You probably know that marketing relies on data. But it’s not just about collecting information and analyzing it—it’s also about understanding how your customers feel about your brand, and how you can use that information to improve their experience as well as your bottom line. But with GDPR taking effect, you need to be aware of the marketing efforts and responsibilities when it comes to protecting consumer data. In this post, we’ll explain what GDPR is and why it’s relevant to marketers. We’ll also talk about how you can comply with its requirements.

Why is GDPR important in marketing?

GDPR is a big deal for marketing. It is a data protection regulation that applies to any business that processes personal data in the EU. Personal data is any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person. Any business that has customers or clients in the EU requires to comply with GDPR if it processes personal data about those people.

Here are the top reasons, besides it being the law, why it’s important for marketers to understand GDPR:

  • Increased transparency: Companies will be more transparent about how they use customers’ data, what they’re doing with it, and why. This means that the customers will have more information about how their data is being used by companies and can make better decisions about which ones to trust or avoid based on how they treat their customers’ personal data.
  • Improved privacy and security: By having a clear set of rules about how data can be used, companies will be able to better protect their customers’ personal data. This means that companies will need to ensure that their systems are secure enough to keep this information safe from hackers and other malicious actors who might want to steal it from them.
  • Build trust: Customers are more likely to trust companies that follow the rules of GDPR than those who do not follow them because they know their personal data is protected by law. This can make it easier for companies to get people interested in their products or services by building trust between themselves and their customers before launching any kind of marketing campaign.
  • Increased accountability: One of the main purposes of GDPR is to make sure that companies aren’t collecting or using more information than they need to provide their service—and this means they can’t just collect anything from anyone and everyone who signs up for their services. This also means that if there are any breaches, then companies will have to be held accountable for those breaches.

How does GDPR affect digital marketing?

Here are a few ways how GDPR has affected digital marketing:

Legal processing of data

Under GDPR, a company can process the personal data of its users if it has one of six legal bases for processing, such as consent, contract, legal obligation, legitimate interest, vital interests, public task, or legitimate interests for marketing purposes.

The most likely basis of processing will be either legitimate interest or consent. Consent is the most common way that companies process personal data in order to carry out digital marketing activities. If a company can’t obtain valid consent from customers before collecting their personal data for marketing purposes (e.g., because it’s impossible or impractical), then it can seek an alternative basis for processing by relying on legitimate interests as its legal basis for doing so. Legitimate interest allows companies to process personal data if there is a legitimate reason for doing so that is not outweighed by the rights and freedom of your customers.

Marketing consent

The most important change that GDPR brings is that you will have to get explicit consent from your customers to use their personal data. If you don’t have consent, then you won’t be able to use personal data as part of your digital marketing strategy.

You’ll also have to make sure that whatever form of consent you’re using is really clear and easy for your customers to understand. Remember: there are some exemptions from GDPR that allow companies to collect data without explicit consent, but these exceptions are few and far between—so make sure you’re following the rules.

Data rights and management

GDPR grants users several rights over ther data that a company is bound to respect. Here’s a quick rundown of the GDPR rights that you must consider n you marketing strategies:

Right to be informed: Companies will have to provide individuals with clear, concise, and easy-to-understand information about how they are collecting and processing their personal data.

Right of access: Users can request a copy of the personal data held on them by the company, as well as ask for it to be corrected if it is inaccurate. Users also have the right to object to their personal data being processed for direct marketing purposes at any time.

Right to rectification: If a user believes that their personal data is inaccurate or incomplete, they can request that it be corrected by the company holding it.

Right to erasure (or to be forgotten): If a user wishes for their personal data no longer be processed by a company, they can request erasure of all copies held by them or third parties acting on their behalf.

Right to object processing (including profiling): Users have the right to opt out of having their data used for direct marketing purposes.

As a result of these changes, marketers will need to take steps towards ensuring that they are compliant with GDPR by ensuring that they are only collecting the minimum amount of information from consumers and storing it securely. It is also important for marketers to ensure they are transparent with consumers regarding how they intend to use their data and how long they wish to retain it for.

Contextual advertising

Contextual advertising is one of the biggest changes that GDPR will bring to the advertising industry. It’s a shift away from targeting customers based on their profile and instead focuses on customers’ content and what they are already searching for or consuming online. For example, if someone has recently searched for an item like a table, you can use contextual advertising to show them ads for similar products.

This type of targeting will still be allowed under GDPR, but it may require more careful monitoring by advertisers and marketers.

Email marketing

Email marketing has been a staple of digital marketing since its inception. It’s easy to set up, and it’s cheap to maintain. But with the advent of GDPR, email marketing has changed in a few ways.

First, you have to have consent from each person who receives your email in order to do so—and that means collecting some extra information from them. This can be done with a double opt-in process, where the customer gives you permission by clicking on a link in an email they get after signing up for your service.

Second, you must offer an unsubscribe option at all times—even if someone has already consented to receive messages from you.

GDPR restricts the collection of new email addresses and other contact information as well as the use of existing email addresses and other contact information. You can send direct marketing emails to existing customers without their prior consent if you have an existing relationship with them. However, you cannot send them to new prospects or anyone who has not previously purchased from you without their explicit consent. If you have a legitimate interest in contacting these people in order to sell something, then you can legally send them marketing emails without consent.

