The stroke of midnight, May 25th, 2018 marked the effective implementation date of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Although GDPR is applicable to EU countries, the ripple effect in our global, internet-connected world is momentous. GDPR has changed the email marketing landscape and made the policies tighter, more stringent, requiring likely the most updates to privacy policies since the first privacy policy was born, likely in some random mega-company’s legal office under the cover of night.

As the New Year chimed in for 2019, everything began to change – and rapidly. Many companies in the US have opted to adopt GDPR policies in order to maintain a global data policy, or as a pre-emptive measure in anticipation of the US potentially adopting similar regulations.  Evidence of this adoption was clear as early as January 1st, I received at minimum 10 emails with new privacy policies from companies I’ve subscribed or purchased from over the past few years. Through the following two weeks, I received more each day and this cycle continued throughout most of January. This change has been felt across the globe, not just in the EU, making marketers fearful of sending any email at all without clear consent.

It may appear at first glance that business has lost the war on the right to market versus the right to privacy. Who knew we would reminisce about the golden days of the US CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, when it seemed we had it all figured out. Transactional email was a necessary, programmatic function and therefore, we could email those who were opted out of marketing messages without fear of reprisal. We could even add marketing related messaging so long as it was not the primary message, aka the 80/20 rule – 80% transactional business, 20% promotion. Those were the dreamy days of yore…

Though GDPR seems wildly strict, and it certainly is a stronger protective measure than the US CAN-SPAM Act, it is not intended to stymie a business’s ability to operate, market, or grow. The intent is to protect consumers from abuse of their data and maintain more control over who can use their data for marketing purposes. It’s quite simple really, but what has happened is a backlash on transactional messaging and scrutiny so focused on compliance that often, the point of even bothering becomes moot.


Adding to the confusion and fear of compliance are cases such as UK grocery brand Morrison’s. The company was fined £10,500 for sending a marketing message, intended to be a transactional message, to all consumers, including those opted-out. Ironically, the intent of the email was indeed transactional to request they update their personal details – to be GDPR compliant! However, the failure they made was incentivizing the action with a coupon reward, which made it a marketing message.

So, you may be thinking, “How do I ensure I’m compliant and is it worth the effort?” An excellent resource to help answer those questions can be found in the article “GDPR and Transactional Emails” by Robert Bateman (, September 4, 2018). In the article, Bateman shares Q&A to ask yourself to help make the determination if your idea is transactional or marketing to maintain compliance. Questions such as, “Does the customer need to receive this message?”, and “Does it contain anything that could be considered marketing?” Mind you, his article doesn’t take the place of your legal department, but it certainly helps weed out the “definitely not complaint” ideas from the “safe to send” opportunities.

GDPR has not killed off the transactional message- it has simply provided a filter for the sneaky marketing secondary messaging the US CAN-SPAM act allows. However, the need and purpose of transactional messaging has not changed. Customers still need to know about their accounts, password changes, receipts they requested to receive electronically, loyalty account updates, account statements, and so much more, all dependent on your business and services. GDPR has actually provided an opportunity to refine your transactional strategy to deliver brand-right, smart messaging to underscore the value you provide your loyal customers.


Transactional messaging, even without a blatant marketing message, when strategically utilized can actually drive 8X more opens than marketing messaging (, Emil Kristensen, October 3, 2018). Further, with a few strategic and thoughtful adjustments, you can increase your brand lift simply by streamlining generic, automated web triggered emails with your brand template and applying trigger and automation strategies. The DMA notes that “over 75% of email revenue is generated by triggered campaigns, rather than one-size-fits-all campaigns. Automated email campaigns account for 21% of… revenue.” (DMA, via Campaign Monitor December, 2018). That’s a whole lot of power packed into relevant transactional messaging.

How can you make the switch to relevant, thoughtful and compliant transactional messaging? Here’s the top 5 things to consider to optimize your GDPR complaint transactional messaging strategy:
  1. Review everything you currently deploy and ask yourself:
    1. Is it branded or generic?
    2. Is it providing customer value? (Stand in their shoes!)
    3. Is there a marketing message, or is it straight up transactional?
  1. How are these messages currently triggered?
    1. Individual triggers off web and purchase transactions?
    2. Behavior based communications?
    3. A comprehensive trigger strategy?
  1. Have you created automations to deliver a thoughtful experience to drive brand lift and increase perceived brand value?
  1. Are you considering the consumer first, with every interaction?
    1. Are you making it easy, especially if you need information from them?
    2. Are you keeping it simple, clear, and clean?
  1. Are you being relevant?
    1. With content?
    2. With timing?
    3. With purpose?
Relevancy is paramount with all transactional messaging. If they don’t need it, don’t send it. If they don’t ask for it, don’t include it. But rather than optimizing your strategy with your marketing hat on, use your consumer hat – sign up as a new person and purchase from your company. What experience did you have? What messaging did you receive that was relevant, or irrelevant? Was it easy? Ask all 5 questions of yourself as a consumer and as a marketer – the results will be both illuminating and actionable, with every potential to achieve successful optimization.

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