From Scratch: Four (Free) List Building Strategies

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Email Marketing

There’s nothing that can burst the bubble of getting a new client (or getting a new job) faster than the realization that your client has no real prospect list to work with. Even if you know going in, and have pitched the notion of building a prospect list … the pressure to perform is intense from the minute you start.

Most marketers and agencies have more ideas than budgets, so we’re going to explore seven strategies to build a great prospect list that take a varied approach: four strategies require time, and three strategies require money. In this post, we’ll cover the first four. (Stay tuned for the final three, coming soon.)

First things first: Nail the basics

All seven list-building strategies require the same foundational elements:

  1. A clear understanding of your client’s buyer personas
  2. An in-depth review of the brand’s content strategy and tactics
  3. Any possible information contained in the company’s existing contact data
  4. Your own mastery of the basic principles of digital marketing

Go no further until you’ve developed mastery of those four foundational elements. Pop back here when you’re ready, and we’ll look at the seven strategies over the course of two posts.

Four Time-centric List Building Strategies

Welcome back! Let’s explore the four time-centric strategies based on your current budget and staff resources.

Few clients or organizations will be able to jump in and test every one of these strategies, but I recommend you understand them all so you can place your client or organization along a marketing sophistication curve (you’ll know how sophisticated they are from the state of their foundations) and engage quickly from your place of maturity, strength, and opportunity.

More time-centric strategies include the following:

  • Email capture on your web properties
  • Social media engagement
  • In-store capture (for retailers /brick and mortar businesses)
  • Influencer and partner engagement

Strategy 1: Capture Email to Build a Prospect List

People guard their email addresses, so if you can get an email address in exchange for educational or entertaining content, treat it respectfully.

I’m finding that capturing email is becoming almost ridiculously misused. If you spend much time online at all, especially reading blogs, you’re likely to be bombarded with requests for your email. In a post over on Buffer enticingly called How to Grow a Massive Email List, author Kevin Lee succinctly equates email list development to this formula:

Amazing blog content + crystal clear calls-to-action = massive email list

And in interviews with highly successful bloggers, every one recommended popups, menus, popovers, sliders and “Multiple CTAs: Give readers infinity+1 opportunities to subscribe.”

According to Experian, the top-tested area for email capture is in the menu bar. But we’re seeing a lot of testing in action for email capture, including:

  • Site header
  • Blog bylines
  • Any sidebar
  • Inside blog content
  • Footer of the content
  • Popup/popover – on entrance and on exit
  • In your blog author’s bio

Popular tools for capturing email addresses are from SumoMe and HelloBar.

In its 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, MarketingSherpa notes that 77% of marketers called website registration effective in building quality lists. So make sure to get email into all account registration, online and offline event registrations, and ecommerce forms on your site.

In order to keep from being irritating, please follow best practices:

  • Make sure the incentive for registering is clear and truly relevant to your target audience
  • Clearly list the benefits of registering for your email program
  • Describe how often they’ll get email from you if they give you their information
  • Try to collect geographic and demographic information so you can deliver relevant content
  • Your call to action is prominently displayed

Finally, it’s best to offer some social proof to encourage email sign-ups. We see many marketers leverage the size of their subscriber list to indicate satisfaction, with offers like: “Join more than 70,000 professionals…”

Keep in mind that helping is the new selling. So help your prospects with great content before you ask or expect anything from them, and you’ll be more successful in capturing email addresses and growing your list.

Strategy 2: Harness Social Media Engagement

The role of social media engagement in list building is three-fold:

  • Search engines are constantly looking at social signals for engagement and authority, which can build your credibility and help you land on the top of search results, help drive traffic to your site or stores.
  • Social channels are gateways to your products and services – through evangelism (by others), awareness (from your excellent posts) and in showing thought leadership (sharing great information)
  • Social channels showcase your approach to customer service and support (whether you like it or not).

What works in social one month can change quickly, whether at the whim of engineers changing their social platform’s algorithms or because of the natural swarming of (and abandonment by) people in social channels.

When possible, meet regularly with representatives from your social channels directly. Find out what’s new. Get their recommendations. And test them. If you can’t have direct conversations, check out some great social media bloggers, and try out their advice.

In order to build social engagement, the first rule you must follow / teach your client is the 6:3:1 Social Rule.

