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Why Invest In Building An Email List?


Your brand has 3 distinct categories of online audience. Owned, Earned & Paid.

When it comes to investing in marketing activities, those with the quickest “results” often get a disproportionate amount of our attention. The truth is there’s only one audience that matters over the longer term, and it’s often the one that gets the least amount of investment. In this post, we explore why your email list remains the most valuable digital asset you own!

“Email lists and websites are the only two things you can own on the internet. Everything else is just rented”. – Tobi Lutke – (Shopify CEO)

Here’s a quick overview of the 3 types of audience and where each might sit in your marketing mix.

  • Owned Audience – Any communication channel or platform that you have full control over. (Email & Website)

  • Earned Audience – Or in old speak, “publicity”. When you get additional exposure as a result of the work you’ve done in building a brand. (Social shares, links to your website etc)

  • Paid Audience – Any form of advertising or promotion aimed at driving visitors to your own media properties. (Google Ads, Boosted posts, etc)

Fast track audience building

Social media and Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising have successfully commoditised audiences into clicks, likes and shares.

This marketing tactic obviously panders to the low attention world we live in where instant gratification is seemingly the only game in town.

Marketers can grow “their” audiences quickly and provide employers and investors with ready-made metrics that expound the value of their work.

Easy come easy go

I’m not going to compare the relative benefits of different online media or we’d be here all day. There is however a hidden price to this fantasy world of easy marketing and brand building. Namely, you’re only renting your audience.

Invariably this audience belongs to another brand (Google, Facebook, Tiktok etc) and you’ve rented their attention for a period of time. Which as we already know is increasingly fleeting.

Building an audience behind “walled gardens” like Facebook or Twitter has 3 significant disadvantages

  1. Algorithm changes can dramatically reduce your reach. Anyone who has experienced a sudden drop in social media engagement, or Search engine rankings, has felt the impact of the almighty algorithm. It’s outside your control and highly unpredictable.

  2. Cost to reach your audience rises over time. Facebook pages used to be free, now you have to pay to boost your posts to reach “your” own audience.

  3. Mobility is restricted. Good luck migrating your Facebook audience to tiktok. You might not be able to migrate your audience but your audience can migrate themselves. Just ask, Myspace, Bebo & Friendster!

Benefits of owning your audience

  • Personalisation – Email and increasingly websites can be personalised to serve the needs of your audience. Tagging and segmenting your audience allows you to cater to their specific needs.

  • Cost – The cost of reaching your own audience is known in advance, with relative certainty.

  • Control – Your audience on your platform means you have control over the content and format its delivered in. There’s a good reason not many facebook pages and amazon stores win award for design.

  • Return – The return on investment is significantly higher when you don’t have to pay for each website visitor

  • Value – of your own audience is a recognisable commercial asset. Website traffic and email lists are both incredibly valuable in the eyes of business buyers and investors.

  • Platform agnostic. – Your email list doesn’t care if they live on Mailchimp or Convertkit. You don’t care if they read the email you send in outlook or gmail. In this way email is still the ultimate independent marketing platform.

Hub & Spoke Solution

Now obviously I’m not saying you should abandon social media and paid advertising in favour of exclusively focusing on website content and email marketing. (Although in most cases the percentage of investment is often skewed in the wrong direction)

Perhaps a better analogy would be to view your audiences as spokes around a central hub. The hub is your “owned” audience (Website & Email list) the spokes being the various methods you use to attract visitors to your website.

The goal is to attract visitors to your website through paid and social media marketing but with a distinct goal in mind. Audience building. (Now I know I normally drone on about conversions, but bear with me)

We already know that the vast majority of website visitors aren’t ready to make a purchase on their first visit.

People need to get to know you, like you and then trust you before they buy from you.

In fact, on average less than 10% of your visitors are ready to buy right away. This means unless you have a strategy to capture at least some of the remaining 90% on that first visit, the chances are you’re going to have to pay for the next visit as well!

When you also consider that the average person is hit with 5,000 marketing messages per day and third-party cookie targeting is going the way of the dinosaurs, the odds of getting that 90% back is diminishing by the day.

Time to start building your own audience!

Chances are you’re optimising your website around the kind of conversions that occur on that first visit. Of course, this makes total commercial sense. What doesn’t make commercial sense is repeatedly paying for the remaining 90% of your visitors to return to your website when they’re ready to buy!

That’s really just a fancy way of saying you need to be more creative in getting the email addresses of your website visitors so you can get them back to your website without having to pay for each visit.

Gone are the days when people freely handed over an email address just because you asked them nicely.

I hate to break it to you, but people actually don’t want any more emails. So, as great as your weekly newsletter might be, the truth is the vast majority of people don’t want it. Your job is to give them a reason TO want it!

This is where you need to get creative. (here are a few ideas to get you going)

If you’re in e-commerce this might be a case of offering coupons or discount codes (remember the chances are good you’d be paying to get this person to come back to your site anyway, so incentivising a purchase is a much better investment.)

If you sell digital products, you might want to consider offering people limited free access in exchange for an email address. This allows you to build trust with your audience and allow you to re-market to them in the future.

If you’re in the service industry you might offer a free guide or checklist that demonstrates your expertise while at the same time allowing you to personalise content to that audience member based on their expressed interest.

Just remember that all audiences have an expiration date. You cant simply add people to a list with a view to reaching out to them months from now in the hope they will jump when asked. Like all relationships, audiences need nurturing over time. This is 100% not the marketing strategy for those seeking instant gratification. It’s for those looking to build real value in their brand and business over the longer term.

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