Please don’t waste your money on bought-in email lists

A client mentioned to me last week that he got more response from an email promotion to his own small list of customers and prospects than he did from a bought-in list of 19,000 apparently qualified individuals. I’m not surprised (and nor was he), but again and again, people fall for the terrible idea of buying email lists. There’s only one type of mass emailing in which you should consider investing (more about that in a moment), and it’s not the sort of list which you can rent and then send anything to.

To understand why, think about who the people on these lists might be. Quite likely, they’ve either never agreed to receive random, unspecified mailings, or they unwittingly agreed to do so when signing up for something else. Either way, they did not ask to get the email you’re about to send them, and they’re highly unlikely to read it. The lack of results demonstrates this again and again.

Alternatively, they could be people who readily agreed to receive emails from random, unspecified companies, in the full understanding of what they were letting themselves in for. Who on earth are these people? Oddballs might be a polite term. Many years ago, when I worked on a magazine, there was a reader who regularly requested every catalogue advertised in the magazine, 20 or 30 every issue. It turned out he ran a small paper recycling business. I’m not sure if there are equivalent collectors of emails, but who knows?

The only email list which I believe you should consider buying into is a slot in a good, regular third-party email publication. I used to be involved in many of these myself, under the “Pro-Talk” banner, and although our publications were bought in 2006, several still exist in a similar (if more sophisticated) form, such as Howard Chapman’s excellent Buildingtalk. Readers of emailed publications like this have asked to receive them, know what they’re getting, and we know they like what they get because they can unsubscribe easily. It’s the polar opposite of the names on a bought-in list available for an “email blast”, which have been a complete waste of money ever since email stopped being a novelty.

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