Approaches to Building an E-mail List, Part 1

  |  August 6, 2009   |  Comments

E-mail marketers must ensure that existing customers have a motive and opportunity to sign up to an e-mail list.

During the current economic climate, marketers have been employing techniques to build their e-mail lists. While I've examined the pitfalls of some approaches, let's look at some positive ways that lists can be built.

Truth is, building a list is straightforward: provide customer value. What's more, the techniques take time, effort, coordination, and solid execution. Just as marketing campaigns are more effective when coordinated and deployed across media, the same is true for address collection efforts.

Most organizations must collect e-mail addresses for two groups of individuals: individuals with whom they have a relationship and those with whom they do not. Typically this means customers and prospects.


For existing customers, the key is ensuring that they have both motive and opportunity.

Organizations typically fail on one of these two points. Many marketers work hard to give customers opportunities to provide their address but fail to communicate why they should. Other marketers clearly articulate the benefits of providing an address but then make it far too hard for to do so.

To provide motive, make it clear to customers what benefit they get in exchange for providing their address. Don't confuse benefit to you with benefit to them. Shocking as it may seem, consumers generally do not perceive the opportunity to receive marketing e-mails as a benefit. Product tips and tricks, upgrade and warranty notifications, sale and discount events -- on the other hand -- are commonly considered beneficial.

Subscribers must also have confidence they can control the types of communication they will receive and they can stop the messages whenever they wish. They must be certain their personal data will not be sold without their permission. Some marketers like to claim that permission is a contentious issue. However, when people tell me that they avoid giving companies their e-mail addresses because they "don't want to end up on spam lists," they're clearly saying they do care about permission and trusting a company is important.

Consider the multitude of ways in which you communicate with your customers. You must enable customers to provide their address through each channel. Is it easy for customers to provide their e-mail address on your Web site? How about your call center? Or point-of-sale operations? What about your print communications? If you're using social media, do your presences on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks encourage subscription?

Consider the flip side. What barriers you are erecting that discourage or prevent customers from providing their e-mail address? Are you asking for too much information? Only request information you need and only require essential information. Do you require customers to remember customer numbers, user names or passwords? Ensuring data privacy and security is extremely important. All too often, though, I've seen organizations approach this in a manner that is little more than security theater -- adding no real security or value but acting as a barrier to subscription.

To reiterate: growing your list through subscriptions is not cool or sexy. It's about offering value and then delivering that value. It requires attention to detail and a focus on the customer experience. When done properly, your list show grow among your most important prospect group - your existing customers.

In the next column, we'll look at e-mail marketing in a prospecting environment where existing relationships do not exist.

Until next time.

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Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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