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5 Ethical Ways to Grow Your Corporate Email Database

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This post originally appeared on THEsmallCOMPANYBLOG.

When it comes to marketing, one of the most essential ingredients for success is time.  Over my 18 years as a marketer, I have never heard the words “Quick . . . market this!” nor have I uttered them to someone else.   People who market for a living understand the concept of time, and realize things like web hits, social networking followers, and article mentions are earned through months (if not years) of hard work and dedication—not some secret technique or automated tool that can be purchased for $9.99 a month.

Building a high-quality direct email database is no different.  Regardless of what many fly-by-night list vendors and list appending companies claim, there is no substitute for time when it comes to growing an internal email list.  High-quality email addresses are earned (not purchased) through three things: good planning, great execution, and the elimination of critical mistakes.  If your company is interested in steadily increasing both the size and quality of its corporate email database over time, below are five proven strategies for doing so.

List-Building Tip #1: Trade Knowledge for Contact Information

As e-commerce sites become easier to set up and operate, marketing people are getting increasingly more greedy.  Five years ago, it was rare to see a marketing initiative drive people directly to a shopping cart.  But these days, the majority of marketing campaigns end up with the recipient staring straight into the face of an “Add to Cart” button.  These types of campaigns might generate a few quick sales, but they do nothing for an internal email database.  Instead of exclusively running direct-to-sale initiatives, try offering a free article, white paper or template once in awhile.  If the topic is relevant and timely, people will gladly trade their contact information for your knowledge.  And the best part?  In terms of general clickthroughs, “free knowledge” campaigns regularly outperform direct-to-sale initiatives by as much as 7 to 1.  Yes, really.

List-Building Tip #2: Encourage Pass-Alongs

Nearly six years ago when I met the entrepreneur I work for today, one of the first marketing-related statements she made to me was ” If you want someone to pass on your marketing, why don’t you just ask them?”  At the time I had a good laugh to myself at the naivety of her marketing ‘perspective.’  But as embarrassed as I am to admit it now, she was right.  Simply asking people (in writing or verbally) to pass your marketing information to a friend, colleague or co-worker actually works. In fact, I have personally seen an increase in campaign response of between 15 and 50 percent, simply by putting the words “Please pass along to a friend!” in emails, newsletters, catalogs and print advertisements.  And of course, an increase in general marketing responses means more clicks, more reads, more downloads, and ultimately more qualified email addresses in your database.

List-Building Tip #3: Ask People for Their Input

One of the best and fastest ways to fill your email database with qualified and loyal contacts is also one of the simplest: ask people what they think.  Developing a new technology product?  Put out a request for beta testers. Writing a new book? Recruit some reviewers.  Trying out a new marketing angle? Assemble an online focus group.  Although I’ve done these things hundreds of times, it still amazes me how much effort people are willing to give companies in exchange for a few free products or complimentary services—or something as simple as a public “Thank You.”  And when your initiative is over, your company will be left not only with improved products and services, but with a group of dedicated and highly motivated email contacts who actually look forward to receiving updates from you.

List-Building Tip #4: Find Good Lists . . . and Rent Them

As counter-intuitive as this may sound, using high quality, industry-specific email lists is a great way to build your own internal database.  Is there a popular magazine, newsletter or educational portal in your industry?  If so, consider allocating a portion of your marketing budget to renting their contact list once in awhile.  With a good list and the right offer (see #1 above for more details) I have seen companies effectively ‘transfer’ up to 10% of the contacts in a rented, industry-specific rented list to their own database with as few as one email blast.

One Word of Caution: depending upon what your company actually sells, renting an email list for $350 to $500 per thousand names can be a bit on the expensive side.  Let’s do the math: if an average blast of 5,000 names costs your company between $1,750 and $2,500, the 500 new contacts your company might acquire will cost $3.50 to $5 each.  If you’re selling coffee by the cup, paying $5 for one email address might not be reasonable.  However, if your company sells enterprise-wide software solutions at $10 million apiece, handing over $5 per qualified industry contact is something your marketing department should be willing to do with a smile.

List-Building Tip #5:  Assign an Email Traffic Cop

A friend of mine recently passed along this horrifying story: a new marketing person at her company sent an e-newsletter to 3,000 people in the company’s internal list.  Realizing he had provided some inaccurate information, he fixed the newsletter and resent it 30 minutes later. Then, while testing some functions within the company’s email software, the employee accidentally sent the entire blast a third time . . . all on the same day.  Thinking they were being spammed, 490 of the 3,000 contacts opted out of the corporation’s email list.  The moral of the story?  Holding onto your existing email contacts is just as important as finding new ones.  The most effective way to avoid miscues like this is to assign an internal “owner” of your company’s email database—someone whose job it is to know who has been emailed, when they were emailed, and exactly what they were sent.  This person should also be assigned the job of processing opt-outs in a timely manner, maintaining an up-to-date “Removes” list, and making sure each email communication is unique, valuable, and expected.

Comments?  Questions?  Feel free to reply to this post.

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March 2nd, 2011 at 6:50 am