3 effective alternatives to buying an email list

Buying a list can often be seen a easy shortcut to increasing your reach potential for your email campaigns, but they could be damaging your long-term strategy. In this article I offer some alternatives to list buying that will grow your database with people who might actually want to hear from you.

The new year is already underway and you already have your KPIs and marketing plans in front of you. Undoubtably growth is on the agenda and perhaps a break into a new market or sector.

Since you're already running a series of qualification and nurturing campaigns on your current subscriber database, you need to make your existing email database larger. You have done some demographic research for your campaign and know the type of customer, company, geography you want to target, so you get in touch with a data company to purchase a list, spend a few thousand of your native currency and blam! There goes your campaign into a supernova of low click rates, unsubscribes and spam complaints. Your contact acquisition investment just went up in smoke.

So what happened?

The problem with lists

Let's just back up a moment and explain a couple of fundamental problems with purchased lists.

Have you ever stopped for a moment to consider where the data has come from?

The people on these lists are the ones who forgot to tick the box that said "I do not agree for your partners to contact me with promotional messages". Have you ever done that? That one time, back in the day, when you purchased a new phone, washing machine, a loan, almost anything from the internet? What happened; did you get an endless stream of "related" mail, email, phone calls, text messages, for ever and ever, no matter how many times you hit 'unsubscribe'?

Do you think that you are the only person to have contacted these people?

The data in this instance is usually sold to a promotional or marketing agency and used for a related campaign. Once the campaign is over the data is then sold to another company looking to sell it to the likes of you, in order that you might find it useful and pay for the information. How many emails did that person receive today because they didn't tick the 'no thanks' box?

Do you know this person still exists?

Some data companies give guarantees on data decay and validity, that is some promise not to sell you data over a certain age and only data that is up to date and contains no spam traps. However, these guarantees typically form a percentage of their overall database, but it only takes a single-figure percentage of your overall deployment to bounce to get you black-listed.

Most commentary on this topic talks about the technical, reputation side of the problem, but the first problem is the biggest for me. Email is a successful channel when recipients elect to use it - this is permission-based marketing. If this were not the case and email was a pure broadcast communication channel, there wouldn't be the plethora of anti-spam laws in place.

Alternatives to lists

So, if you don't want to be that kind of marketer, what do you do? You still need to grow the database, right? Ok, here are some alternatives to flat-out buying a list.

Use someone else's list

Wait, what? Ok, let me explain. What I mean here is to sponsor content in someone else's channel. If another publication has an audience that matches the demographic you are trying to reach, then a sponsored piece of content is an easy way to reach those people. The trick is to ensure that you are using a reputable publication whose subscribers have opted in to sponsored content, otherwise you're no better off than buying a list.

This is probably your most expensive option, so the following can be more cost effective.

Run a search engine advertising campaign

This option might seem so obvious the you have discounted it as a tactic, but performing some keyword analysis on your target demographic and funding a PPC campaign could be a great alternative. You could either modify your existing campaign to fit into the search channel, or run a PPC campaign to compel someone to sign up and execute your existing campaign off the back of that.

Depending on the keywords you select, this could be a fairly cost-effective solution for you, optionally allowing it to be an 'always on' campaign for the year.

Advertise on social

In all honesty, I'm surprised list companies still exist considering the options available in social advertising.

Depending on who you're trying to target, you should be able to locate a sizeable audience on most of the major platforms, however some research is required into the habits and preferences of those you want to reach and the content you have in mind. Consider that people on LinkedIn will be in a more 'business' frame of mind than those on Facebook, those on Twitter are more likely to be using a mobile than those on LinkedIn.

There are differences between each platform, but essentially they all allow you to create advertising creative and select the audience you want to reach via normal demographic data and, in the instance of LinkedIn, by job title, company and industry.

Just think about that for a second; you were about to use that data to buy a blind list from a data company, when with LinkedIn, you can actually see the people you want to target.

A step in the right direction

Making that first connection with a new contact can be fraught with social anxiety and cost-per-connection investment risk, but the sure-fire way to a bad first impression is to show up unannounced and unwanted in someone's inbox.

Now you have some alternatives to list buying you can get your campaigns started on the right foot with some contacts who actually want to hear more from you.

If these alternatives are new to you and you need some guidance, support to get buy-in, or maybe you have some other cool ideas, please get in touch; I'd love to talk it through with you.