Original post : Sep 21, 2014

Should you use marketing lists?

Bought lists - yes or no?I read an article today entitled "Why purchasing Email lists is always a bad idea". It was created by Hubspot who are a company I have a lot of time for. They use content marketing extensively and usually it's good quality.

The arguments they used for not using purchased lists briefly are:

  1. Most reputable email marketing platforms don't let you used paid for lists
  2. There is no such thing as an email list that's for sale - people with good lists don't sell them
  3. People on a list you've purchased don't know you/have a relationship with you/want to hear from you.
  4. Deliverability and your reputation will suffer

The approach they recommend is that you build your list gradually over time through personal contact, search marketing, content marketing and other such "legitimate" methods. It's what is termed 'permission based marketing' - the recipient has given you permission to communicate with them.

The argument for sticking to permission based methods is based on two main things. Firstly that people who have chosen to receive your content are much more likely to be good prospects. Secondly you don't want to be considered, either by the recipient or email platforms, to be a spammer.

I can see this logic but I have some issues. 

It takes time

Building up an permission based list can take a long time. Many small businesses don't have the time or skills to do it. If you are starting from scratch, how long will it take to build a list big enough to generate a reasonable level of business with industry standard conversion rates? I don't know exactly but a long time.

It takes skills many small businesses don't have

You have to be pretty good at marketing and some of the more esoteric specialisms (SEO, pay-per-click, content marketing) to build lists effectively. Skills that many small businesses don't have, or at least have to spend not inconsiderable time and energy developing

It's expensive

Whichever means you are going to use to generate the interest from people to gain their permission it's going to cost you:

  • face to face networking events - kerching
  • SEO - kerching
  • Adwords - kerching
  • content marketing - kerching

Cold calling vs SPAM

So where does that leave smaller businesses? How do they get their message out?

What we're effectively doing with a bought list is cold calling. Businesses do this all the time in the off-line world and nobody gets too worked up about it.

You don't hear anyone suggesting that doing a leaflet drop is spamming the neighbourhood. Direct Mail is a perfectly legitimate and very effective marketing tool - there's even a professional body for it!

Now I know it's not perfect and we all have a moan about the letters that get delivered and put straight in the bin. We ask how many trees had to die to fill our bins with junk mail but we don't get quite so riled up as when we receive SPAM email.

Personally I find this strange. To my mind as a recipient, there are degrees of SPAM.  There's the mass mailed gambling/viagra/private part enhancement/fake Rolex type of SPAM which is a pain in the rear. I deal with them by black listing them and reporting them to SPAMCOP.

Then there's the other stuff. Bona fide businesses that I've not heard of and may well never use but who are using email to try to communicate their message to a wider audience. With these I'm more tolerant. I use my delete button. Some people seem to find it hard to locate and would rather rant about "bloody SPAM" and report them, but for me that little button close to my return key seems to work fine. It's a lot easier to deal with than the junk mail I have to pick up from the floor, put in the waste basket, transfer to the wheelie bin and push down the drive once a fortnight anyway.

If I keep getting mail form some strange business that I don't think I'll use then I unsubscribe from their mailers. I can do this by clicking a link at the bottom of their email. Again I know some people would rather report the unsolicited mail as SPAM but I find unsubscribing and simply saying I'm not interested works well for me. After all they are just a small business trying to keep afloat and grow I don't want to punish them for that. I'm not their ideal customer  but good luck to them in finding someone who is I say.

I know I'm not necessarily in the majority in holding these views but they are mine and I'm allowed!

I'm particularly perplexed by people who join a networking group but don't want their email address shared amongst the group. It's a group for networking. You're there to find new customers, suppliers or partners but you don't want other people to be able to email you? Bizzare!

List buying is not all bad

So back to buying lists. Should you do it? There are clearly pros and cons and if you read the article linked at start of this blog you'll see in the comments that others agree that it's not all bad and for small businesses it can be a start. However, you do have to go in with your eyes open and be sensible about it:

  • Use a reputable provider
  • Accept that you may well get some SPAM reports
  • Accept they you will get some snotty emails in return
  • Accept that the response rate might not be very good
  • Try to target your list as much as possible
  • Explain who you are and why you're contacting the recipient
  • Offer the recipient something that they could value
  • Point out the unsubscribe link

What do you think? Are people who use bought lists business people just like you trying to get their message out, or evil spawn of the devil for whom a special ring of hell is reserved? Let us know.

Jim Hunt AuthorJim Hunt is a professional marketer with many years experience in building businesses large and small. As a speaker, trainer and practitioner he aims to explain marketing theory clearly and show how it can be applied in practice to deliver better results from your marketing investment. You can connect with Jim on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Google+.


Great article, really well put together and presented.

Thank you
Comment by Iain Irvin - Apr 25, 2019 18:23
Thanks Jim, for sharing marketing list. I agree your statement email marketing is a paid marketing you need to purchase email list. But when you run a small is very important for marketing strategies as well as content marketing, social media marketing, search marketing etc.

Again I will say thank you for this article.
Comment by iPhone app development company - Jan 2, 2019 13:35
I read this article. I think You put a lot of effort to create this article. I appreciate your work.
Comment by Northfield Website Design - June 12, 2018 15:01
I really like some of the articles which you and Sharon have written - especially "Should you use marketing lists?", do you mind if I share some of these as links on LinkedIn?

Kind regards

Adam Gould
Comment by Adam Gould - Jan 22, 2015 09:13
thats a really nice guide..thanks tim
Comment by Tina - Oct 20, 2014 14:17
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