Here is a question that marketing agencies like ours frequently receive:

Growth Plan Meeting imageHow Can I Rapidly Grow an Email Marketing List?I have a marketing list with about 500 records. How can I grow this to 5,000 quickly?

Unlike direct mail, it is far more challenging to institute an email marketing campaign because most SMB’s, and every start-up, lack large quantities of email subscribers. Growing a list is a good goal and easily resolved with the implementation of a sound marketing strategy.

First off, let’s first agree that this person probably doesn’t really have 500 contacts. If a list hasn’t been properly maintained and regularly used then as many as half of those contacts may opt out of the first distribution received. This number may be more if the message isn’t relevant to the reader. So whatever plan for list growth you adopt should presume the perspective of a start-up tactically. The good news is there are tactics we will share in this article that can help you.

If your list has been properly maintained or is largely organically grown, and has been routinely distributed to, you are in a great place. Many of the following recommended tactics will work well for your list growth also.

Next question: what do you want to do with the list you intend to grow? Are you going to be blasting out sales pitches, sharing blog content, or advertising events? Are you part of a broad-based industry, one that has many subsets (EG: petroleum, which has pieces from manufacturing pumps for refueling stations to ground penetrating radar for exploration). Understanding how the data is going to be used is as important as knowing the personas of the audience- both are crucial to devising the message and the crafting an effective tactical plan.

If you want a list that can be sustained over time and generate positive and measurable results, then your list growth plan must contain a blend of organic and harvested contacts. As you likely already know the organic portion requires patience and a realistic expectation of time. But an organic component is crucial to offsetting the greater churn rate natural to harvested lists; less relevancy equates to higher opt-out rates.

While there are list and append services that promise to sell legitimate email addresses we don’t recommend the use of them. It is costly, and in the end you just end up being labeled as a spammer and blacklisted on every major internet service provider… everywhere.

Whats in it for me?

As to tactics- what would motivate YOU to join any mailing list? What will motivate your target audience to join your mailing list? To develop a robust organic or harvested list really quickly requires a combination of:

  • Contests: people will sign up if they might receive a valuable reward for doing so. You will need a series of contests with awards over time.
  • Events: great for establishing bona fides and an opportunity to ask for sign-ups. Events might be done alone or in collaboration with Chambers of Commerce, local organizations, even other non-competitive companies that have a common audience with your business.
  • Lots and lots of social media sharing; each and every day. Post unique messages along with contest offers. Don’t forget to address other’s posted questions, where you have an expertise or a proven solution.
  • On the subject of social networking, did you know that the best email marketing platforms provide a way to drop a sign-up widget on your social media pages? Constant Contact® is terrific with this, and provide customers with a very easy to use process. Every visitor or follower has a chance to sign up anytime, and best of all, you don’t have to do anything after installing the widget.
  • Michele Gibson, President at Digital Smart Tools shares one of her successes: If a business has a product or service that can be marketed through a Facebook business page make use of the “boost” ads. Start by boosting the page and then when you reach critical mass you can boost individual posts. Once you have everybody’s attention, then add the Constant Contact Sign-Up widget.
  • List segmentation, which is crucial to good marketing, is more so for identifying the tactics that are working best in terms of list growth. Create lists that identify the source of the sign up and you can understand what is working the best.
  • Lots and lots of social media advertising. Most social networking platforms sell advertising space that you can geo-tag.
  • Lots and lots of banner advertising.
  • Develop and deploy a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign, and share your contests or offers.
  • Webinars are another great way to get people to opt in. Advertise webinars and online events and close with a “free subscription” offer and a promise of future valuable information sharing. The people investing the time to attend your webinar are likely already interested in your product or service or work in a related industry.
  • Depending on the budget, direct mail could be a driver of signups (QR codes, and vanity URLS, are a great way to drive people to website landing pages).
  • Landing pages with sign up integration are crucial and blend well at different levels with all of these tactics.

Think Ahead and Well into the Future

There are also supplemental processes that can provide automation and are incredibly effective to your marketing effort, driving additional subscribers along the way. Do you use auto-responders? Many email marketing platforms provide the ability to pre-design email touches and then schedule them for future delivery. Autoresponders provide valuable follow up with new subscriber and allow you to avoid letting the list grow cold. Too many times the focus is on new list growth and not on nurturing the subscribers who have recently come on board. Don’t let this happen or you will suffer immense numbers of people who opt-out from your list.

Joe Oricchio, Jr (of Baltimore-area Talisman Consulting) recently reminded me that “lists shrink 15-28% per annum, so your list building process must be an ongoing effort via a mix of methods that work best for you.” This is good to keep in mind.

Chasing the carrotAnd just like the initial touch, these automated follow up emails might provide other contest opportunities, if you ask the readers for the favor of social sharing or referrals. Imagine how much faster your list would grow if others are doing the asking for you? And they will, if you reward them.

In the end, the best list building strategy is your overall marketing plan. As you build a top of mind awareness and demonstrate the value your product or service provides, you will garner interest from people to become new subscribers. Applying the tactics mentioned above, and you can rapidly accelerate the process.