A few weeks ago, Facebook tightened up the rules for advertisers who use data from third-party brokers to target ads to the social media platform's users. Among the changes, marketers can now use only the data they have "the rights, permissions, and lawful basis to use," according to a memo from Carolyn Everson, Facebook's VP of global marketing solutions.
The shakeup was part of a larger collection of changes Facebook instituted after news reports surfaced that Cambridge Analytica accessed Facebook users' personal information without their permission to support the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.
The move is expected to hurt marketers who don't own a lot of first-party data or who can't verify that they have user permission to use the data to which they do have access. Luckily for email marketers who use only opt-in methods to build their lists, this isn't an issue that they have to come to grips with.
Permission and Email: Partners for Decades
Obtaining proper permission is a tactic that responsible email marketers have mastered over the last two decades, ever since Seth Godin turned the term "permission marketing" into the title of a groundbreaking marketing handbook (Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers in 1999).
If you're a permission email marketer (that is, you don't buy or rent mailing lists and can verify that every email address on your list is there because the owner knowingly signed up for your messages), you might be tempted to gloat a little over Facebook's belated efforts to boost their users' privacy and control over use of their personal data, including email addresses, behavior and preferences.
But, it also means you have a big advantage in the international battle to curb misuse of consumer data through increasingly stricter legislation. First came CASL (Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation of 2014) and now the General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect on May 25.
The United States remains the biggest country to allow opt-out email, but the tide is turning in favor of permission marketers who far exceed the modest restrictions put on digital marketing by CAN-SPAM, the U.S. laws regulating commercial email.
Permission Practices Become Part of Your Brand Equity
Thanks in part to issues such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal and data breaches at big-name companies (Target and Experian among others), how a company collects and manages its data can affect how customers view the brand.
Henry Hyder-Smith, co-founder and CEO of email service provider Adestra, makes this point in a recent Ad Exchanger post about the advent of GDPR:
"While GDPR will have an extensive impact on business, at its core it requires companies to become more transparent about data privacy and collection. This affects how we handle data, treat our customers and communicate with them. ... In effect, it becomes a tenet of our brand equity. ... Transparency must be the buzzword of the day.
"C-level executives must be advocates for that transparency, or customers will find it elsewhere."
Even Permission Marketers Can Do More to Build Customer Relationships
The Facebook changes also highlight another aspect of the changing data landscape that gives email marketers the edge over social media marketers: You own the relationship with your customers because you control the email channel.
Renting space on a social platform like Facebook or Twitter means you operate on their terms. Changing requirements for Facebook ad services such as Custom Audiences will likely reduce effectiveness for marketers who rely on social media rather than email.
Nobody's saying that Facebook and other social platforms are dead as marketing or advertising tools. Marketers who use permission email and social together are in a better position than social-only marketers as long as they adhere to their privacy and acquisition policies.
Still, marketers who have access to a vast pool of first-party data they have collected on their own customers shouldn't rest on their laurels. Email gives you direct relationships with your customers. What are you doing to build up those relationships?
Collect More First-Party Data
That's the first step. Next, use that information to create more targeted and, thus, more valuable messages for your customers.
You have a verified email address. Thanks to regular list hygiene with services such as FreshAddress' Email Change of Address, you know it's an active one. You might have name and location data, too. What else could you learn about your customer that you could use to target your messaging to that customer?
Adding website and email behavior helps you see what your customers are doing on your site and with your emails. Who opens almost every email but still hasn't bought? Who browses actively but buys only once in every 100 browse sessions? Who visits your site most often by clicking on links in your email messages?
Ask them for information, too. Create or improve your preference center to make it more user-friendly. Toss a one- or two-question quiz into your email messages. Create a survey.
All these data points, both observed and self-reported, can help you build a richer picture of each customer and shape messages that your customers will see, open and act on more often.
Have any thoughts on the changes that Facebook is imposing on its platform advertisers or how you can collect more data you can use to build up your customer relationships? Post your comments below.
Keith Reinhardt is the marketing manager at FreshAddress, the email address experts. Keith is a regular contributor to the FreshAddress blog where he writes about a variety of email marketing-related topics, including email deliverability, list hygiene and design best practices. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.