Fledgling businesses eager to spread brand awareness as rapidly as possible may want to invest in preset email mailing lists, but they should consider the long-term impact first.

For many marketers, the biggest barrier to starting a successful email program is the list. Without a significant mailing list, revenue from email will be small. Minimal revenue leads to a limited budget, and a limited budget means that list growth will be slow and difficult. It’s a catch-22.

There are plenty of articles that discuss tactics to grow your list. The problem is that they are almost always dependent on prospective subscribers already knowing you exist and coming to your website, social media channels, or physical location.

But what happens when you have to kick-start your program, or your brand is not well-known? The fact is, many companies are not willing or able to wait for organic growth, even if it is well executed. That’s why so many companies I speak with have used or are using list purchase. There are a multitude of reasons for this and they stem from how such lists are collected. 

First, allow me to clarify the difference between a list purchase and a list rental. A list purchase means that a vendor sells you or your company addresses, perhaps with additional information, which are then yours to use as often and for as long as you wish. Rentals refer to when a vendor sends out an email about your company to their list. There are potential pitfalls with list rental, but they’re nothing like those with purchase.

The address collection problem is quite straightforward. In a perfect world, users would knowingly opt-in to have their addresses sold to and receive offers from third-parties. Addresses would be freshly-collected and the permission confirmed. In reality, almost (Read more...) one will ever actually do this. Therefore, list vendors resort to cutting corners in order to meet demands.

Decisions regarding which corners to cut can vary from vendor to vendor and even from list to list. It can include disingenuous subscriptions, which occur when references made to the sale of an address are embedded deep within the terms and conditions. Other examples of how corner-cutting may manifest involve website address scraping or even address fabrication: guessing an individual’s address based on the pattern their organization uses for addresses. Cutting corners increases the risk for spam traps, invalid addresses, complaints, and non-responders. All of this can lead to a negative impact on your deliverability, ROI, and ultimately, the viability of your email program.

So, what should a company do if they’re set on list purchase or have already used list purchase? Here is my advice:

1. Reconsider

If at all possible, find other ways to grow your list. Consider other options like:

  • Website subscriptions
  • List rental
  • Search marketing 
  • Digital or traditional advertising
  • Co-marketing

These are only a few examples, but the list of possibilities is endless. They may require more of your time; however, the quality of the leads will be better and the risks to your program will substantially decrease.

2. Keep Your Purchased Addresses Separated

At any time, you may need to drop some or all of your purchased addresses. Therefore, make sure you’re able to identify them and separate them from your actual subscribers.

The thing about probabilities is that low likelihood or low risk events can still occur. Just because you’ve emailed once or twice does not mean you won’t get burned on the third time, especially if you’re continuing to buy addresses. This leads to the third and final item below.

3. Think of List Purchase Like the Starter Motor of a Car - Not the Engine.

List purchase is a powerful way to get things going. But you’ll do lots of damage if you try to drive with it. Many companies get into trouble when they regard their list purchase as a continuous source of new leads and opportunities that can enable the growth of their email list. It is a problem because the risks inherent in list purchase only compound as you buy more addresses.

I'm not advocating for list purchase, and I would prefer if it never happened. But since this does happen, my advice is to use list purchase very sparingly. Aim to cease mailing to purchase addresses as soon as possible, especially those addresses that have not converted. Dependence on list purchase addresses can be tempting as they project impressions of efficiency, but it this will only hinder and even harm your long-term email marketing efforts.

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