Nearly two thirds (63 percent) of UK consumers would prefer to receive fewer emails from companies. According to a survey of 1,000 UK internet users commissioned by Definition, the vast majority (82 percent) care about how their personal data is used by organisations, and over two fifths (41 percent) are opting out of current email subscriptions – leaving companies scrambling to retain subscriber numbers post-GDPR.

Designed to give users greater control over their personal information, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on 25 May. Despite the respondents’ enthusiasm for data privacy (and lighter inboxes), the research suggests that UK consumers are still in the dark about the specifics of GDPR.

Less than half (42 percent) of respondents could correctly identify what GDPR is and only 37 percent think that GDPR will impact them personally. This unfamiliarity extended to other data privacy measures – one in five said that they don’t know what a cookie is and nearly one fifth (17 percent) ignore or immediately delete messages with privacy notice updates.

“GDPR is designed with the consumer in mind, but most UK consumers clearly have no idea what it means for them”, says our MD. “That’s not surprising – the regulations are fairly complicated. We ourselves have read the Information Commissioner’s guidelines, consulted lawyers, and attended seminars and the only clear conclusion we can draw is that there is no consensus on what will and will not be acceptable after 25th May. The business community is lost. GDPR will affect all areas of your business – from HR to IT, but our primary focus has been on how the regulation might affect marketing departments.

“I’m sure most consumers have noticed a recent surge in businesses scrambling to get ready – leading to the deluge of opt in request emails being sent ahead of the deadline. It’s not that surprising – the fines for breach of the regulation run into the millions, but there is absolutely no information on what type of breaches will result in the maximum penalty being levied. This means most businesses are erring on the side of caution, particularly when it comes to marketing.”

Under GDPR, organisations will have to satisfy one of six “legitimate interests” in order to process and store consumer data. For many companies, this will mean they will require an explicit ‘opt-in’ from consumers to use their data for marketing communications. Consequently, these organisations are frantically contacting users to request their consent to use their data for future marketing communications, ahead of the 25 May deadline.

Baker continues: “If the government wants GDPR to be a force for positive change in the way we treat data, it needs to do a better job of clarifying what is and what is not acceptable under GDPR, how these laws will change post-Brexit, how penalties will be determined, and what it means for consumers and businesses. If it doesn’t, GDPR will not achieve its goal.”

There is some good news for companies that want to continue with email marketing. Nearly three quarters (72 percent) of consumers would sign up to a mailing list for an incentive, with cash or account credit and vouchers voted the most popular incentives. In addition, most (78 percent) believe that if an organisation has their email address, they have a right to email them – although less than a tenth (9 percent) say the organisation can email them marketing materials.

“Email marketing’s expiry date may be fast-approaching – and if it arrives, brands will have to explore other options”, adds Baker. ”We think the GDPR – and in particular the new e-privacy Regulation (ePR) –  is going to change the whole marketing landscape. Expect to see more of an emphasis on PR, search and social advertising as marketers rely less on email marketing and outbound selling to generate leads.”