• Cleve Baron

Building your email list: Everything you need to know before getting started (Part 1)

Main takeaways in this article:

  • Learn how a well-cultivated email list can sustainably skyrocket your sales

  • Discover what influences people to hand over their emails

  • Gain an overview of the essential make-or-break components of list building

  • Learn how you can begin to automate your email marketing

Section 1: What is email marketing/list building?

Email marketing is one of the core pillars of digital marketing, alongside channels such as search optimization, paid advertising, social media, and content.

Typically, email marketing is used in conjunction with other marketing channels as part of a holistic digital marketing strategy. This is because it doesn’t initially drive traffic to your site, so you have to combine it with other channels, such as paid advertising.

One example of this is setting up Facebook ads that drive traffic to a landing page, which has a subscription form that collects emails. From there, you can launch your email marketing efforts.

Although email marketing doesn’t initially drive much traffic, it serves an important function in the latter part of the customer lifecycle and should, therefore, be prioritized.

In order to start blasting out emails to your leads, however, you have to collect them in the first place. This process is called “list building,” and it refers to a database of potential customers (leads) who have voluntarily given you their email address by filling out a form on your website in exchange for a benefit such as a downloadable book, tool, or newsletter.

Section 2: Why build your email list?

Given the diversity of online marketing channels, it’s important to understand why list building is so powerful.

You will find that list building is an essential component of your digital marketing strategy that should be prioritized, regardless of your current marketing performance.

The key difference between email marketing and other channels is the ability to collect, warm, and stay in direct contact with your leads, which ultimately helps amplify your other marketing channels.

Here is a list of reasons why you should invest in building your list:

Collect leads - The ultimate reason for building a list is to collect leads. This is the foundation of any marketing endeavor, and when combined with email marketing, it provides a way to stay in touch with prospects.

Warm leads - It’s marketing 101 that not all leads will be ready to buy the moment they come in contact with your brand. Prospects typically fall under one of five stages of awareness:

  • Awareness

  • Interest

  • Intent

  • Consideration

  • Evaluation

There may be many prospects who would buy from you at a later stage, but without collecting their emails, you would have lost contact with them.

If you capture these leads, however, you can use email marketing strategies to keep them warm and move them along the stages of awareness by educating them and adding value.

Sales - By collecting and nurturing leads, you will add more customers to your sales pipeline. Once you have built a substantial list, email marketing will become one of the most cost-effective ways to increase your sales.

Upselling - In addition to moving prospects through your standard sales funnel, you also gain the opportunity to sell them additional services later on. Customers that have bought from you in the past are more likely to buy from you again, and convincing them to buy again may be more effective than trying to acquire new customers.

Affiliate - You can also monetize your list through affiliate and business partnerships. This involves promoting additional products that are beneficial to the people on your list and then earning a commission or fixed fee from these sales.

Retention - In industries such as eCommerce, it is common for customers to initiate checkouts but not complete purchases. Through building appropriate lists, however, you will be able to retarget customers and get them to complete the sale later on.

You may also encounter customers who decide to cancel their subscriptions. In this scenario, you can use email marketing to continue adding value and offering discounts to entice them to resubscribe.

Amplifying content - If you are engaged in a content marketing strategy, having a strong email list is a powerful way to distribute and amplify the effects of your content. It also creates an opportunity to drive customers back to your website, increasing the likelihood that they will make a purchase.

Brand building - Staying in contact with your prospects is a great way to carve out a little space in their mind and keep your brand relevant. Over time, as you send them great offers and content and share stories, you will build more trust and familiarity, which will result in more business.

Idea validation - If you are in the process of launching a new product or service, having an email list is useful in the following ways:

  • Customer research - Before and during product development, you want to collect as much feedback from potential customers as possible. This information will ultimately help you deliver a better product. A ready list of prospects is a good way to acquire this feedback.

  • Beta testing - It’s helpful to have people actually use your product before you do a full release, especially for software products or new websites. This way, you can discover hidden bugs and see how customers are interacting with your product. Send out a quick email blast to your list, and you will be able to thoroughly test your product before launch.

  • Presales - If you have a highly qualified list, you should be able to generate sales before officially launching your product. This is the ultimate way to validate whether there is a real demand for what you’re offering.

By now, you should have a strong understanding of why you should build an email list. List building has tremendous benefits, and it is one of the simplest marketing strategies to execute, which you will learn more about in the next sections.

Section 3: How to build a list (hint: add value)

Effective list building comes down to two things: adding value and offering strong incentives. Your goal is to entice a prospect to register their real email so that you can contact them later on.

