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How to Grow a Great Email Marketing List?

One of the most frequently heard concerns amongst novice email marketers and even some more experienced ones is 'I'm fine with the concept of permission but how do I get new members onto my list?'

I think we are all comfortable with the idea of communicating regularly with existing customers and prospects so long as you have permission to do that.

However, the 'old way' of growing a list (ie: buy a database and scatter bomb it with offers hoping that some of the names on that list will turn into customers) well, that doesn't apply to email marketing.

In fact not only does it not work but you risk some serious damage to your brand in doing that. The double whammy of a deluge of customer complaints and being blacklisted by ISPs so none of your email gets through should be enough to put anyone off.

So just how do you get new people on your list?.. fast?

Your Website The first place to look would have to be whatever you have in place right now. This is most likely to be your website. Visitors to your website are there because in some way your website drew them there. However, fleetingly, they have pre-qualified themselves just by visiting.

Rather than let them drift off into cyberspace, you should be doing everything you can to win permission to build a relationship with them.

However, it's not as easy as it used to be to win that permission. The days when a free email newsletter was considered to be value in itself are long gone. You need to have a much richer value proposition to win that permission these days.

You will probably need to consider two types of value proposition: the immediate gratification and the long term benefits.

Immediate gratification propositions are usually some form of free gift or more often an entry into the prize draw. Customers can sense a quick return on their investment. Give my email address now and win a $100 gift voucher next week!

However, you also want to have long term benefits clearly described. After the prize draw what else is in it for the visitor. Member discounts, advance notice of new products, in depth information, belonging to an interactive community and invitations to special events are all longer term benefits to consider. Make it clear that handing over an email address isn't just about a prize draw.

If your site visitor to newsletter signup rate is pretty low, it could be that you are asking too much. When you think about email marketing as building a long term relationship, then it makes sense not to overdo the first meeting. If I meet a stranger in a bar and he asked me within the first five minutes what cereal my first born preferred to eat, I would be running for the door. Think of earning permission as being that guy in the bar. If you push too hard, you're scary. Get it right, and you're marriage material.

Friend Get Friend If you are going to the trouble of working on your website signup process, you might want to add in a 'friend get friend' aspect. Afterall, when you meet someone nice, you're dead keen to tell your friends!

It's not hard to add in the functionality to allow your new recruits to send a quick message to their friends inviting them along to the site so that they can join up too. I'm a great fan of allowing your visitors to add their own message rather than just sending out the standard website message.

Of course, you don't have permission to communicate with those people until they sign up too but the chances of them doing that are a lot higher if their friends have told them about your great value propositions! People don't trust marketing messages anymore, but they do trust their friends (mostly).

Once you have your website signup processes sorted out, only then would I recommend that you look to other methods.

Advertising Advertising in offline or related online publications can work. I feel it works better as a brand awareness tactic than a direct response mechanism. However a well placed ad in an email newsletter that goes out to a list that's well-related to your type of customers, can work wonders to drive prospects to your site.

Telemarketing If you absolutely insist on buying yourself a raw list, then it makes much more sense to call these people first. Whichever way you look at it, if you don't, you are veering into luncheon meat territory (spam). Well-executed telemarketing with a good incentive in behind it, can have response rates of up to 80% permission.

Co-registration This sounds a lot more technical than it is. To go back to the bar analogy, it's simply a case of 'if you like me, you might like my friend too'. To get this set up, find a company that has a website with email signup on it and a good strategic fit to your own. Then you both add sign ups to the other to your websites, thereby doubling the exposure that you get.

As with any partnership relationship, it will take careful management to make sure that both of you feel you are getting enough out of the relationship and you will need to work extra hard to make sure the customers know what they are getting.

A final note though : it's not the number of names on your database, it's the quality of those names that counts. 100 people who are committed customers are more valuable than 500 tenuously gathered names. So when you are playing the numbers game, remember to examine the true value of each list member.