Does Size Really Matter?

List size, list size, list size -- as much as I hate to say it... yes, size does matter.  The harsh reality for most email marketers is that many of us are not judged on the performance of our email programs, but on the size of our lists or subscriber database. And as much as we want to move toward the quality versus quantity model for success metrics and key performance indicators, some of those around us are not as ready for the shift.  So when you live in a world where size matters, what do you do?


Admit it -- Accept it
Say it with me: size does matter. As much as we would like to believe it doesn't, it does. Now, the sheer size of your list doesn't stand on its own as a measurement of success for your email program, but list growth can tell you that you have content or information that people want, continue to get and perhaps spurs them to tell others, resulting in increased subscription numbers. (Clearly this argument does not hold true if you just bought a million email addresses from some guy in India -- we're talking legitimate, real list growth.) The fact of the matter is that if you are losing subscribers faster than you are gaining them, you have some issues with your email program that need to be addressed. So don't discount your list size as a metric for success -- admit that it is important, accept that others think so, too (though for different reasons I am sure) and use that information to your benefit.



Control it -- Own it
Setting proper expectations for list growth is your responsibility. Often those who control our budgets don't really care about the details of how you achieve what you achieve -- what's important is that you meet your goals and objectives. And if you are an email marketer, you either have a goal to minimize attrition or a growth goal for your subscriber base. Be sure that you are setting the goals (or at least influencing them) around growth. They should be realistic numbers that align with the addition of quality subscribers who want to engage with your content and your brand and will have a positive impact on your other performance metrics. If you are just adding people for the sake of hitting a number, the rest of your metrics will suffer, I promise.

Live it -- Love it
Live the email experience as your customers do. How do they get subscribed, do you have a social presence you can leverage, what points of contact do they have offline that allow for natural email acquisition -- and, most important, do your current subscribers love your content enough to evangelize on your behalf? However you decide to go about acquisition and backfilling, be sure you love it and are behind it 100% -- because if you are not, you will not put your focus on its success. Because in the end, though you may not like it: size does matter.

5 comments about "Does Size Really Matter? ".
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  1. Chad White from Litmus, July 22, 2010 at 10:25 a.m.

    These are great points, Kara. The way I explained it to a client looking for "list growth" recently was that growing your list has three components:
    (1) Adding more addresses to your list.
    (2) Reducing churn.
    (3) Improving engagement of subscribers.
    A successful growth strategy requires addressing all three.

  2. Jordan Cohen from Pontiflex, July 22, 2010 at 11:42 a.m.

    Nice article Kara, and I agree with your follow up comments too Chad.

    As Tim O'Hare,'s director of ad sales recently said in an article on

    "We always had this mantra, if we doubled our subscriber list, we could double our business."

    Whether the sender's goal is driving sales, fundraising, or attracting ad dollars -- constantly adding engaged new customers to your email list is always a good thing.

    Jordan Cohen
    VP, Business Development

  3. Rita from FreshAddress, Inc., July 22, 2010 at 11:46 a.m.

    A good comparative,Kara. "Be sure that you are setting the goals (or at least influencing them) around growth." Retention is equally important and ignoring your bounces and inactives is a waste as these are recipients who were already previously engaged . There is successful potential in reconnecting and proven means of making this 'growth' materialize with volunteered updates.

  4. Neil Capel from Sailthru, July 22, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.

    Thanks for an interesting article Kara. However, I feel the need to point out that your own argument seems to undermine your thesis statement: you state resoundingly that list size matters but go on to detail why growth is what really counts. And you're correct, we all know it--growth is much more important. And HOW to drive that growth is today's central dilemma. The answer has simply got to be engagement. It's not enough to identify and utilize super-users and brand ambassadors, we have to create them. And we create them by maximizing their engagement through content interest and relevance. Providing relevant content to users and dynamically selecting it for individuals based upon their shifting habits and tastes is the best, I'm prepared to say ONLY way to really spur robust organic growth.

  5. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, July 22, 2010 at 6:19 p.m.

    Yes Kara you are almost correct - well one-third correct to me.
    It's the LIST, THE RELATIONSHIP you have with your list and THE OFFER you are making. Cheers Kurt Johansen Australia's leading Email marketing Strategist -

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