Email Thursday – Does Size (Of Your Email List) Matter?



With regards to marketing technology, everything is about bigger and better. Many marketers live by the adage, “The bigger the presence, the bigger the potential for revenue.”

In the case of email, this philosophy is not always true. In our discussion today, I will make the argument that the goal of an email marketer is not to have the largest list possible, but to have the largest list necessary to do the job.

I will present three principles that refute the idea that bigger is better.

At the end of the day, I am not trying to make the argument that a large email list is bad. Far from it.
But trying to grow your email list for the sake of growing the list is a bad investment in time and resources – an overly large list without a purpose dilutes your message and your ability to communicate that message.

I hope that this discussion will help maximize the productivity of your email program, increase the responsiveness of your readership, and guide the focus of your email program.

When many email marketers first start, they want to do it all. They want to use email to talk to as many people as possible – send out as many newsletters to whomever will listen.

They want to go rent lists from publications, place sign-up forms by the cash register, steal email addresses from their roommate’s gmail account.

They think that they can develop an email program (complete with compelling messages and highly relevant offers) with the click of a “Send” button.

In this light, their ambitions cause them to attempt to run before they learn how to walk. They attempt to effectively email 10 million people before they can adequately communicate to 10 people.

An email program that can adequately handle a large email list is developed over time, not overnight. This accounts for the technological infrastructure as well as the human factors involved.

The technological infrastructure refers to how the subscriber data is managed and maintained, as well as an email service provider’s ability to broadcast emails. Do you have the ability to not only store data, but to interpret the data in a way that accurately describes the interests, motivations, and characteristics of your readers?
Do you have the capability to track readers’ response rates with a high degree of accuracy?
Do you have the technological infrastructure to address every response to an email campaign?

The human factors element concerns how the email fits into your readers’ lifestyles and how they interact with the media channel. Although email is a popular communication channel, your readers still need time to learn how your specific emails fit into their lives. Is your email a source of trusted information? It will take time to build their trust. Is your email a source of good deals? It will take time for them to learn that you are sending them discount offers. The list goes on and on.

The bottom line is to exercise controlled growth.
Be consistently successful at communicating with 10,000 readers before you attempt to communicate to 100,000.

When you focus exclusively on building the size of your list, you lose out on a lot of things – including getting to know your readers better.

Many marketers who focus on list building don’t take the time to get to know their readers by way of segmentation on basic demographic data, split testing on theoretical psychographic characteristics, and other important categorization criteria.

This is especially true when it comes to list rentals. List rentals are a quick way to build up your list, but when your contacts are coming from different types of sourses, it’s easy to lose track of the key factors that make them different, and the commonalities that make them the same.

At best, you could be sending pseudo-relevant messages to your group. At worst, you could be wasting valuable email bandwidth on people who don’t care about your brand, product, or offer.

Take the time to learn about your subscriber pool.

As Marketing 101 teaches us, when you try to resonate with everybody you end up striking a chord with nobody. Take the time to test different messages with your list and see what types of messages elicit desired responses from your most promising reader segments.

Although technology has made testing much more scalable, it is still easier to test with a smaller email list than with a larger one. If anything, it’s easier to delve deeper into a smaller group than with a larger one.

With email campaigns involving larger groups, many marketers adopt the shotgun method… Throw anything and everything at the reader pool and see what sticks. The sheer number of readers will generate some results – be it open rates or total conversion value.

As you can see, there is not high degree of strategy or accuracy behind this approach. This approach may generate some results in the short-term but it will fizzle out in the prolonged future. People will lose interest and they learn the email bears little relevance in their lives.

I have seen companies who adopt this approach, and they are somehow surprised that their loss rates continue to climb while their open rates fall in a downward trajectory. And at the end of it, they realize that they know absolutely nothing about their readers and are unclear about the reasons why the email program is in a bad predicament.

If you are dealing with a large email population and accuracy is a challenge, it may be good to send email campaigns to a random 10% segment of your readers first. A smaller sample size will allow you to conceptualize the results in a more meaningful and comprehensible manner.