Businesses don’t generally thrive when they take a one-dimensional approach to digital marketing. In order to edge out the competition and become an industry leader in your area, you’ll need to take a multi-pronged approach that includes a range of marketing methodologies—including email marketing.

Many business owners, particularly SMBs, overlook email marketing because it’s thought that it doesn’t bring significant results. Yet, when email marketing is done right, it can indeed provide significant click-through rates and conversions, sending your revenue skyward.

No matter what you’re selling, one of the first steps in launching a successfulemail marketing campaignis to build your contact list. You’ll need the email addresses of both prospective and current/former customers, or else your message will fall on deaf ears—or more likely, wind up in the spam folder.

Strategies to Avoid When Building a Contact List

Before diving into the effective strategies for building a contact list for your marketing emails, let’s take a look at what youshouldn’tdo. There are two main strategies you should always avoid when building your list:

  • Buying names and email addresses from a list provider
  • Renting names and email addresses from a list provider

For both of these options, you would provide basic demographic information to the list provider, such as an age range, gender, and income range in hopes of reaching people who might be interested in buying your product. If you purchase the list, you’ll own it and you can email those addresses as many times as you like. If you decide to rent the list instead, you won’t be allowed to see the email addresses. All of your marketing emails will need to be sent via the list provider.

These might seem like simple, straightforward ways to find an audience for your emails—and indeed, they are. However, they are also not recommended. These are both forms of “black hat” marketing that you should avoid at all costs, and here’s why:

Violation of the GDPR

The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation—a data privacy law that is currently in effect in Europe. (Even if your company is based in the U.S., you are required to abide by the GDPR if any of recipients of your marketing emails live in Europe.) The GDPR has established that any and all email contact lists that are purchased—rather than obtained organically—are in violation of the law. 

The GDPR states that companies may only send marketing emails to individuals who have explicitly requested them by taking some sort of action, like checking off a box requesting marketing emails. (Having a pre-checked box on your website is also in violation, even if people have the option to uncheck it.) In other words, merely adding the opt-out link at the bottom of your emails isn’t enough to protect you from potential GDPR violations.

Loss of Reputation

Your brand’s image is everything. It dictates whether prospective customers trust the safety and effectiveness of your products enough to purchase them. Customers don’t generally think highly of brands they view as, well, annoying. If you use purchased or rented email contact lists, you’ll risk damaging the reputation of your brand—and once damaged, genuine brand image rehabilitation is difficult.

Trouble Sending Emails

If your email recipients frequently label your unsolicited marketing emails as spam, you may find that your email account is suspended or even closed. This happens because it’s not in the best interests of email service providers to facilitate spam.

Ineffectiveness of Purchased Contact Lists

Another compelling reason to avoid purchasing or renting email contact lists is the ineffectiveness of this tactic. Let’s say that you repeatedly get marketing emails from an electronics store trying to sell you a new smart TV. You didn’t request those marketing emails, never purchased anything from that store, and you’re perfectly happy with your current TV. 

Would you be willing to click on those emails? Probably not, and you’re certainly not likely to buy a smart TV from that store. In fact, if you get annoyed enough with the unwanted sales messages, you might go out of your way to never become a customer at that particular electronics store.

Email marketing can be incredibly effective for all sorts of brands in every imaginable niche. But in order for it to work, the recipients need to have an established relationship with the brand. An “established relationship” can mean something as simple as the customer previously visiting the website to check out the company, even if they haven’t yet purchased anything.

The Better Way to Build Your Contact List

Now that you have a pretty good idea of why it’s a bad idea to purchase or rent email contact lists to promote your business, let’s take a look at how youshouldgo about it. There are a number of proven strategies you can use to build your contact list and, like most things in marketing, it’s generally best to use a mix of multiple strategies for optimal results.

1. Always Have an Opt-In

If you build it, they will come. In order for people to voluntarily get on your email contact list, they need a way to opt in. Your website should always prominently feature an opt-in element that encourages people to sign up for your brand’s updates, sales events, new product releases, and similar important news. 

If you have an ecommerce website, then you should also have an opt-in element on the ordering page. It will get more use than you might think; when customers are fans of your brand, they’ll want to know about special sales events. Your opt-in element may get even more use if customers know that they’ll be privy to special sales only accessible to email subscribers.

Always add a few words that reassure your email subscribers that you’ll never sell their email address or other personal information.

2. Always Have an Opt-Out

If the first rule of building an email contact list is to always have an opt-in, then the second must be to always have an opt-out. In fact, if you don’t include an opt-out option in every single marketing email you send, you’ll be in violation of theU.S. CAN-SPAM Act, which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

There are no exceptions; whether your brand is B2B or B2C; whether you are sending an email to thousands of customers at once or only to one, you must have an opt-out. Each instance of non-compliance can yield a fine of up to $51,744 per email.

The opt-out must be simple for the recipient to exercise and you must honor it within 10 business days.

While we’re discussing opt-outs, it’s worth taking a look at a few other requirements outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act.

  • You can’t use deceptive subject lines or header information (the “From” etc. fields must be accurate).
  • The message must be clearly identified as an advertisement (e.g. at the bottom of the email near the opt-out link).
  • Your message must include your physical postal address.

3. Use Pop-Up Invitations

In addition to having an opt-in on your website, including order pages, if applicable, you might consider inviting website viewers to subscribe via a pop-up. Pop-up ads can be annoying, but there is a way to make them less obtrusive and more inviting.

For instance, instead of setting your pop-up to appear as soon as a user clicks into your website, you can use a scroll pop-up that only appears after the user has scrolled down the page. Pop-ups can also be configured to appear after the user has spent a certain amount of time on the website.

