If Someone Says 'Buy' A List One More Time...

Time to update the list of "Killer Bs" I first wrote about here in 2007. We'll save the upcoming "ban the blast" initiative for another time, so the next "B" word I would like to excise from the email marketing lexicon is "buy," as in "Where can I buy a list of a million dentists/Democrats/dog owners?"

Sorry if I sound like an email snob, but I cringe when I hear someone, usually (but not always) an email newbie, talking about buying lists.

Why? Because it indicates a fundamental misunderstanding about how email marketing works. Worse, it perpetuates the false expectation that all you have to do to have success via email is to "buy" a list and then start sending messages to it.

When people use the "buy" word, to me it means one of two things:

1) They really mean "rent." They are either careless, don't understand the differences between "buy" and "rent" in the list world, or are not a snob like me who cares about the subtleties and advancement of the industry.



2) They truly don't know or care. They think that purchasing a list is the quickest way to email nirvana.

Don't Think 'Buy' -- Think 'Rent'

Maybe the best way to put "buy" out of business is to persuade people not to buy lists anymore. After all, "buy" is just a word, a symptom of a bigger problem.

The best way to stop people from trying to buy lists is to show them why it doesn't work, the harm it can do and how it wastes money.

After all, marketers who ask about buying lists could just be asking, "How can I build my list quickly, and where can I acquire email addresses?" Unfortunately, there is no easy way to build a good list quickly. If there were, presumably we'd all be doing it.

Here's the truth: In the email world, you can't buy legitimate email addresses. You know those $399 CDs with 50 million email addresses? Most of the addresses are probably harvested or gathered in some less-than-stellar manner. Many are probably either out of date, converted to "honeypots" by ISPs looking to trap some spammers, or otherwise undeliverable. The owners of those addresses certainly haven't given you permission to email them.

Is "buying" a list illegal? Not according to the CAN-SPAM Act, as long as you provide a means to opt out among other requirements. But let's be serious. Do you really want to risk your brand and sender reputation to send unsolicited email to millions of people?

A house list you build yourself through double, single or confirmed opt-in will still deliver the best results, but I can understand that sometimes you can't wait that long.

List Rental: A Viable Option

Legitimate email list rental is a viable method to help build up your house list. But here's what some folks new to list rental don't understand:

First, you don't receive the email addresses that you've rented. The list manager sends your message for you and provides you with the performance reports.

Second, suppose you rent a list of, say, 50,000. The only addresses you will see are those that convert and opt in to your list from the call-to-action in your rental campaign. Apply click-through and conversion rates and you end up with a small percentage of what you rented, but a list of quality subscribers who want what you have to offer.

Join me in battling the use of yet another "killer B" word. Let's eradicate the word "buy" from the email marketing lexicon -- and, even more importantly, from actual practice.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

6 comments about "If Someone Says 'Buy' A List One More Time... ".
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  1. Tea Silvestre from Social Good Consulting, August 27, 2009 at 1:09 p.m.

    OMG - YES! I have been saying this to my clients for years, but they don't like to hear it. And when I get e-mails from people that I didn't ask to get, I usually find out that they purchased a list and were assured that all these people had actually said, "Yes! Send me crap I have no idea about." Wow. When you're ready to start the "Ban the Blast" campaign, let me know. I'll help.

  2. C.t. Trivella from NAS Recruitment Communications, August 27, 2009 at 1:19 p.m.

    What a great article! I thought that my cringing was a bias on my part and not legitimate. Whew!

  3. L D from Discovery, August 27, 2009 at 1:23 p.m.

    Sooo relevant. Just had this conversation with an internal team member yesterday. they just don't get it!
    BTW - if you did send that hypothetical email to 50k - what would be a good return on a rented list?

  4. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, August 27, 2009 at 1:58 p.m.

    Wow - seems like I hit a nerve. So glad to hear that so many others feel the same way. Lots of similar chatter over on Twitter.

  5. Jack Hogan from LifeScript, August 27, 2009 at 3:04 p.m.

    I could not agree with you more. Good article.

  6. William Nussey from Silverpop, August 28, 2009 at 11:07 p.m.

    Great article, Loren. I did a lot of research on third party email lists while writing my book a few years back. I learned that if someone tries to sell you a list, turn around and run away. Fast. Renting, on the other hand, and as you point out, can be a bit cleaner. My favorite form (which I call co-branded) means that your content is sent along inside a newsletter or subscription of another brand. This works because the other brand has everything to lose if they misuse their list. Thanks again for taking a strong stand on important issues.

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