Email Lists 101

I get a lot of inquiries about email lists. How do you find the best, most potentially profitable ones? How do you get the best deals? So I figured that now is as good a time as any to get back to basics with a little “Email Lists 101.”

Of course, email-list opportunities abound these days for acquiring new customers by email and/or building your own house file. First, there are more and more vendors with 100 percent opt-in lists in a variety of categories. Companies such as Netcreations, YesMail, 24/7 and TargitMail offer millions of email addresses among them. With these lists, you can send a dedicated message i.e., one not shared with other advertisers to an audience targeted by category of interest and, oftentimes, additional enhancements such as demographic information.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, there are also thousands of highly targeted emailed newsletters that offer advertising or sponsorship opportunities. These types of placements typically limit ad sizes to no more than five to eight lines of text with a width limit of 60 to 65 characters across, including spaces.

With so many seemingly endless email lists to choose from, how do you cut through the masses to find those most likely to respond? And how, once you find them, do you go about negotiating the best selections and pricing?

First things first. Start by reviewing your traditional marketing venues. If you’ve used direct mail, what publications or lists have you rented in the past? Perhaps one of your offline lists offers a newsletter online.

For instance, say you’re marketing a product specifically geared toward high-level businesspeople. One of your best direct-mail lists is that offered by Forbes magazine. If you placed a search online, you’d find that Forbes offers a free emailed newsletter, as well as the sponsorship opportunities it contains. If you subscribed to it, you could find out which of your competitors are buying advertising there… and which are continuing to buy. You may also find other publications potential additional ad opportunities advertising there.

Knowing your core audience, as well as what’s worked for you in the past in the offline world, will help you find similar newsletter lists. It will also help in selecting categories within the dedicated list arena as well.

Speaking of dedicated lists, if you have any type of traditional direct marketing experience, you know what the term “seeding” means. In other words, it can be extremely beneficial to plant your name (and email address) on a number of different lists within your category. That is, subscribe to all of the emailed newsletters that target your audience. Also register with several opt-in-list vendors to receive promotions and messages from advertisers within your market’s top categories. You’ll find you can learn tons of new things about what’s out there who’s marketing what, new products and announcements, special offers, etc. in addition to other advertising opportunities.

Yes, the research can be painstaking but well worth it. As you know, it’s not unheard of for dedicated opt-in lists, if targeted properly, to pull click-through rates as high as 15 percent or higher. Sponsorship response rates are usually significantly less (they fall more in the 0.5 to 5 percent range, generally speaking), but they are also quite a bit less expensive. Speaking of costs, dedicated list costs typically range from $200 to $450 per thousand, while sponsorships are priced anywhere from $10 to $150 per thousand and up.

Sometimes these lists can be negotiated, sometimes not. If it’s the first time you’re testing a list, chances are good that the list owner or vendor won’t cut you a deal especially if it’s a popular list or newsletter for advertisers. Their attitude is typically, “Why should I discount if they don’t have to?” (You can’t blame ’em.)

However, as in the offline world, sometimes the best deals are made after a relationship has been established. So my advice: Find your best, most targeted lists, and get the best deal that you can possibly get (which may very well mean that you pay full price). If it gets to the point where you’re continually rolling out to the same lists, you’ve probably gotten to the point where you can call in some favors.

Also, if you often order in large chunks, you’ll most likely be able to get a volume discount. But don’t ask for anything unless it’s absolutely necessary to your bottom line. You don’t want to be known as a “deal hound.”

In short: Research, seed, and negotiate (if needed). And if it sounds like too daunting a task, hire a broker.

Many direct-mail-list brokers have been successfully venturing into the world of email. A good broker can handle all of the above and can often get a better list price than you could get on your own.

And, of course, the fact that your life will be made a little easier in the process sure won’t hurt.

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