ads that follow them around on the internet.


At the core of the GDPR is the concept of “opt-in.” Prospective clients have to give you permission to market, whether by email, ads, or on your site, if you use cookies to track visitor behavior. Using WordPress, it’s easy to install any number of plug-ins that will create a cookie notification and ask your web visitor to click a consent check box. If you use MailChimp when you gather a subscriber’s email you can ask permission and promise to store the subscriber’s data properly. I used to do a lot of cold email campaigns. It involved doing research on companies, startups, and individuals I wanted to reach, harvesting their publicly available emails, building a list, and then loading it into an app like Reply is a brilliant app that launches an email sequence to a prospective client and keeps the sequence going until the person replies or asks you to stop. The problem I see with that is I, as the sender, never asked for the receiver’s permission to start the campaign. Campaigns from Reply and other apps are still running every day here in the United States because there is no GDPR to stop them. I am staying away from such campaigns, and not recommending them to clients, because they are not opt-in campaigns. They are not in the spirit of GDPR.

Why I Believe In Original Media

If you write a good blog, people will read it of their own accord. If you create a podcast or a video series, people will discover it if it’s good. These are opt-in methods of communicating. Reading and listening to your work is a choice. Your reader or listener may subscribe if she wants more media from you. It will take more work for them to find you. You will need to create enough work so that it shows up higher in search results. You will need clever titles and topics that attract fans. But there are big benefits to working this way. It demands you create work of value. People who arrive at your site via organic search, or by clicking a link in your email newsletter, or who are subscribers, will be loyal listeners and readers, more likely to become clients of your company and users of your app.

Proof in the Numbers

Once people have opted in to your media, you can see how effective your work is. For podcasts, check your number of plays in PodBean. Look at Vimeo to see how many downloads and plays on your videos. The time spent watching and listening is gold, and you will see there is more of it than when you run an ad to bring traffic. Most of the time the traffic coming to your site from advertising has a high bounce rate — please look and leave. A small percentage, usually three percent, ten percent if you are lucky, will stick around long enough to listen or subscribe.

The Challenge and the Response

No doubt creating media is more challenging than simply placing an ad. Not everyone is up to being a creator, particularly if you want quick results. But when you stop the ads, the traffic to your site stops too. What if you want results that last? You need to build a network of friends and fans online who will convert to customers and users. You will need to be discovered online in organic search and develop media that is compelling enough to stick around for. Discoverability involves tactics like guest posting on other websites, creating inbound links to your site. It means posting media often enough so that they Google and other bots crawl your site for new content, they find some.

This is all very new. We are all finding our way. I’ve probably made some mistakes in my methods. But I believe complying with the spirit of the GDPR is the right thing to do. Making better media will certainly connect us with the right people — the people we need to reach and who want to hear from us.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
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