Why B2B has a legitimate problem with GDPR

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

One of the marvellous quirks of language is how a word or phrase can be used differently, interpreted contrarily from me to you. But what happens when there’s one word that, when vague or open to interpretation, means it’s used poorly when it comes to digital marketing?

We all know what word I’m talking about, right?

Yes, you guessed it…


No? Not where you were going? Let me explain. I get a lot of emails per day, GDPR meant things got a little quieter and better for a while, but I’ve noticed recently that those odd third party and random ‘how did I end up on this list?’ emails have started creeping back in.

The biscuit was completely taken when one of them had the subject line: “Marketing Company Required”. This may have been a business enquiry, so I opened it. Did you know for just £20 I could sponsor a local golf club AND get complimentary golf?

I didn’t. But that’s the exciting offer pitched to me in this email.

To be clear, this company sent me an email marketing communication with a misleading subject line and proceeded to try and sell me a round of golf and a two-year sponsorship package.

I had no idea how I ended up on this list so I scrolled down to find out.



That’s right they pulled my email from the internet. But here’s why it really caught my attention – they claimed it was legitimate interest and then proceeded to apologise if they were wrong and explain how under GDPR I had ‘the right to be forgotten’.

Now, wait there a minute sunshine. Let’s rewind a little and look at that word before we even address how they went about that GDPR bit.

One definition of legitimate is: “able to be defended with logic or justification.”

I’d argue, reasonably so, that one look at my website would have said that I was, at best, a weak prospect for what they were pitching. And that’s being generous.


An excuse for bad practice

This company’s interpretation of legitimate is part of a bigger problem within the b2b world and GDPR. The phrase legitimate interest has been sliced up and stretched out to justify the collection of data and marketing activity since GDPR. I’ve lost count of the number of LinkedIn posts and comments about why this or that ‘falls under legitimate interest’.

Here’s the problem. It’s lazy. It encourages bad practice and ignores the fundamentals of email marketing. It is pointless to scoop up email addresses from random places on the internet and sell to them, not all your LinkedIn connections are there for you to pitch to, and having 5000 people on your email list with a 0.01 CTR (click through rate) is not successful email marketing.


A legitimate distraction

Whilst we argue whether this approach or that email address can be taken under legitimate interest we are not putting in the effort of cultivating a subscriber list that will augment marketing efforts and actively contribute to reaching business goals.

If we are debating where the line of legality is in ‘legitimate interest’ and talking endlessly about what the word means in this context we are being distracted from the real task at hand. That is understanding who really wants to hear from us, what they want from us and what they do with that information.

If you are relying on legitimate interest to add names and information to your marketing lists then it’s time to rethink your approach. Don’t be the company that advertises golf sponsorship to someone who thinks pirate crazy golf is the way forward (I do, pirate crazy golf is the best!), do be that company who makes people roll their eyes in frustration every time an email lands in their inbox and please, please make sure the unsubscribe links work!

On that same email, both unsubscribe link options did nothing. Unless I email that company directly I have no way to be forgotten, as they so kindly tell me on their privacy blurb. I now have to find an email for that company, email them ask to be taken off their list, and wait for them to respond. I’m pretty sure that’s not GDPR compliant.


What’s the moral of this story?

Legitimate is not a word to be thrown around every time you want to add someone to a marketing database. Stop relying on it to justify a bad email marketing strategy and look instead at how to cultivate a strong subscriber list that positively impacts your business.