Making the List

by Patricia Fitzgerald

A while back, we wrote a blog post focused on keeping your emails out of prospective customers’ junk folders. As we pointed out then, good email content is key. But once those emails have been crafted, who the heck to do you send them to? That’s exactly what we plan to address in this follow-up post: Building your email marketing list.

Quality vs. Quantity

When determining who’s on the receiving end of your email marketing, think quality over quantity. Sure, you may have thousands of names on your email list. But if 90 percent of those recipients aren’t interested in what you have to say (or sell), chances are your emails are going straight into their trash.

Likewise, if your email list is cluttered with incorrect or defunct addresses, your emails are getting lost in the ether or bounced back. Also no bueno. Bottom line: It’s better to have a smaller list of emails for customers or prospects who have a genuine connection with — and interest in — your business, products, services, and/or insights.

Which leads us to the question: How do you amass a quality list comprised of recipients who are more likely to open than trash your emails? As we like to tell our clients, start slow and built over time. Rather than spending big bucks on purchasing pre-built mailings lists of people who have no clue who are you, consider starting with your current customers — folks who have already demonstrated an interest in what you’re selling. And go from there.

Receptive Recipients

Your past and current customers are going to be more receptive to your email communications — and thus more likely to read and respond to them — than complete strangers. According to a report by MarketingSherpa, 72 percent of consumers prefer to be contacted via email by companies they do business with. What’s more, 61 percent like receiving weekly promotional emails from these companies, with 28 percent wanting even more frequent email promotions.

So a good place to begin building your email list is with your patrons. There are a few ways you can go about collecting the email address of your current customers. We’ll start with the lowest-tech methods.

In Store Sign-Ups

If you have a physical location — say, a retail store — train your employees to gather customer email addresses at the time of purchase. Plop a clipboard with a sign-up sheet by the register and invite customers to add their names and emails to receive updates, discounts, give-aways, and special promotions. You’ll find most customers are more than willing to join the list.

Celebrate and Collect

As an incentive, ask your customers to include the day they were born so you can email them a special offer or freebie on their birthday. You can also have them include the date they signed up to your list, and send them special anniversary offers. People lurve free stuff.

Captive Audiences

Events present another great opportunity to collect emails. Grand openings, behind-the-scene tours, product showcases and demonstrations, live music performances, open mic nights, ladies’ night out — whatever the event, use it as an opportunity to ask attendees for email addresses so they can stay in the loop on special offers and future events.

Similarly, whenever you attend a tradeshow, business meeting, or other event populated by your prospective customers, be sure to have a mechanism for collecting emails on the spot.

On the Job

If you provide a service — landscaping, for example — then ask for customers’ email addresses on-location, after you’ve finished the work. Let them know that by joining your list, they’ll receive emails about special offers and discounts, or monthly e-newsletters with helpful tips and info. Again, you may be surprised to see how many satisfied customers are willing to sign up.

Digital To-Do’s

Along with collecting emails from customers in person, make sure you’re also capturing them online. Websites and social media platforms let you extend your email list beyond current customers to prospects. Here are a few tactics you should be employing.

Know Your Opt-Ins

Somewhere noticeable on your website — preferably every page — include a method of signing up (or opting in, as it’s known in the biz) to receive your emails. An opt-in form can be as minimal as a single field pop-up to enter an email address, like the ones you’ll find here and here. Or it can include a more extensive sign-up form, typically on your contact web page, that allows you to capture more information.

As a general rule of thumb, the fewer fields your web visitors have to fill out, the better. You’ll want to ask for their email address (obviously) and a name so you can personalize the emails you send them. But beyond that, less will be more effective. Here’s what our form looks like.

It’s a good idea to let your visitors know what they’re getting in return for opting in to receive emails, i.e. a monthly e-newsletter, special offers and discounts, stuff like that. Make it seem worth their while.

Checkout Captures

If you run on online store, make sure you’re giving your customers the chance to register to receive emails during the check-out process. According to Jupiter Research, 77 percent of marketers says that check-out registration leads to higher quality emails for your list — and more of them. Again, make sure you're clear on what your customers get for registering to receive your emails.

Email-Content Exchange

Some businesses will require their website visitors to supply their email addresses in order to get a price quote on a service or product, download a white paper or brochure, ask for a consultation or free demo, and other requests of that ilk.

We typically caution our clients against this tactic, however, as it can create an added barrier and encourage annoyed visitors to bounce from your site. If what you’re offering is of measurable value, or you know your visitor really wants what you have, then this might be an effective approach. But in general, we don’t recommend forcing visitors to provide their email addresses to obtain more information about you.

Make Use of Social Media

Social media platforms offer another avenue for collecting prospects’ emails. MailChip has a feature that lets you create and add sign-up forms to your Facebook and Twitter pages. Super easy to do.

You can also post contests and giveaways on your social media pages, and collect emails from people who enter those contests. Word of caution: unless you’re giving away products or services specific to you, many of the emails you collect with this tactic may be from folks who just want that free iPad you’re offering — and who have no genuine interest in you.

Drive Them There

If your business involves shipping products to your customers, include a card inside the package inviting people to a page on your website where they can sign up to receive emails. Same goes with any printed piece you send out to customers and prospects — catalogues, brochures, direct mail: drive recipients to an opt-in page on your site. You’ve got nothing to lose, and some email addresses to gain.

List-Building Tools

Creating a quality email list all by your lonesome can be a chore — one you may not have time or patience for. Luckily, there are a lot of easy-to-use web-based tools and services that help simplify and automate the process. Services like AWeber, GetResponse, Campaign Monitor, and Constant Contact — to name a few. Different services charge different fees, usually based on list size or number of emails sent, so be sure to do some comparative shopping.

Our email service provider of choice is MailChimp, which offers a basic free version that meets most small business needs. Should you want to talk email lists, we’re happy to listen — and offer up some more recommendations crafted just for you. Give us shout. Or, hey, shoot us an email.

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