Email marketing: Should you build a list, or should you buy?

Posted By: Dave Kopf
Post Date: 02/14/2017

WHEN IT COMES TO email marketing, your list is everything. With the right investment of time, expertise and, perhaps, money, you can develop a targeted list of relevant buyers who will be interested in your marketing messages.

But how do you build your list? Essentially, you have to build it or buy it, or do a combination of both.

There are many options for buying a list. Legions of marketing firms collect a variety of lists that they sell online. Those lists can be purchased based on a variety of criteria, including by geography, so that dealers can purchase a list that is somewhat local to their business.

But is buying the right way to go? While simply paying to buy a list is tempting, the process is not that simple. In fact, there are certain risks. First, you could waste your valuable marketing budget on a list packed with old and bad addresses that does not generate viable results. Second, and more worrisome, you could purchase a list that is so bad that, once you deploy an email to that list, email systems quickly consider your domain as a source of spam.

If those two potential pitfalls don’t scare you off, and you want to explore buying a list, keep these factors in mind:

  • Never use a service that tries to conduct the entire transaction via email. You want to have a live conversation with a dedicated sales rep so that you can discuss the service in real time.
  • The list company must have a refund policy that, ideally, offers money back for bad lists, or at the very least, offers free replacement names.
  • The list should not only include an email address, but also a first name, last name and postal information for direct mail purposes. Postal information assures that a professional marketing firm has developed the list. If the list also contains phone numbers, that’s a confidence-builder.
  • You get what you pay for. A cheap list will rarely produce decent results. A company that charges a premium for its list, assuming it meets the above considerations, likely has made considerable investments into developing its lists.

But hang on: Your business is primarily local. Bearing that in mind, you should develop a solid list of qualified customers in your local area.

Could buying a list help you get started? Sure, but one would think that YOU would have the best possible list of anyone when it comes to your local market. So how do you develop a quality email list? There are several ways:

  • Keep customer accounts, and collect addresses at the point of sale for your customer accounts. This way, every retail transaction helps build your list.
  • Likewise, your sales force on the floor can collect email addresses from shoppers who might not (yet) be in the market to buy.
  • Every time you host a meetup or special event, try to collect names and email addresses with a signup sheet. Do the same thing at third-party events, such as group rides, bike nights and rallies.
  • Always provide a prominently placed “opt-in” link on every page of your website to encourage visitors to sign up for your newsletter and special email offers.
  • Create a compelling enewsletter. Assuming you have some smart, enthusiastic team members that can help build out some engaging content – calendars of local rides, photos from a recent event, safety tips, etc. – you could generate an enewsletter that is of interest to your local market.
  • Encourage recipients to forward your email to their contacts so they can subscribe. Assuming you’re on social media, put “share” links for various items in that message.
  • Make the Subscribe link obvious so that anyone who receives the message as a forward from someone else is able to sign up.
  • Offer a coupon that requires interested parties to provide you with their email address. Not only will this help build your list, but it will hopefully generate some business.
  • Leverage your social media accounts to encourage people to subscribe to your enewsletter or to sign up for the coupon.
  • Advertise with local media, and collect the addresses of people who click through.
  • Partner with or sponsor a local organization or group whose members are part of a desired outreach demographic – say, sports enthusiasts between 18 and 25 years of age – and begin to capture those names.

As you can see, there are lots of ways to build your list, but let’s get back to the ultimate question: Should you build, or should you buy? For local businesses, the best bet is to build. No one knows your local community better than you, and given the right level of market involvement, you can create a list that will be as good as gold.


“We have never bought a customer list in the 2.5 years I’ve been here. We’ve got a pretty big database – over 10,000 – and we try to market to those people first.” – C.J. Brown, marketing director, Killeen Power Sports, Killeen, TX


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