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Email Marketing: How to build your email list and not mess it up

| March 19, 2014

Email marketing done right is a lot like starting a relationship and keeping it interesting. It takes some skill and finesse to strike up that first conversation and even more to keep it going. In my last post, I talked about the value of email marketing to a targeted “rented” list and promised I would speak more into the concept of growing and nurturing your own list.  So, here we go.

Building that email marketing list…

We’re all obsessed with it and we should be. If you don’t have an effective email marketing strategy in place to build your opt-in email list with the people you really want on it, I’m about to give you some advice, free of charge.

Whenever appropriate and with plenty of courtesy and tact, you should be asking people for their emails—at the register, on the phone, on your website and landing pages, in ads, at events…you get the idea. You can’t afford to miss an opportunity. But you can’t just say something like “Join our newsletter!” That’s akin to holding up a sign that says, “Please let us SPAM you.” You have to provide a good reason and enough perceived value in order for them to give you their data, so tell them upfront what they’re signing up for. Is it savings that only email subscribers receive? Being the first to know about new products that will change their lives? Or is it joining a conversation on a topic they feel passionately about? Or a combination of all of the above?

Some brands build their lists by offering incentives such as a giveaway or some other big flash in the pan, which are fine as long as they are relevant and designed to attract the right kind of customer: one who is genuinely interested in what they have to offer and has the intention and means to be a customer after the initial offer. For example, if you’re a dermatologist, you’re better off offering a free or discounted screening to people who schedule their first appointment online (giving you their email) than offering them, say, a chance to win an iPad mini. This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many businesses get it wrong and get a lot of low-quality leads as a result.

 “Now that we’ve found [email] love, what are we gonna do with it?”

Well, the first thing you need to do is avoid the common pitfall of treating your email relationship like a transaction—send email, make money. The people on your list are just that—people. And they have the audacity to want to be treated like people, not a means to your company’s end. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use email to sell, it just means it’s wise to stay mindful of the kinds of information people actually want, where they  are in their relationship with you and how they want to be spoken to. Which segues to my next point: staying relevant. Doing so will ultimately benefit your bottom line.

Segmentation is targeting specific messages to different types of subscribers on your list, based on criteria such as their interests, purchase history, how they joined your list, demographic data (birthday, gender, etc.), and actions they’ve taken, to name a few. It is a lesser-practiced art in email marketing, but it’s probably the most important. In fact, “email marketers estimate 30 percent of email revenue derives from targeting to specific segments.” — DMA’s National Client Email Report (2013).

Keeping your emails relevant keeps people engaged and on your list.  For example, I recently opted out of an auto dealership’s email list because I was frequently bombarded with new vehicle offers…when I had just purchased one. They might have kept me on their list if they had looked at my purchase history and, based on where I was in my buying cycle, realized I would be more interested in time/mileage-appropriate service offers and friendly check-ins on how my new vehicle was working out for me. That’s segmentation 101.


“But, that sounds really labor-intensive,” you might say. Believe it or not, all of this can be automated as part of a dynamic “drip” email campaign—pre-scheduled emails triggered by a set timeline or customer behavior. A drip campaign will be unique to your particular business, but common emails might include welcome emails, suggested products based on purchase history, “We’ve missed you” emails to inactive customers, customer polls, etc. The bottom line: you need to get inside your customers’ heads and determine the most appropriate email strategy that will meet their needs.

 A few closing tips that really merit their own posts (sorry):

Subject lines: these are what will get your email opened, so choose them wisely. Think conversation-starter, not bad pick-up line. Avoid anything that will trigger someone’s mental spam filter (i.e., cheesy symbols, overly salesy language, etc.) and make sure you’re describing what is actually inside the email in the most intriguing, personable way possible. Many times, posing a question that piques someone’s interest is a good way forward.

Design: the main thing is to make sure your emails are smartphone and tablet-friendly, since nearly half of all emails are opened on a mobile device (source: Knotice). Many email companies like G/O Digital (our digital fulfillment company) and MailChimp offer responsive email templates that will automatically scale and reconfigure based on the device. Sometimes, you need fully designed gorgeous HTML emails, while at other times you just need a simple plain text email (especially if sending a personal note from a staff member). Consider what lends the most credibility to your message. Whatever you do, don’t send an email that’s just an image. Most email service providers automatically disable images and your message will likely never see the light of day, even with alt text (which you should always use for your images).

476032961Response: make it easy for someone to take the appropriate action with a clear call-to-action, visual cues and the best possible click-thru destination (i.e., a specific page on your site or landing page). I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve seen that just announced something like a sale and didn’t give the user anything to do about it!

If you’d like more detail on any of the points I’ve covered or something else related to email marketing, please comment below or get in touch with one of our strategists. We’d love to help you succeed in your email marketing endeavors.

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