Building a List without Buying a List

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Once in a while, we marketers forget how far we’ve come. Back in the day, before LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google AdWords, there was still traditional inbound. Believe it or not, some of those strategies still work today.

Most Marketing Automation platforms prohibit the use of purchased lists as a method for growing your database. At The Pedowitz Group, we’re frequently asked how clients can build their lists without buying lists. Many companies struggle to find new ways to let potential customers know they exist and educate those people about their offerings.

Before lists with email appends and social platforms were available, we used to rely on tried-and-true methods such as:

  1. Sponsoring and attending conferences and tradeshows - We engaged in conversations with people who might be interested in our products and services. We asked questions and listened to the responses that enabled us to determine if our solutions were a match for their needs.
  2. Participating and lurking in user groups and communities - We would become familiar with participation guidelines and begin asking relevant questions and building trust within those communities.  Once we had earned that trust, we then began to let people know that we might have solutions that could be of benefit as well.
  3. Sending press releases and getting our products listed in relevant “new product announcement” columns - We connected with journalists who might write about our products to inform their readers.
  4. Advertising in print media - There’s not much of that left, but for industries where there are journals, advertising might actually be handy particularly if our competitors are focused on digital only. Admittedly, this can be hard to track for ROI.
  5. Really good web content - Even before Google and search, we tried to make our websites accessible and interesting to our prospects. We answered questions so that prospects could self-identify. Only then would they contact us (usually via phone or email) or visit us at a tradeshow.

Notice that the first “old school methods” still involve the same kind of engagement that we talk about today with Marketing Automation platforms. In these cases we had to integrate ourselves with the community of prospects first, before we ventured a solution. We gained trust before suggesting a demo, trial, or sale. This is the same philosophy we now espouse with digital marketing of all kinds. As we say over and over again, walking up to someone and saying “want to get married” is less effective than becoming part of a group, listening to a conversation, and then, once accepted, participating.

While print journals have largely gone the way of the dodo, it’s still worth contacting journalists and bloggers who cover your space. Not with a sales pitch, but maybe with a few questions: Example: “I noticed that you commented on this topic, have you considered this perspective?” Please do this after you have already done research on what the journalist or blogger writes about or comment on something they have written. Don’t expect them to do your homework for you! Offer something useful to the writer and make a connection before you ask for something in return (promoting or even reading about your product). If you work with a PR agency, ask if there are a few, selective introductions they can make. Don’t “spray and pray” with bloggers or with prospects.

Make sure your web content answers questions and offers assistance. It should not beg for a sale or begin with feature/function descriptions. Content should delineate the challenges that your target market faces and offer advice, recommendations, and resources without the expectation of anything in return (like filling out a 10-field form or demanding a phone number).

All of these strategies take time. It takes longer than buying a list and maybe getting a 67% deliverability rate. But, the extra effort is worth it because it will help you establish credibility.

Consider the strategy Marketo used. The company created a blog and offered helpful information to marketers for a full year before product launch. This enabled the company to build brand awareness well before the product was actually launched. It also exposed Marketo to potential beta customers who could help them hone their feature set.

The return on investment from a list purchase is not likely to even come close to what you can achieve with a little planning and effort.