You'd think after a decade of working so hard to make e-mail marketing a respectable, permission-based profession that we'd no longer be discussing what a bad idea it is to buy a list. Yet, I still get asked this question. So clearly, the issue isn't closed.
Let me say this unequivocally:
Why? First, because you don't have permission. While it's not illegal in the U.S. to mail the list, it's pretty foundational to e-mail marketing – and any business relationship – that both parties want in.
Further, you don't know the source, age, or quality of these lists – or who else has purchased the records. If you did mail to them, you risk high complaints (clicks on the report spam button), which will quickly destroy your sender reputation and get all your messages blocked to all subscribers – even those other subscribers who really gave you permission or who have been enjoying your messages.
It just isn't worth risking overall inbox deliverability for some data of dubious value and unknown origin.
Think I'm exaggerating? I wish. Consider these true horror stories:
The appeal of buying data is understandable. It's a fine practice in postal marketing. It seems like a good way to quickly get into the e-mail marketing "game." There's pressure to grow the file. If you're spending time on creative and production, it's nice to have a sizeable file. It's also inexpensive to send e-mail marketing, so list size isn't a barrier.
It's also just not worth it. There's no quick fix in relationship building.
There are great ways to build an active and engaged list. The best way is to gain permission through organic measures like your own Web site, sales/service teams, the call center, and social marketing. Optimize e-mail capture on every landing page and through event sign-ups and white paper download experiences by presenting a strong value proposition prominently on every page.
In addition, you may try to "rent" a file. This is like a media buy. You send them creative assets and the list owner mails the message for you, or your ad is placed around their content.
Of course, you're at the mercy of their sending practices, so enter such deals cautiously, as there are many bad actors, as well as some innocents who don't realize the danger of sharing lists. Consider these points:
Despite the high ROI (define) and dependable revenue of e-mail marketing, many of us are under pressure to squeeze ever more out of the channel. A seemingly easy way to do this is to just add a lump of data. However, it won't work. Instead, focus your energy on gaining permission and building relationships.
Please share your war stories on data management, and your success stories for list growth and engagement below.
Meet Your Favorite ClickZ Contributors
Many of ClickZ's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Jeremy Hull, Lisa Raehsler, Andrew Goodman, Bryan Eisenberg, Mathew Sweezey, Aaron Kahlow, Stephanie Miller, Simms Jenkins, Jeanne S. Jennings, Dave Hendricks and more!
Stephanie Miller is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable online experiences. A digital marketing expert, she helps responsible data-driven marketers connect with the people, resources, and ideas they need to optimize response and revenue. She speaks and writes regularly and leads many industry initiatives as VP, Member Relations and Chief Listening Officer at the Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org). Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT the-dma DOT org or @stephanieSAM.
March 19, 2014