Why Bigger Isn't Always Better When It Comes to Email Lists

Marci Hansen
by Marci Hansen 19 May, 2016

When it comes to an email marketing list, size shouldn't be what matters most. Although upper management and potential partners may be impressed by sheer volume, the real value of your list should be measured by how actively engaged its subscribers are.


Click-through rates, conversion rates and average revenue per subscriber are more important than the number of email addresses a marketing list contains. Instead of voraciously collecting new names and blasting them with frequent emails, you should focus on optimizing the lifetime value of the customers on your lists by offering relevant content and fostering loyalty.


Over 205 billion emails are sent and received per day, according to the Radicati Group. With those massive numbers, only the best and most strategic emails are going to be welcomed, opened, and responded to. Successful email marketers must manage to cut through the chatter and elicit a response from their subscribers.


Although Bluehornet found that the number one reason shoppers initially subscribe to email lists are to get discounts and free shipping, those offers and those offer-loving customers need to be managed carefully. Deals may produce a high conversion rate among new subscribers, but relying too heavily on discounts for motivation can train loyal customers to wait for the best bargain instead of purchasing items at full price. Hitting an email list too often with similar sale messaging can also backfire, resulting in list fatigue. A decrease in opens, clicks and conversions, and an increase in unsubscribes and spam reports are symptoms of list fatigue. Email fatigue can also be caused by sending marketing emails too frequently.


Instead of simply looking at each email as a potential transaction, focus on creating complete email campaigns that resonate with your customers. By cultivating relationships with your core consumer base, you can inspire brand loyalty and increase repeat purchases, turning casual shoppers into brand super fans. The value of a super fan goes beyond their lifetime spend, as they are your brand ambassadors among their family and friends, on social media networks, and in their local communities. A small list of engaged super fans will deliver better results than a large list suffering from email fatigue.


The best way to avoid list fatigue and maximize the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns is to consistently give subscribers relevant, timely content.


Form customer-managed relationships.


Instead of simply following the letter of the law and including a tiny unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email, give subscribers opportunities to update their preferences regularly. Let them select which topics they're interested in hearing more about, and allow them to choose how often they want to receive emails. Keeping marketing permission based and offering options not only decreases spam reports, it makes it easier to present the right content at the right time.


Learn more about your customers.


While they're updating their preferences, give customers a chance to include some basic, personal information. Asking optional questions like "when is your birthday?" provides data you can use to create a more personalized customer experience. Having this information at your fingertips makes it possible to add a personal touch, like sending a special promo code as a birthday present to a subscriber during their birthday month.


Segment by affiliation in addition to order history.


Many savvy marketing pros segment their customers according to their purchase history. Examples of these types of emails include product suggestions based on past purchases, incentives for previous shoppers who haven't purchased recently, or free shipping for someone who left an item in their cart without completing the purchase. It is also possible to segment customers more broadly, by geography, browser type or affiliation. Segmenting customers by affiliation type, like student, military or teacher allows you to create multi-faceted email campaigns with exclusive discounts, targeted messaging, themed landing pages and relevant product selections that give your customers the sense that your brand shares the same values they do, and cares about them as an individual, not just getting their business.


Make it personal.


In addition to segmenting by affiliation, using a subscriber's name in the subject line or body of the email gives it a personal touch that makes customers respond positively. Personalization tools are widely available and come included in many email marketing platforms, but the majority of marketers aren't using them.



Using these tips and doing them well creates relevant content without relying on the same discount message. If you are consistently delivering quality content to opted-in subscribers at their preferred frequency, then your rate of engagement, click-throughs and conversions will be high. A smaller actively engaged list will produce better results including higher customer satisfaction and positive word of mouth which will help all important metrics to increase.