Four Quick-Fix Options to Supplement a Small E-mail List

It’s crunch time. You’ve been tasked with developing an e-mail marketing program, pronto, to market your company’s product or service. The goals are high, but the house e-mail list is anemic. What now?

Before sending out your résumé, take a deep breath and consider your options. While nothing ever (or should ever) takes the place of building your own house list, these four quick-fix crisis-management approaches could help you in a pinch.

These options, with their own pros and cons, aren’t mutually exclusive. You may want to test each and see which produces the best results. Options should be judged on business goals directly tied to the bottom line, not simply on how many e-mail addresses are acquired. Quality, after all, is as important as quantity.


Defined: An e-mail append vendor will take a list of your existing clients, prospects, or both and match e-mail addresses. Most append services use their own database of e-mail addresses to accomplish this.

Pros: This is a quick way to grow an e-mail list. You own any e-mail addresses that come from the process and are free to add them to your house list and mail them as many times as you want.

Cons: Most append companies prefer to use an opt-out method, meaning there’s no affirmative consent (also called opt-in or permission). E-mail addresses acquired via opt-out rarely perform as well as those where you get via opt-in. Opt-out addresses can expose you up to spam complaints and blacklisting, which can jeopardize deliverability of all the e-mail you send.

This can also be an expensive way to acquire names. A recent proposal I reviewed for a client offered a cost of $0.18 for each opt-out e-mail address and $3.75 for each opt-in address. That translates to CPMs (define) of $180 to $3,750 — no bargain but possibly worth paying in a pinch.

Notes: More than once I’ve found nonresponsive names on a list can be traced back to a previous append.

Finding vendors: A slew of companies offer append services. If you’re working with an e-mail service provider (ESP), start by calling them. They may recommend an append vendor they trust. Because you’ll be using their system to send to the appended names, it’s important to use someone they’re comfortable with.

If you’re not working with an e-mail service provider, type “e-mail append” into your favorite search engine and you’ll get a list of vendors. The more reputable the vendor (check out its client list, speak to its references), the better chance you’ll have of getting responsive names and avoiding spam complaints.

Compiled Lists

Defined: You provide details (company size, title, etc.) on your target audience. A vendor pulls the e-mail addresses of people who match your parameters from directories and other resources and develops a list you can purchase outright and use as your house list.

Pros: This is another quick way to grow an e-mail list. As with an append, you own any e-mail addresses that come from the process.

Cons: The cons also mirror those of doing an append. If a list compiler requests permission at all (some do, some don’t), it’ll usually use an opt-out method, so there’s no affirmative consent and there’s a good chance these addresses won’t perform as well as opt-in names. The spam-complaint and blacklisting risk is real. Plus, this option can get expensive.

Finding vendors: Most companies that historically provided offline (direct mail) compiled lists are now in the e-mail list business. Again, see if your ESP has any recommendations and check its policies on mailing compiled lists (some won’t do it).

Search engines can be another way to find list compilers; also check the advertisements in your favorite offline marketing publication, as many vendors market their services there.

E-mail List Rental

Defined: You rent an e-mail list for a one-time send. You provide your e-mail content to the list owner who sends to the list on your behalf.

Pros: You’re able to leverage another organization’s relationship with your target audience. Rental provides some protection against spam complaints and blacklisting of your e-mail servers.

Cons: It’s a one-time send; if you wish to send to this list in the future you’ll incur another round of rental fees. Rented lists perform, at best, about half as well as your house list. Include a way for recipients to opt in to your house e-mail list so you can send to interested prospects in the future without having to rent the list again. Costs can be expensive. High-quality business-to-business (B2B) lists have an average CPM of $277, according to the Worldata Summer 2007 List Price Index.

Notes: Test a list by sending a sample quantity of 5,000 to 10,000 names before you enter into a larger rental agreement. If possible, get its “hotline” to test, the newest addresses on the file, which tend to perform better than older names.

Finding vendors: Most traditional direct mail list brokers now handle e-mail lists. Edith Roman offers a free, searchable online directory of list data cards. It’s a good place to start any list search; if your buy is big enough, it also has brokers who will help you choose lists.

Publishing companies have historically been good sources for high-quality lists. While the larger, better-known publishers charge more for their lists, they often perform better than less-expensive lists. If there’s a publication that serves your target audience, you might contact them directly about list rental; they’ll either direct you to their list management company or, sometimes, rent the list directly (which may save you some money).

E-mail Sponsorships/Advertising

Defined: Your advertisement is included in another company’s e-mail newsletter. You provide a banner or text ad to the list owner, who includes it in its e-mail.

Pros: You can leverage another organization’s relationship with your target audience. Sponsorships and advertising provide some protection against spam complaints and blacklisting of your e-mail servers.

Cons: Your message is one of many included in the e-mail. You must pay for each inclusion. As with rental lists, provide a way for recipients to opt in to your house e-mail list so you can communicate with interested prospects in the future without having to buy another ad.

Finding vendors: Any organization sending e-mail to your target audience, as long as it’s not a competitor, is worth speaking to. Some take advertising or sponsorships, some don’t. I don’t know of any central directory of e-mail newsletters (if you do, e-mail me!), but if you know your audience it should be easy to create a short list of companies to speak with.

Long-Term Recommendations

Quick-fix options aren’t good enough. Every site should have a companion e-mail program. Enticing visitors to provide their e-mail address provides an opportunity for future communications, which can:

  • Drive repeat traffic to the site.
  • Educate prospects on the benefits of your products and services.
  • Alert past visitors to new offers and special promotions.
  • Build a relationship that can lead to initial sales, cross-/upsells, and greater customer retention.
  • Generate revenue through third-party advertising.
  • Your organization should look at putting some resources into building its own house lists. The first step is to develop an e-mail acquisition strategy that includes a way for visitors to sign up for e-mail on each site page and offers benefit-oriented content, on a regular basis, to people who opt in.

    Building your own house list is, in the long run, usually much less expensive than append, compile, list rental, or sponsorship/advertising options. It’s not difficult to do if you have someone in-house or hire an outside consultant or vendor with the expertise and know-how. This is one of the things I help my clients with; another option is to use a company like Prospectiv, which does this on a much larger scale for clients, including Marriott, Pfizer, and American Express.

    Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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