For every 10 social posts:

  • Six should be educational or entertaining – adding value about your market – but not written by you
  • Three should be educational or entertaining and written by you
  • One can be promotional – an offer of some sort

The second most important rule is this: You must be authentic to your brand values in social, but playing it safe rarely drives engagement.

So (and this takes work) convince your client (or your leadership team) to go out on a limb occasionally and do something in social that’s a little radical.

  • Be funny
  • Be disruptive
  • Be contrarian
  • Be generous

Test the limits of your voice. See what works for your brand. But be noticeable in some significant way.

And importantly, be responsive.

According to Search Engine Watch, 70% of Twitter users expect some sort of response from brands they reach out to, and 53% want a response in less than an hour. That speedy response expectation jumps to 72% when they’re complaining.

Your prospects can see your customer service and support in action when you respond to complaints in the channel in which it’s made. So make a big splash with your service. Respond respectfully, quickly, and in the social channel.

Being responsive can also build your list if you ask for more engagement as you’re having conversations. Try replying to every mention you get, and try to start a conversation with folks interacting with your content. As you’re conversing, drop in an offer to sign up for your email list, sending over a direct link to get them started. Mention a benefit or two; something exclusive would be nice. You might be amazed at the results.

Strategy 3: Build Influence with Influencers

Influencers, whether they’re journalists, analysts or bloggers, can drive sales. Demand Gen Report’s 2014 Content Preferences Survey revealed that 72% of survey respondents were influenced by industry peers while making B2B purchase decisions. And influencers come in many shapes and sizes.

Adidas regularly leverages local, social influencers to boost event awareness, participation and engagement in very unique ways. And their influencer network isn’t filled solely with athletes. They look for local artists, musicians, and stylish influencers who embody the Adidas brand, have unique personalities and strong styles, who are creative on social media, and who have a substantial following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms.

Influencers can take your message to the market in ways your own team can’t imagine, because of the scale and engagement of their followers and trust in their personal brands.

But finding who is truly influential in your space can be challenging. Three tools to finding your influencer market take very different approaches, and each tool requires an enlightened strategist to review results and recommend highly targeted influencers.

  • BuzzSumo can look at influencers through the lens of “what content performs best” for any topic
  • Little Bird finds influencers based on their internal connections with other influencers on any subject (the more niche, the better)
  • And for measuring and driving social influence for interactions with television shows or music groups, Tellagence is a strong platform

Once you’ve found your influencers, follow them. Engage with them on their blogs, and in their social channels. Impress them with your knowledge, charisma, and fabulous content. Make it smart for them to share your stuff. Watch your list of followers and advocates grow. And – most importantly – watch your lead pool grow.

Strategy 4: Boost In-Store Engagement

For the past four years, there’s been an Annual Major Purchase Study conducted. The Fourth Annual report, sponsored by Synchronicity, illuminated “how important the in-store experience can be in influencing shopper behavior.”

Most large purchase research starts online, and generally ends with an in-store purchase for things like sports equipment, jewelry, musical instruments and equipment, furniture, and appliances.

60% of shoppers surveyed checked social media, and 40% checked online reviews before making their decision to purchase. Importantly, though, 64% of shoppers who conducted both online and in-store research at some point in their journey said in-store research had a greater influence on their purchase decision.

If your clients (or you) have physical stores, offer their visitors a chance to sign up for digital offers – in the client’s newsletter, coupons, special events – in order to build the list. Make sure store associates not only offer cards at the appropriate moment, but ask whether prospects would like to receive information about products or services (or events) electronically.

Most importantly, store associates should be well informed about product and service offers, the local competitive environment, and opportunities for upsells. If you’re an agency, you might recommend your client employ secret shoppers to truly identify opportunities for improved engagement.

Ensuring your visitors have a seamless and positive “omni-channel” experience consistently across all touch points – web, mobile, social and in-person – will build confidence, credibility, trust and ultimately, sales for your clients and their clients.

In our next post on list building strategies, we’ll look at pay-to-play models of list building strategies:

  • Paid Media (Google AdWords, LinkedIn Sponsored Content, banner ads, etc.)
  • Events and Trade Shows
  • Look-Alike Platforms and Tools
  • Lead List Purchases

Stay tuned!

Ready to get started on step 1 – developing a clear understanding of your client’s buyer personas? Download Act-On’s Free Toolkit: Creating Buyer Personas to gain a clear methodology for creating and using buyer personas.