Buying vs. renting lists

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It’s a decision every marketer faces at some point: Rent an e-mail list or buy it? There are pluses and minuses for each option—and just as many reasons for avoiding both.

Buying an e-mail list gives marketers complete control, allowing them to slice and dice data to create segments and append that data to get better targeting. Rental services, on the other hand, take the onus off the marketer to ensure deliverability and are much cheaper—some experts say rental can cost 1/10th of the price of list buying.

Even with all these facts, the right option might not be clear. Dave Scott, CEO of online marketing startup Marketfish, points out one little-known secret and one widely believed lie about list purchase and rental to help marketers make the decision.

Secret: Choose rental partners that prospects respect to get the best results. Imagine you are trying to reach 1,000 CIOs. Which is a better list source: a popular trade publication or a well-known blogger? It depends. Which one are your potential clients more apt to trust? When you rent a list, your message comes directly from another brand. The most respected brands are the ones that are going to inspire the best click and open rates, Scott said. “It’s amazing how brand-loyal people are,” he said. “People will often open something from a company they have never heard of just because they trust the conduit.”

You can survey your current customers to determine how they feel about various list sources. Their answers may be surprising and may help you save money, Scott said.

Lie: There’s no pay-for-performance option when it comes to list buying or renting. Pay for performance is much easier to pull off in the list rental space, but it’s also possible in the list buying space, too, though few providers talk much about either option, Scott said. “You have to ask for it but, if the spend is there, most companies will work with you on a performance-based campaign,” he said. “A good list manager will share some of that risk around performance because they know their list is going to deliver.”

A good strategy, Scott said, is to go to prospective partners and tell them exactly what you’re looking for in terms of how many leads you’d like to generate and how much you’re willing to pay to acquire a single customer or lead. If your numbers are reasonable, the vendor may agree to get paid when you meet those target goals. “We’ve done it. We will commit to only getting paid when our customer got a qualified lead,” Scott said.

Originally published May 27, 2010

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