What digital marketers don’t like about GDPR?

Here are a few things that marketers do no like about GDPR:

  • Cost of GDPR compliance — To comply with the GDPR laws, marketers would require to spend a significant amount based on the types and quantity of personal data they process. The digital marketing agencies would need to pay for any data discovery tools they use, additional staffing, etc. Moreover, large organizations might have to bear the expense of assigning a data protection officer who takes legal responsibility to ensure GDPR compliance.
  • Time consumed to implement GDPR — Complying with the GDPR can often be complex and challenging and therefore time-consuming. Marketers would have to spend considerable time and effort to redefine their marketing strategies as their brand grows.
  • Cost of non-compliance — The penalties for violating the GDPR can heavily cost up to €20 million or 4% of an organization’s global annual revenue for the preceding year.
  • Too much/stricter regulations — Some marketers find it hard to embrace the reality that the government is trying to regulate them; maybe because they think excessive regulation can stifle their creativity and innovation. This is mostly applicable to those marketers trying to reach just a few potential clients in the EU.

There is no denying the fact that GDPR poses certain challenges in digital marketing. However, you cannot disregard the GDPR any longer; since it is not an option, but government regulation. Moreover, it is highly essential to keep your customer data safe and secure.

Checklist to comply with GDPR for marketing

We’ve put together a GDPR checklist for marketing to help you get compliant. Here are the steps to comply with GDPR for marketing:

  • Audit database: Audit your database and identify all personal data, where it came from, how it’s used, and where it’s stored.
  • Define and establish your legal processing: Determine what kind of businesses you are running, how you process personal data, and what type of processing activities you do. For marketing, the legal basis for processing data is going to be either legitimate interests or user consent.
  • Double down on consent: Double-check that you have consent for every use for which you need consent; make sure that this consent is valid, and ensure that the consent is specific enough to cover all your uses.
  • Establish opt-in and opt-outs for emails and forms: Make sure you have an opt-in and opt-out system in place for email subscriptions, online forms, and every other place where you will collect data so that people have the choice to decide whether or not they want to receive marketing communication from you.
  • Update privacy policy: Your privacy policy should include information about how you’re going to use customer data as well as who has access to it—including third parties like advertisers. It should also outline what happens if someone wants their data removed from your database or if something goes wrong with the security measures protecting it.

  • Use advertising cookies with consent: If you’re going to use any kind of advertising cookies in your marketing efforts, then those cookies must be accompanied by consent from the user. This applies even if they’ve already given consent for other uses of their data.

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  • Improve data management system: The first step is to make sure that you have a well-documented and secure data management system in place. User rights must be clearly stated, and the user should be able to exercise their GDPR rights over data at any time.
  • Review third-party vendors/services: Review third-party vendors’ or services’ privacy policies and contracts to ensure they’re in compliance with GDPR. This includes auditing their practices regularly, including their data collection practices, data retention practices, and handling of personal data. You should verify that your vendor has appropriate security measures in place to protect any personal data you provide them with from unauthorized access or disclosure.
  • Document everything: Document your processing methods and every step you took in scouring your website. It will help you as proof of your compliance with the GDPR. You can also review them if such a need arises in the future.

What happens if you don’t comply?

If you do not comply with GDPR requirements, you can be fined up to 20 million euros or 4% of your annual turnover, whichever is greater. This makes GDPR compliance a serious business for any company doing business in Europe or with European citizens.


The GDPR is a complex set of regulations, but it’s not impossible to comply with them. With the right preparation, you can make sure your marketing strategy reaches its potential. And in the long-term, the GDPR will help all marketers to create new ways of engaging with customers through personalized content.

Frequently asked questions

What does GDPR mean for marketers?

GDPR is a way to protect the rights of individuals whose data is collected and used by companies. It gives people more control over their own information, including the right to access it, request changes, and erase it entirely.

The goal of GDPR is to make sure that everyone’s personal information is handled responsibly—and marketers need to be aware of how these rules affect their work.

Does the GDPR mean we need consent for marketing?

Yes, the GDPR does mean that you need consent for marketing. However, not all marketing activities require consent.

The GDPR requires that you have a lawful basis for processing personal data. If a company is collecting personal data for a legitimate interest, i.e., it will be used in a way as expected by the users, it does not need consent. However, this interest must not outweigh the rights and freedom of customers. If a company wants to sell customer data or use customer data for purposes other than those specified by the customer before doing so, consent is mandatory. Customers have the right to object to such processing.

What does GDPR mean for email marketing?

GDPR means that marketing emails must be consented to. However, if you have a legitimate interest in sending the email, then consent isn’t necessary (unless you’re sending it to someone who has asked not to receive your emails). If you don’t have a legitimate interest, then consent is required.

Additionally, every marketing email must include an unsubscribe option.

What are the 7 principles of GDPR?

The seven principles of GDPR are:

  1. Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency
  2. Purpose limitation
  3. Data minimization
  4. Accuracy
  5. Storage limitation
  6. Integrity and confidentiality
  7. Accountability

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