I’ve been talking with a lot of people lately about ‘building your email list.” Rule #1, they say, is give something away for free. Okay, there’s merit in that suggestion I suppose. But quantity does not equal quality. If you want quality subscribers who are more likely to buy whatever it is you’re going to sell down the line, you want people who’ve already shown a willingness to buy from you. You want to charge people on your list for what they get.
I’ve been manning booths at trade shows since the early ’80s. No matter what the focus of the show, the aisles are filled with what I call “bag zombies.” Almost immediately after they enter a show, they get a bag. Sometimes one of the vendors supplies these at check-in. Mindlessly, slack-jawed and with a thousand-yard stare, these people begin shuffling up and down the aisles, swiveling their heads from side to side. While they distract the booth staff with meaningless questions like “So what is it exactly that you do?”, their hands scoop up anything that isn’t nailed down. A lot of booth vendors give stuff away for free, and I’ve seen bag zombies clear a table in a matter of seconds. Some have no shame – they will literally scoop everything they can into their bag.
Now, here’s the sad part. These zombies will leave the show, laden down with bags full or perfectly good marketing materials for which the vendors have paid good money. They’ll take those bags back to the office, or back home, and put them in a corner. Other stuff gets piled on the bags. Anywhere from six months to several years later, these zombies uncover the bags. They stick their heads in, looking confusedly at a pile of junk they swiped. Having no use for it, they toss it all. All the time the vendors spent planning their swag, perfecting their sales pitches… all the money they spent to design, produce, and ship their marketing swag… gone. All wasted.
It’s Not Worth It
I’ve spoken with dozens of folks who’ve gotten free downloads. Books, stories, white papers… it doesn’t matter. Less than 1% of them have actually read everything they got for free. Less than 10% read some of their free downloads. The rest read nothing. They collect stuff because it’s free. And they treat it with exactly the care and consideration a free download deserves – they ignore it. They don’t value what they get for free. Because it was free, they don’t take the time to read it. Free stuff isn’t worth it for them, and any effort expended by the giver is wasted as well. Whether it’s an author giving away a sample chapter, or a company giving away a comparison chart, these digital bag zombies suck it down and drop it onto their hard drives, where it remains in the dark until at some point, the downloader deletes it.
What’s The Solution?
So, if giving stuff away for free works to build an email list, then what can you do to convert a quantity list to a quality list? The fancy word is segmentation. That is, break up your list into the people who are bag zombies, and those that are truly interested in what you have to offer. You sell them something.
Now, I’m not talking about something expensive. A line doesn’t have to be a mile wide to be a line, it just has to exist. One of my clients offers a service worth $600 for $49. Another client offers a an entire book for $0.99. It’s what I call proof of interest. It’s a tiny price, the point of which is to make them pull out their wallet. It makes them take an additional step, the same step they’d have to make when paying you $100, or a thousand dollars. And it defines the fact that this person is interested enough it what you have to offer that they’ll pay something for it. After that, you just have to find the highest price point they’re willing to hit.
Yes, give away something for free to build your email list. Make sure they get that freebie. But the very next step you take should be to offer them something they have to pay for. Something small, at a low price. Don’t try to sell them extras, or something expensive. Just make them pull out their wallet. If they don’t buy Item A, offer them another inexpensive product, Item B. Come up with a range of small, inexpensive products. But once they buy, move their name onto another list. Call it “Purchased,” “Prospects,” or something else. But offer the bag zombies an inexpensive line to cross. Once they cross it, you’ve got a much more interesting – and lucrative – problem on your hands.