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 Many are probably either out of date, converted to "honeypots" by ISPs looking to trap some spammers, or otherwise undeliverable.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!