Keep in mind, however, that many other businesses are trying to do the same thing. And because shady internet marketers have spammed (and scammed) people through email for years, many consumers are reluctant to provide this information generously.

Oftentimes, consumers need to feel that there is a real reason to provide you with their email—that they will receive something beneficial in return.

This means that you have to provide them with a strong incentive in the form of added value, which could take on the following forms:

1) The coupon

An obvious incentive for your prospects is to offer them savings in the form of coupons. These typically include a redeemable offer such as:

  • Buy one, get one free

  • 10% off your first order

  • Free shipping

  • Free consultation call

In order for the lead to collect this offer, they will have to input their email address, to which the coupon will be sent. Coupons are particularly prominent with eCommerce businesses, but with a little creativity, you can come up with attractive coupon ideas across the board.

2) Long-form content

The goal of content is to provide value in the form of information, entertainment and more. This means that you can use content to help build your list. However, you can’t simply use your blog content, because your leads already have access to it.

Instead, you will want to create unique content that is only accessible to your email list. This content will typically be longer in form and have value and insights that you don’t share on your public channels. Here are some examples:

  • Create an eBook - Consider creating a short eBook that solves a customer problem in detail or compiles your key insights. If you are a design agency, for instance, you can create a handbook that outlines the best practices for in-house designers. If you are an eCommerce store selling women’s fashion, you can offer a guide about the psychology of matching colors.

  • Compile data - You probably have access to unique data that your customers would love to discover, and even if you don’t, you can easily collect and compile it in the form of a report that your customers can access. This might include surveys from other businesses in your industry or key data that you uncover through secondary research.

  • Publish a whitepaper - For B2B-focused businesses, whitepapers are an excellent way to distinguish your brand by providing in-depth and technical expertise on a particular subject. White papers typically delve deep into matters such as industry trends and offer insights about cause, implications and opportunities.

3) Email content

Depending on your customer base, long form content may not be an effective incentive. Sometimes, it is more useful to offer value in the form of short content, which you will deliver through an email series or regular updates.

Newsletter - Likely the most common incentive used for list building is a newsletter. This type of content has existed since the earliest days of the internet and still remains as one of the most effective incentives. A newsletter can include a variety of content types, including company updates, stories, event notifications, product launches and more.

Keep in mind, however, that leads will only want to subscribe to your newsletter if they are already engaged with your brand. This means that it may not generate as many emails, but it will likely help you create a more loyal and engaged list.

Email series - Consider creating an email series that provides value in the form of a guide or tips and tricks. For example, you could offer a five-part email series that teaches your customers about a relevant industry problem, such as transitioning to remote working. Or you could create a 10-part series that highlights the most common mistakes online learners make.

Email series are useful because your leads are hearing from you on an ongoing basis, which increases the likelihood that they will stay engaged with your brand, making it easier to market to them in the long term.

4) Access to community

Providing access to a community is a strong incentive for leads and customers to give you their email. The ideal situation is an active and organized community that is congregated in a forum. This may be unlikely in many cases, but you can still invite people to join your “community” of people within your sphere of influence, such as those subscribed to your email list and following your social channels. In this case, you are not offering a promise to network with other members, but rather to stay in the know with a group of people with similar interests.

Why are communities attractive to leads?

  • Identification - Many people want to feel like they are part of a brand that reflects their values, and that involves being part of a community.

  • Networking - People with similar interests often use brands as a way to congregate. Communities provide a useful way for your customers to network with similar-minded people.

  • Stay updated - Many people want to join communities to have access to the latest information and trends.

5) Offer a free gift

When all else fails, there’s always the time-tested way to compel people to give you their email address: bribery!

People love free stuff, so giving them a gift in exchange for their email is one of the most effective ways to capture leads.

There is a downside to this approach, of course. It can be quite costly depending on what you are offering. However, if it’s a digital product—maybe one that’s normally behind a paywall—this can be an effective method.

If you’re sending out free perfume samples, however, you will soon find that this approach is unscalable.

So when using gifts as a way to capture leads, it’s important to do some calculations in regards to the lifetime value of the customer and when you can expect to recuperate the associated costs.

One final thought

Not all lists are built equal. Depending on how you collect your leads, you will have different levels of engagement and new customers.

This tricky part of list building comes down to managing incentives and expectations. Just because someone opts to receive a piece of content or a free gift doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to hear from you or become a customer.

This means that you need to come up with strategic ways to incentivize your leads. Essentially, you need to give them a strong enough reason to opt into your brand, not just the particular piece of candy you’re waving in front of them.

In Part 2, we’ll take a look at the different ways you can actually collect leads, the tools you will need, and how to segment and organize your lists.

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