Build Your Business:

Building & Segmenting Your Contact List

March 3, 2014

One of the key things that makes digital marketing so powerful and efficient is the ability to build and manage targeted lists. These lists fall into many different categories.

For instance, different interest niches (schools, contractors, running events, etc.) exist. You also can have lists for prospects, buyers, current customers and inactive customers. It’s possible to develop lists of your competitors’ customers. How about geographic targeting? You also can create seasonal lists to promote events, seasonal sports, holiday offers, summer offers and so on. The possibilities are endless.

This is very important because digital marketing is all about attraction and engagement. To attract a prospect, your targeting and messaging need to be relevant to the prospect. Remember, it’s all about them. We talk a lot about “message to market match.” This means what you are saying to the market has to match what the market is seeking. The more relevant and meaningful your messaging, the higher the engagement, and the greater the attraction and conversion.

List building is a core skill in digital marketing. The more you understand the process, and the more consistent you are at developing and managing your lists, the more profitable you will become. The thing I like most about list building is that you have a reliable, available asset that can be turned on and off at will to create new business.

It’s quite common to hear the complaint, “My production is filled with peaks and valleys,” or “It’s either feast or famine around here.” This happens because most small-to-medium shops operate using “the hunter-gatherer” method of sales. When they need work, they go on the hunt. This usually results in bringing back small game (small orders), but occasionally they’ll land a big one. They spend the next week or more working off the big order, only to find there’s nothing waiting behind it.

A valley in production follows while a new catch is being hunted and the cycle repeats. With managed lists, it is much easier to send out an offer and wait for the orders to call or come in. Using managed lists, it’s easily possible to create $10,000-$100,000 or more of new business in less than a week or two. While it’s not a sure bet or completely automatic, I have enough firsthand experience to know that when it’s done right, it is a consistent, predictable, repeatable method of generating almost instant sales.

List building can happen in different ways. You can physically collect business cards or email addresses at your shop’s front desk, or use a registration process tied to a physical or digital event. Examples include a soccer or baseball tournament, online webinar or Google Hangout. There are hundreds of ways to access targeted traffic that can end up on one of your lists.

In the old-school world of direct marketing, names and addresses were collected so a physical postcard or flier could be mailed. One of the most effective methods of list building still is the monthly news-letter, regardless of whether it’s physical or digital. Currently, the physical newsletter is making a comeback because the U.S. Postal Service now has an inexpensive mailing program that targets individual neighborhoods. You see this a lot with restaurant, fast food and pizza fliers. You can create a hybrid where a physical piece is sent to a prospect neighborhood with the intention of driving the prospects online to a specific landing page with a personalized offer.

Since the focus here is on the digital side, let’s move on to the minimum requirements of an effective list-building campaign and the associated compliance issues. At the very front end, you will need some way to capture the prospect’s name and email address. This is getting increasingly harder to do, as consumers are very conscious about the possibility of signing up and then getting inundated with a ton of junk emails. Big mistake.

On all of my sites, I make it abundantly clear that anyone can instantly opt-out at anytime if they no longer wish to receive communication from me. I don’t want angry prospects or customers. I also let them know exactly what they will be receiving from me: meaningful, useful and relevant information about their specific interest, and an occasional offer. I try to keep the offers to about 10% of the overall messaging sent. It should be secondary to developing the relationship and adding value to it.

The second element that’s essential is the opt-in process. I let everyone know they must confirm their intention to receive information from me before I will send it to them. This is called a “double opt-in process” and it is the gold standard for compliance. It also shows that you value and respect the person who has shared his email address with you.

When building your list, be aware of the minimum government compliance requirements. These were enacted under the CANN-SPAM Act to protect consumers from junk email abuse. It’s debatable if it has helped, but you must be compliant nonetheless. Here is what you need to do:

1. Use a reliable email service provider (ESP). Some of the most common are Constant Contact, AWeber, Get Response, iContact, and Mail Chimp. These all are paid services, but they make it easy to be in compliance. As you use their setup wizards, you’ll be prompted to enter all the necessary compliance information.

2. Make sure every email you send has an automatic unsubscribe notice at the bottom with an active unsubscribe link to delete people from the email database if they no longer wish to receive your information. The aforementioned programs do this for you automatically.

3. Regardless of the program you use, it must support double opt-in. While you can legally capture names without a required confirmation, it’s always best to have prospects reconfirm their intentions to receive information from you.

4. Make it a habit of requiring your customers to reconfirm their desire to continue to receive your content on an annual basis.

Once you’ve captured the names, there are two types of mailings you can do. The first is called an auto-response mailing. This can be one or more automatically generated mailings to the prospect. If they have asked for a free e-book or brochure, the confirming email with the download link is automatically generated. You can create a sequence of mailings to help the prospect move toward purchasing. I usually space seven to 10 emails out during a month. Each email has a call to action that — if they respond — will cancel the remaining sequence. This is done so prospects don’t get annoyed if they decide to engage with you. This is handled through the automations function in the email software.

The auto-responder sequence is a fundamental tool and can be used in hundreds of different ways. As an example, if you have a volunteer who’s doing a school fundraiser event using T-shirts, you could create a sequence of messages delivered starting 30 days before the event as timed reminders for what needs to be done to keep the project on task and on time. This can greatly help in reducing last-minute rushes and drama because a key item was missed or overlooked.

The second core type of mailing is called the broadcast mailing. This is essentially a mass mailing to one or more of your segments with a special offer, seasonal special, general announcement, or monthly or quarterly newsletter. These general mailings can be very helpful in maintaining contact with your prospects and customer base. They’re great for keeping everyone up to speed on the different local events for which you’re printing and to help promote those events on behalf of your customers.

This is a valuable offer that your competition almost never uses to its advantage. When it comes down to the bid and the other guy has lower costs, you often can turn it around by letting them know you promote all events for which you print to your list of hundreds or thousands of local businesses and consumers. This is the kind of value that differentiates you from the rest and costs you essentially nothing.

The real power of list building comes in the segmentation process. It’s really a pretty simple concept. The idea is to be able to create lists and break them down into specific segments. The more segmented your list, and the more associated the messaging that accompanies the segment, the more relevant your contact with your prospects. Most of the programs I previously mentioned have automated segmenting capability.

Here’s how it works: Suppose you do a broadcast mailing to everyone on each different list. When people click the call-to-action link that was the purpose of the email, they automatically get added to a new list that is comprised only of respondents to the broadcast. The link would take them to an offer landing page. If they respond to the offer, they automatically would be unsubscribed from the list they were just added to, and subscribed to a third list of new buyers for your offer.

As buyers, they would get different messaging than the people who looked at the offer page, but did not buy. For that group, you would craft an auto-responder sequence that would move them toward a future purchase. In both cases, the automation of the messaging is taken care of by the email software. It’s really powerful once you get the hang of it.

This is a lot for the initial introduction. Since February is cold and slow in most parts of the country, this is a perfect time to download a free 30-day trial of one of the programs and start playing with it. If there’s only one thing you do in 2014, I would recommend this. My only regret is that I waited so long before I started building my lists. A list that you have a relationship with is worth more than money in the bank. It becomes the foundation for what will be a steady stream of leads and orders over which you have complete command.

Mark A. Coudray is a respected and well-known industry innovator and strategist. His works have been published in more than 400 papers, columns, features and articles in every major publication in the United States and abroad. Coudray has been an active member of the Academy of Screen Printing and Digital Technology since 1989 and has written for Impressions since 1978. For more information or to contact Mark, email him at or visit Hear Mark speak on digital marketing at a workshop at ISS Atlantic City. All-day workshops are just $99 if you pre-register: