Buying an email list may seem like a good idea when your database seems light and you have an email campaign to run. We get it, no one's going to apply to your school if they've never heard of it. But didn't you listen to your mother? What did she tell you about short cuts? (Ignore this if your Mom was totally OK with taking short cuts.)
Buying (it's actually "renting") an email list is a short cut, which means it's the fastest route to a host of marketing problems. Bad delivery, open, and conversion rates on your campaign may be the least of your worries.
The entire premise of inbound marketing is that you succeed by attracting the right prospects to you and build a relationship based on your credibility. So your bought list gets your name in front of some new people. Applying to school isn't an impulse purchase. You still need to start from a place of trust. If you start the process with a purchased list of email addresses, you undermine the entire foundation of your marketing efforts.
The more effective alternative to buying an email list is enticing prospects to freely choose to joining your email list because they've had a taste of your content and affirmatively decided they want to hear more from you.
For more information on how to build lists from scratch, check out out ebook From Stranger to Student >>
Look at the contrast. You can send a thoughtful marketing email to a bunch of people who have given you permission to connect and expressed a willingness to hear what you have to say. Or, you can invest your marketing resources and efforts in sending emails to people who may have never heard of you and never given any indication they're specifically interested in your school.
Which list do you think will convert better?
Bought lists suck because they usually have inaccurate, old information. These lists have been rented umpteen times, so you know the people on it have already been spammed to death. But the results of using these types of lists are more detrimental to your school than one poorly performing email campaign.
You Just Turned Off a Whole Group of People
When you get a prospect's permission to market to them, you're continuing a relationship. Whereas when you send random people – and your school is random to them at this point – this marketing email is their first impression of your school. And it's probably not a very good impression no matter how "perfect" your subject line, how great your messages are or how well laid out its design is. Some people on a purchased list may have been, at some point, interested in learning more about your school. They may have found you during their own self-initiated research phase.
Now when they deepen their own research efforts and they're ready to see your school, they'll remember you as that intruder who showed up uninvited in their inboxes. That may smack of either desperation or aggressiveness to them. Not good. And that's lost trust and credibility you can't get back easily.
Using Purchased Lists Undermines the Deliverability of ALL Your Emails
When we get unsolicited emails, we typically mark them as spam. You do too. Everyone does that. When lots of people start marking your emails as spam, you start getting a bad reputation with your email service provider (ESP). ESPs are deeply invested in making sure that the emails sent through their systems don't get dinged as spam, as they're being watched too.
An ESP with a high volume of spam email sent through its servers can have all the email going through it blocked by the internet service providers. That cramps their business. So before it gets to that point, the ESP will block the bad actor in its midst that's putting their operations at risk — you.
That means that none of your email, regardless of who the intended recipients are, will get through. All your email marketing efforts will be shut down. No alumni drive emails. No campaigns to schedule on-campus tours with people who've downloaded an application. No follow-up campaigns with candidates who visited your campus.
That's why most ESPs (the reputable ones, anyway) make it a violation of their terms of service for you to use a purchased list or send spam. Another reason to avoid buying email lists.
You Lose Out on Good Intel
Email personalization is a huge driver of lead nurturing and conversion success. People respond to emails that are directly relevant to them. They want to get emails that are relevant to their preferences and concerns. You only send personalized email when your organization has accurate intel about the people in your database.
We're not just talking about a lack of information or inaccurate information you'll find on a purchased list. That's part of it. Sending an email to someone about your medical code billing program when they're interested in nursing doesn’t present your institution as reliable or terribly capable.
That's all true. But your real loss comes due to lack of attention and smart intel gathering on the list you already have. Getting a prospect into your database is only the first step. When you design your forms, and use progressive profiling, you're collecting the information you want. You can start asking prospects for their expected application timeframe, academic major, or extracurricular interests. Any information you can use to deliver personalized content that can have the greatest impact.
You send emails and make other offers of content or reasons to connect. Everything your contacts do, or don't do, tells you more about them so you can send more on-target offers down the line. Someone in your database starts reading a lot of blog posts about students with children. Identifying this behavior lets you trigger off an email series that includes video testimonials from current students with children and links to pages on your website that explain your flexible, online learning opportunities.
These are the insightful intelligence data bits that fuel your marketing strategies for segmenting and personalizing your future offers to them.
Beware the False Economies
A false economy is where you act to cut down on costs, only to discover in the end that action cost you a bundle instead. The direct cost of buying an email list may seem low. It's certainly less expensive than the direct investment of time and effort to build a strong opt-in list.
But the costs you risk — undermining your school's reputation by getting tagged as a spammer, losing the ability to send any emails, and letting competitor institutions cut in on the opt-in names you're not attracting and leveraging — make buying email lists an exceedingly expensive tactic you can avoid. Bottom line: Build your list. Don't rent one.