Mapping GDPR: How to plan your B2B email strategy across the EU

Since the initial scramble to update privacy policies in 2018, talk of GDPR regulations has gone quiet. Every company who operates in the EU must comply, but this still leaves a big question mark over the heads of marketing managers across the continent: how do you maintain an effective B2B email marketing strategy while respecting data privacy laws? In this article, we are offering clearer email guidance and sharing the do’s and don’ts of marketing emails across EU member states.

Same Continent, different rules

Confusing as it may be, while GDPR needs to be taken into account by every EU country, certain countries have their own individual regulations relating to PECR (Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations), as long as these meet the minimum required levels of privacy set out by GDPR laws. This can pose a challenge to businesses and data protection authorities, as some countries insist on strict levels of regulation while others take a softer approach.

Essentially, different countries have varying opt-in requirements, so the EU can be split into ‘opt-out’, ‘single opt-in’, and ‘double opt-in’ countries, depending on how strict each country is when it comes to B2B email marketing. Knowing the difference between these nations and their email regulations will help you avoid overstepping with unwanted communications, as well as alert you to the countries with more relaxed laws in which you could be marketing your business via email in a more simple, streamlined way.

Opt-Out vs Opt-In

Put simply, an opt-in system requires the recipient to take a ‘positive action’ like ticking a box, in order to subscribe to your email list, whereas an opt-out system means the recipient should be given an easy way of telling you they do not want to receive your emails. As a rule, opting out means you must respect this and refrain from contacting them again, now or in the future.

The three versions you will come across in EU countries are:

Opt-out means emails can be sent without the recipient having to take any action, but they must be given an easy way to opt out of receiving emails from your business at any time.

Single opt-in means the user must take one singular positive action to subscribe to your email list, such as ticking a box.

Double opt-in means the user must take two separate positive actions to consent to your emails, such as ticking a box and then clicking the link sent in a confirmation email to confirm that they want to hear from you.

Email regulations across the EU

Below is a map of the EU which highlights countries with the strictest regulations, countries with the most relaxed laws, and the ones who sit somewhere in the middle. Note that rules and regulations relating to email privacy can change regularly across the EU, so it is best to use this map as a rough guideline only. This will help you identify which countries follow opt-out, single opt-in, and double opt-in rules.

GDPR Map of Email Law

Green – These are the opt-out countries, which are seen as the most relaxed. When undertaking B2B email communications in these countries you are not required to have intended recipients opt-in. As long as the option to opt-out is clear and you do not send follow-up emails if they choose not to hear from you, then nothing else is required. This usually comes in the form of a link at the bottom of the email where recipients can unsubscribe from all communications.

Yellow – These are the single opt-in countries, and they must have consent from an intended recipient before contacting them via email. One caveat is that if their data was collected while buying goods or services, then you are permitted to promote similar goods or services, as long as there is still a clear way to unsubscribe.

Red – These are the double opt-in countries, which are much stricter with their B2B email marketing regulations. When marketing to these countries, you must get clear consent from customers by having them double confirm that they want to hear from you. Without even one of these opt-in confirmations, you cannot send anything to individuals or businesses, with no exceptions. 

How to communicate with the Green Countries

The opt-out countries are the easiest to send B2B marketing communications to, with less risk of penalties, so most businesses factor them into their email marketing strategy. In this case, you can simply send marketing communications to any prospect and allow them to opt-out at any time if they wish.

As an example that lies outside of the EU, the United States is an opt-out country, and businesses there comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. This states that businesses marketing to customers in the US must simply tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails, and immediately respect any requests to do so. B2B companies doing business in the US do not have to obtain consent to contact people via email, however all US businesses must follow the GDPR and PECR regulations when sending emails in Europe.

In the map above, you can see the countries in the EU that follow a similar opt-out protocol to that of the US, and these include: Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Pros to marketing in Green countries: The biggest advantage is that there is no required consent step, so an email strategy in these countries can be implemented faster, and with less risk of legal issues. As long as they adhere to privacy requirements and offer a simple way to unsubscribe, email marketing in these countries is much easier.

Cons to marketing in Green countries: Your emails could struggle to attract attention and are more likely to be marked as spam, which causes issues down the line for delivering more relevant email marketing content.

How to communicate with the Yellow countries

An example of another Yellow country outside of Europe is Canada, as businesses there must adhere to anti-spam legislation known as CASL. CASL requires businesses sending email marketing in, from or to Canada to get consent from the intended recipients before sending. This could come in the form of single opt-in consent through a subscription form or similar. There is also more leniency when consent is implied due to an existing business relationship, or if the recipient has publicly shared their contact details.

These Yellow countries in the EU have similar regulations: Iceland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, Poland, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Luxembourg.

Pros to marketing in Yellow countries: Recipients in Yellow countries will be more familiar with your business due to the opt-in process, which means less chance of your emails being marked as spam, and higher probability of future emails being delivered.

Cons to marketing in Yellow countries: Businesses cannot simply send emails to whoever they like, and must instead acquire consent from intended recipients through a single opt-in, which can make email marketing communications more time-consuming.

How to communicate with Red countries

While only two countries in the EU currently insist on these strict rules (Germany and Switzerland) they both make up a large chunk of the potential market, so it is important to know the rules when planning your email communications with them.

Double opt-in consent is required from anyone doing business in Germany and Switzerland, with the only exception being emails that have been sent to customers who have already purchased goods or services from the sender. In this case, the rule is that all communication must relate to the products or services that the recipient originally purchased, and the recipient must be clearly informed of their ability to opt-out at any time.

Pros to marketing in Red countries: Every recipient of your email marketing communications has completed the double opt-in process, and so they are both familiar with your brand when you communicate, and potentially more engaged and willing to read about your offering.

Cons to marketing in Red countries: Businesses require two positive actions to confirm that a recipient wants to hear from them, which can be both time-consuming and potentially off-putting for a lot of people, simply due to the added effort.

Plan your email strategy in EU countries

When GDPR regulations first came into play across Europe, they were treated as somewhat of an annoyance, however we believe these new rules shouldn’t be thought of as an issue. Yes, GDPR means another hoop (and sometimes double hoops) to jump through, but doing this correctly means you are only ever sending emails to potential customers who are actually choosing to be on your list, and who have a level of genuine interest in the product or service that you will be selling over email.

Before doing anything else, it’s important to research each individual country you intend to send email marketing communications to so you are familiar with their nuances and laws when it comes to marketing in this area of the EU, as every country is different. Remember that GDPR regulations are not a suggestion; they are the law and must be complied with by all, so thorough research and an understanding of the rules are crucial when implementing an email strategy in EU countries. 

To learn more, reach out to us and we can answer any email marketing questions you have.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as a rough guide only, and while we have offered a brief overview of GDPR regulations in each EU country, it is always advised that you research your intended recipient’s home country rules and laws to ensure you are compliant, seeking legal advice where appropriate.

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