Building an email marketing list

Customer Opt-in

You need permission to add emails to your list, not just from a marketing standpoint but also legally. Receiving unsolicited marketing emails (i.e., spam) is annoying for customers and, in many places, is against the law. To give consent to be contacted, subscribers need to ‘opt-in’ to receive marketing messages from you. Permission is usually obtained by ticking a box at checkout.

A business which neglects their legal obligations can get heavily fined. To avoid this fate, you should consult the relevant legislation:

  • CAN-SPAM. Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 governs email usage for commercial purposes in the USA.
  • GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulation is legislation aimed at protecting personal data within the European Union.
  • CASL. Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation set out the regulations for communicating with Canadian customers.

Opt-in forms

To get people to sign up for your newsletter, you need to ask. There are several places on your website where you can invite users to subscribe. As visitors to your website, they are likely to be interested in your products and within your target market. Requesting a subscription can have a reasonable response rate, especially if you provide an incentive to sign up like a first-time customer discount. The following are popular methods for implementing forms:

  • Tick box at checkout. Invite customers to sign up as part of the checkout process. Pre-ticking the box will increase sign up but is sneaky and against the law in many countries.
  • Sign up box. This can be in the header, navigation, or footer. Although the conversion rate is likely to be low, over time, the subscribers will add up.
  • Pop-up box. Pops-ups can be triggered after a specific time or by signs the customer is leaving. A signup incentive may encourage them to make a purchase.

Signup Incentives

Unfortunately, ‘please sign up to our newsletter’ is frequently not enough incentive for a customer to bother subscribing. Creating an offer can incentivise for visitors to share their email. Options include:

  • Deals and discounts. Discounts are a double-edged sword as they increase sales but hit margins. It is a judgment call whether it encourages customers who would otherwise purchase anyway.
  • Competition or contest. Although contests can generate many signups, many entrants will be just looking for free stuff (a ‘comper’).
  • Educational content. Many consumer products benefit from sharing additional content with customers. An example could a food manufacturer emailing tasty recipes which utilise their product and come back for more.

Real World Email Requests

Emails can be collected where you physically interact with your customers. Examples include:

  • Physical stores. If you have a shop, you can ask customers to sign up at checkout or give an incentive such as a competition to collect details.
  • Packaging inserts. These can include discounts or offers for customers who return to your site.



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