March 31, 2019

How do You Deal with Incentive-Based Newsletter Signup and GDPR?

Robin Palotai @IAmAFunction

So, the common recurring advice for getting subscribers so far is to offer a free goodie for subscribers.

With the GDPR, opting in to a given purpose needs to be explicit and of free will, among other technical requirements. Explicit means, the user actually has to tick a yet unticket box for each purpose. Free will means, opting in to the purpose can't be incentivised - otherwise it was not free, it was just in order to get the incentive.

So, how would this come down for the goodie-offering newsletter signup form? Assume you have an inline signup form with email input field + Call-To-Action button.

  1. Upon clicking the CTA button, a dialog would need to pop in.
  2. The dialog would have 2 empty checkboxes, one for getting the goodie through email, the other for getting the newsletter.
  3. The user might decide to just check the goodie box, but not the other.

So you can't send her newsletters anyway, just the goodie. So there's no point in getting the email in the first place, could as well just of offer download link. Well, there's some chance of opting in to the newsletter though.

What is your approach?

  1. 3

    So I've done some digging around in regards to the the GDPR and lead magnets. It seems like you can collect email addresses via the lead magnet, but signing up for the free offer doesn't mean that they have consented to subscribing to your newsletter. In order to obtain explicit consent from users, you can:

    • Have an uncheck checkbox where the user actively opts in to the newsletter
    • The delivered freebie will inquire if the user also wants to sign up to the general newsletter list
    • "The sandwich approach" where the user signs up, you present them with three pages- one page is the offer, the second page asks if the user wants to sign up for the newsletter too, and finally a "thank you" page

    Personally, I would also break up the freebie into a multi-part series (which you will explicitly tell the user in the landing page). For example, you can do something like a "free week-long email course on how to become a more productive developer". Your lead magnet will then touch the user 7 times as opposed to just giving them a piece of content that they will only download once. Imho, an email course is also a more thoughtful and valuable freebee.

    Good sources to checkout:

    1. 1

      Thank you, nice ideas about directing the funnel to the newsletter .

      Re the articles, few points I find disputable:

      Delivering freebie over Email:

      You can’t collect all kinds of data on a person if all you need is an email address (like for a lead magnet). You may only collect the minimum amount of data for the purpose you are collecting it for.

      But if the purpose is delivery of a lead magnet (like pdf), then having the email address is over the minimum amount. The minimum amount is zero data, since the purpose can be achieved by a link to the pdf.

      Another supporting point for this view is that you can't store the address longer than needed. So theoretically you send the mail & then delete it from storage (unless the legal follow-up mentioned, which is not very much expanded and graying).

      Sure, if they want it over email, they can get it. Maybe they prefer that. But the option to get it over direct link should be present to be safe.

      I like the sandwich approach or converting to email course you mention.

      Upgrade to newsletter from freebie link

      Article suggests that clicking a link from the freebie counts as enough consent to upgrade. I think contemporary guidance is that the consent needs to be very explicit, that is non-accidental. Clicking a link can be accidental.

    2. 1

      interesting approach with the email course instead of just a freebie download.

  2. 1

    If you obtain someone's personal information for a newsletter then you cannot use that info for another purpose. If you change the purpose of using their info you have to inform the user and then obtain new explicit permission.

    1. 1

      Funny addition: MailChimp (and likely others?) has open tracking and click tracking on by default. It can be turned off by campaign, and indeed you need to if you didn't explicitly opt in users into behavioral tracking (which would be a hard sell I think).

      See and

  3. 1

    What kind of goodie/lead magnet are you offering?

    And is it a personal newsletter or something related to a product? (what's the goal of the newsletter?)

    1. 1

      I'm weighting options of offering a sample pdf of my ebook in part of newsletter subscription. The newsletter is tightly related to the topic of the ebook (avoiding programming blockage, and productivity), so it's standard marketing newsletter.

      (Funny thing I learned: even if you send useful content without any discounts or other attempt to sell in the email, it still counts as marketing email, since it promotes awareness of your product / brand. At least in my country in the EU).

      So a few approaches:

      1. The newsletter content strongly corresponds to the book content anyway, so just bite it and don't offer the pdf. But people like nicely packaged content like a pdf (and in the future I might have other stuff, not just pdf).

      2. Based on the WP259 17/EN Example 10 (pointed to in my other comment), it sounds like tying the signup to a special kind of early-access incentive is acceptable within free consent. So one idea could be to release early-access chapters that would be free to get eventually. But I would run out of early-access sample chapters after a while, so this is not scalable. Unless you implement a rotating scheme of early access chapters - each week a different sample chapter is in early access. Say you have two samples A and B, and a given week you can instantly get A and subscribe to get B, while next week it's reversed... But this sounds like a hack, just like the kind a programmer would invent, and in my ebook I encourage programmers not to do these hacks (well, in their code).

      3. Actually provide the sample as direct download to those not wishing to subscribe to the newsletter. This sounds like utmostly giving most freedom.

  4. 1

    Wait where did you get the notion that gdpr do not allow incentivised sign ups? Im pretty sure it's allowed, the eu commission own site states that an incentivised sign up is accepted. ""

    1. 1

      As it says in the article you linked to, incentivised signups are allowed, but you can only use the personal data (email address in this case) for the purposes you state (so they need to also opt in to the newsletter, not just the freebie).

      Also, it's a bit unclear to me, but it seems that you can't make signing up for the newsletter a condition of receiving the freebie, otherwise that's not free consent (check out the second example).

      1. 1

        Exactly. Adding the incentive sounds like making it non-free.

        The WP259 (a workgroup releasing material on clarifying GDPR points) has the 17/EN rev.01 guidance with more detailed explanation. If you look at section 3.1.4 Detriment's Example 10, you see an example of coupling a real incentive with mail-list signup.

        But there the speciality is that the incentive is only temporal, and if you refuse to sign up, you won't have a large disadvantage, since the incentive (some new products in the example) will be available to you soon anyway.

        So it sounds like there's some room of consideration, but linking of an (otherwise inaccessible) resource to newsletter signup might be hard to sell as free will. Well, you could argue they are free to not want the resource, but at the point they are on your landing page, you actually want them to want the resource...

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