Why Your Business Should Take Email List Building Seriously

When you tell people they need to work on building the email list for their business, they tend to glaze over and not look all that excited. Is that how you see it? Do you have an email list for your business already?

If the thought of building your email list doesn’t excite you, then hear me out – I’m going to explain why it should be high on your list of priorities and I’ll even give you some pointers on how to build your list.

First though, let’s explore why some people look down their nose at email – in my opinion, there are a few reasons for this, such as:

  1. Email is seen as old hat and not as new and shiny as Social Media
  2. People see GDPR as complex legislation and think it’s easier to just step away from email marketing altogether
  3. They have no email list currently so don’t see the point in starting

Objection #1:
“…I just think Email Marketing is a thing of the past…”

The ‘new and shiny’ factor is a really big one. Email marketing has been around and been used and abused for years (and sadly the ‘abused’ bit has been all too prevalent at times). The way we think about emails has really shifted over the years.

First, it was a novelty and we couldn’t wait to tell our friends our email addresses. Then it became something like an addiction and we just couldn’t get enough of it. We emailed our contacts constantly and signed up for any email list we could find promising exclusive content, special offers and more.

Our colleagues then discovered they could easily copy in half the world to an email, just in case you vaguely needed to know about something. Then, of course, some idiots couldn’t resist hitting ‘reply to all’ so that everyone could see their response.

Then – much like an all-you-can-eat buffet – it all became a bit too much. Our inboxes were constantly overloaded and we never really got them to empty. Worse still, mobile devices took over our lives and thanks to push notifications, emails still get our attention even if we didn’t read them straight away (and let’s face it if your boss emails you on a weekend, you probably would feel the need to read it straight away anyway, just in case).

You may have noticed that I’m not even talking much about marketing emails just yet, but make no mistake – the way that businesses use email internally will have a knock-on effect on customers’ attitudes towards email, and the way you use it to market to them.

All of this means that many companies think that Social Media will be what takes their business forward. It never ceases to amaze me how many companies want to embrace Social Media before they even think about building their email list.

“…but surely Social Media is the future?…”

Social Media attracts a lot of attention from business owners and I’m not about to suggest you ignore it because it definitely has its place. Just by being on Social Media and posting regularly, you’re showing the outside world that you’re a modern business, you’re in touch with the way that people communicate online and that you’re up to date with developments in your market. Hopefully, you’ll be responsive in replying to people too and the overall sentiment about your business will be positive.

Many companies want a simple “silver bullet” marketing activity that will answer all of their prayers. They look at Social Media and the fact that they can post for free, and that even paid Social Media adverts offer significantly cheaper click costs than you might pay on Google Ads.

It is possible to attract customers through Social Media of course. I don’t mind admitting, I once bought a Christmas present for one of my family off the back of one single tweet. I clicked through there and then, and bought online. This was great for them but you can’t rely on a lot of customers coming to you this way and buying immediately.

Why? Well, the main reason is that Social Media are relatively passive. What’s the first thing you do on your first day back at work after a two-week holiday? I’d guess that catching up on your emails takes up a good chunk of your day. What about catching up on all the tweets and Facebook posts that you missed during your holiday – would you catch up on all of those too? My guess is that you wouldn’t – and even on a normal week in the office, you might not even check your Social Media accounts at all on a busy day.

Social Media just doesn’t get the same level of compulsive attention that email does. You might be proud of boosting your follower numbers on Twitter, but how many of them actually see each tweet, let alone do anything as a result?

To go back to my example of buying a Christmas gift off the back of seeing a tweet, you might be lucky with finding a few customers this way, especially if you have an e-commerce store and you sell a product that’s visually striking. If you sell a complex product though – especially in a B2B sector, you’ll probably find that email marketing is a much better fit for your business and next I’m going to start explaining why.

“…so how is email more effective?…”

As I’ve mentioned already, Social Media is passive, meaning that people who follow you won’t religiously view every one of your posts. What that also means is that the odds against them seeing a series of your posts based on the same theme could be astronomical.

If someone signs up for your email list though, you can make sure that they at least receive your emails in future. If you’re doing it right, you’ll make sure that they only receive the most relevant emails for their needs (hold that thought – I’ll explain shortly how you can do that).