Pop-up invitations to subscribe must be brief, given space constraints, but should be appealing to your target demographic. They should also align with your brand voice. If your brand voice is quirky and fun, your pop-up can be, too. No matter the voice, try to convey the value of subscribing without being excessively salesy. 

4. Personalize CTAs Whenever Possible

You can include opt-ins on any page on your website—not just the home page and order page. You might not necessarily want to include them on absolutely every page, but do look for opportunities to work in this particular call to action (CTA) in an organic way.

For instance, let’s say your brand sells heirloom seeds and various supplies to gardening enthusiasts. And let’s say you upload a blog post that discusses the most common pests gardeners must contend with. You might mention somewhere in the blog post that your email newsletter goes into specifics about how to deter pests and invite readers to subscribe.

5. Develop Gated Assets

Gated assets(also known as lead magnets) are forms of content that are not accessible to just anyone; a person has to take some sort of action in order to access them, such as enter their email address into an opt-in form. Gated assets can be tremendously effective at building an email contact list and—even better—they all but guarantee that the people who sign up will be genuinely interested in what your brand has to offer.

A gated asset can be almost anything, but eBooks, “exclusive reports,” templates, free demos, and webinars are among the most commonly used. You can offer multiple gated assets to your website/landing page visitors—the more the merrier. Use your creativity to figure out exactly what to offer, but ensure that each asset is:

  • Relevant to your audience
  • Related to your brand and its offerings
  • Highly useful—something they can’t easily figure out by Googling a keyword phrase or question
  • Actionable whenever possible (i.e. “Always ask these 10 questions when touring a nursing home to protect your loved one’s best interests.”)

Gated assets often bank on some sort of insider’s knowledge. This can get website visitors excited because they assume they can’t find those particular facts from a Google search. In an era in which practically every bit of information imaginable is available online, this is crucial. Whenever possible, use the “insider’s knowledge” angle when offering your gated content to entice more people to enter their emails.

You can promote gated content on your home page, but you can also go a step further by promoting them in personalized CTAs on blog posts (see #4 above). You should also promote gated content on yoursocial media channelsand perhaps even pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

6. Create Engaging, Optimized Content to Nurture Inbound Traffic

All of these strategies to build your email contact list can benefit from nurturing a higher volume of traffic to your website. One way to go about this is via inbound marketing techniques. Ensure that every page on your website is optimized for search engines and post search engine optimized (SEO) content to your blog.

Simply stuffing keywords into your website isn’t enough, however. These days, the Google algorithm is smart enough to know when a website is pumping out keyword-stuffed, poor quality content, and the algorithm penalizes the website accordingly. Focus on creating well-written, useful, and engaging content that will truly resonate with your audience (and that just happens to have some good keywords sprinkled throughout it).

Of course, business owners often don’t have much time to sit down and write their own onsite pages and blog posts, much less to periodically update them as needed. That’s one reason why it’s beneficial to have amarketing agency partnerwho knows your business almost as well as you do and can promote a positive brand image.

7. UseBriberyIncentives

Occasionally, bribery (ahem, incentives) can be a smart way to go. For instance, you might offer free domestic shipping to customers who opt in to your email list, a discount on their purchase, or perhaps a free mystery gift. (If you do offer a mystery gift, it shouldn’t be disappointing. A travel-sized sample of a new product can be a good idea, and may encourage future purchases.)

Incentives are often most effective when there is a time limit placed on them. For instance, let your customers know that the offer is only good until the end of the week or month, or is only applicable to their first purchase (for first-time customers).

8. Tap Into the Appeal of Gamification 

Gamification can make almost anything seem more appealing—from slogging through the work of learning a new language (e.g. Duolingo) to sticking to a weight loss program. And yes, it may also help you capture more emails for your contact list.

Gamification strategies might not necessarily work for every business. They tend to work best for ecommerce websites. Picture a game show-style wheel with slots labeled with incentives—like 5% off or free shipping, as well as a few “sorry, not a winner” slots scattered into the mix. The user has to enter their email address and subscribe in order to get a shot at spinning the digital wheel.

With a little creativity, you might make this strategy work for a service business, as well. For instance, you could offer a discount on a new customer’s first appointment (if applicable). A hair stylist, for example, could offer a discount on highlights or keratin treatments, and an HVAC provider could offer a free HVAC filter or a discount on a service visit.

9. Keep Current Subscribers Engaged

The most well-populated email contact list in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t use it wisely. First, follow the golden rule of email marketing: Don’t send out so many emails that your subscribers get sick of seeing them and decide to opt out. Next, make sure that the emails you do send are relevant, useful, and interesting, and will keep your customers engaged with your brand.

Try the following tips:

  • Segment your email contact list into different groups so that you can send out more relevant emails to each group. (For instance, people who purchase women’s health supplements shouldn’t receive marketing emails that advertise men’s hair loss products, and vice versa.)
  • Put your brand voice to good use. If your brand is fun and lighthearted, be sure this is reflected in your marketing emails.
  • Don’t be overly salesy. Offer something of intrinsic value, as well, such as actionable tips, news, etc.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Most people don’t have time to read through a lengthy email, no matter how well-written it might be.
  • Use graphics as much as possible for visual interest and to break up chunks of copy.

Entrust Your Email Marketing to the Experts at Pennington

Turn to the talented team at Pennington Creative foremail marketingdone right. We provide a full suite of B2C and B2B digital marketing services, including white label content for digital marketing agencies. With experience in awide range of industries—from healthcare to education to law and beyond—we can meet your customers where they’re at and drive explosive growth for your company.

Contact us todayto request a free discovery call and find out how our outsourced digital marketing services can elevate your brand.

About the Author