A big part of marketing nowadays is making yourself known to people and giving them content that helps them and keeps you on their radar, until they’re ready to buy. In the meantime, even if they don’t buy they might still recommend people to you if you keep providing good content.

You’ll probably know already that very few people will see one marketing message from you and buy. This automated, drip-feeding of relevant messages is very much in tune with the way that people buy.

If your products are good, you’ll no doubt have multiple benefits and reasons why people should buy from you. Email is a great way to let people know these benefits one at a time, like the episodes of a story. It’s important that you do this because there’s a natural limit on how much information your customers can take in and store at once.

There is a scientific concept known as ‘cognitive load theory’. It’s very popular in education and training and is equally relevant to marketing. In short, if you overload people with too much knowledge and too many stimuli at once, their learning and retention of that information will be far less effective. They might also walk away and unsubscribe if you send them too much at once.

Objection #2:
“…but what about GDPR? Is Email Marketing even possible any more?…”

Back in 2018, it was almost impossible to avoid mentions of GDPR. The new data protection regulations sounded pretty onerous and many people still think they have pretty much killed off email marketing for businesses.

In reality though, as long as you comply with some very straightforward rules (most of which should be considered good business practice anyway) then you can’t really go wrong. You simply need to be able to prove that people have signed up for your email list, and be clear with them about the type of content you will send them and how frequently. Then you need to deliver on that promise and not send them anything more than you promised to.

Whilst I don’t want to get into a detailed explanation of GDPR (and I certainly don’t want to try and give you legal advice!)  all of this is very simple to manage when you use the right email marketing software.

If you’re one of the many businesses that didn’t have an email marketing list prior to GDPR, you’re really no worse off as a result of its implementation. You still need to start from scratch, just like you would have done before GDPR. In fact, with GDPR scaring many people off Email Marketing because they misinterpret the rules, this may actually be a great time to begin.

Objection #3:
“…but how do I start if I don’t have an email list?…”

Well hopefully by now, you’re sold on the idea of drip-feeding relevant messages to prospective customers to stay in their mind, and that GDPR won’t stand in your way.

So how do you go about building a list from scratch and making email marketing happen for your business? Well, to start with you will need some email marketing software. There are many web-based platforms to choose from nowadays. I personally use and recommend Active Campaign, but you should do the research to find the right one for you.

Very briefly, here’s what you need to do to get started with Email Marketing:

  • Create content that will make them want to subscribe
    Many websites have a sign-up form with a bland heading like “sign up for our newsletter”. This just doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to create compelling, helpful educational content that people will really find useful. They have to feel that giving up their anonymity and passing on their email address will be worth it. It could be a free guide, a link to a video or whatever will help your customer. Start with one piece of content and try to get it right and build a list, before you broaden out and create more.
  • Automate your campaigns
    Forget about ‘broadcasting’ an email newsletter every month to everyone on your list (after all, you’ll start with no list!). Run evergreen, automated campaigns that start when the customer signs up and continue afterward with a series of pre-written, relevant email messages to guide them through their buying journey.
  • Segment your lists
    If you have different segments of customers it may not make sense to send them all the same email content. If you create multiple different content pieces, customers will largely segment themselves into groups anyway.
  • Do sweat the small stuff
    If people sign up for your content then there’s a good chance they will open and read at least the initial message. Don’t forget though, when it comes to the follow-up emails you need to earn the right to keep in touch. Make the content compelling and remember that subject lines are hugely important in getting it opened and read.
  • Broadcast when you’ve built your list
    So although you won’t start by having a general email newsletter, keep in mind that there may come a time when you should. Newsletters are great if you have short-term offers, new product launches or anything else your contacts might find useful. When should you start this? Well that’s a judgment call to make based on your business, but by then you’ll be more experienced with Email Marketing and more able to make that decision.

So let me finish by saying that as an experienced digital marketer, I’d rather have 100 names on my email list who’ve opted-in to receive my content, than 10,000 Twitter followers. If you’re not already using email I highly recommend that you start planning to build a list.

Remember that it’s all about creating quality content first and foremost, and if you get the approach right, the number of contacts will follow.

Dave Toomey

Leave a Comment