Should You Rent a List? Stats, Examples and Advice

While buying a list of email addresses is widely accepted as a bad idea, marketers still debate the merits of a different practice called list rental.

With list rental (sometimes called a sponsored mailing), you hand over your content to me. I email it to my list on your behalf. You never see the addresses. One way to think about it is that you’re buying advertising to be shown to those subscribers.

Of course, no subscriber hands over their email address just hoping to hear from all kinds of marketers. So while it’s different from buying a list of addresses, most rental campaigns just don’t return the results you’re looking for. (We’ve got proof.)

But some marketers do choose to use this to try and build their list or sell products. If you’re one of them, or are thinking about trying this tactic out (in spite of the stats), we have some examples and suggestions that you should see first.

First, The Proof: How Standard Rented Lists Perform

This graph from HubSpot shows how marketers rated these online channels in 2010. Only 12% of marketers reported a “great” return when they invested in traditional list rental (compared to 45% for house email lists).

Presented at Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 Email Summit

The problem is that in so many cases, the list owner simply drops someone else’s content into an email and sends it out. The subscribers, who aren’t expecting it, aren’t sure what to make of it.

Why Do House Lists Do So Much Better?

The straight answer is that a house list – in other words, your own list of subscribers that you’ve grown yourself – is made up of people who are getting exactly what they asked for. They don’t want to be bothered with anything else.

For a list renter, this means:

  • People respond best to emails they signed up for. Usually, that means emails from the list owner. So when someone else’s subscribers see a message about your business, they may be surprised or annoyed.
  • If the subscribers are annoyed enough, they might report your email as spam. Now, someone else sent the email, and that’s who’ll be directly affected. But you might still find that emails which link to your website (probably all of the emails you send) have delivery issues.
  • Finally, when you rent a list, you’ve got to wonder about its quality. Does the list’s owner rent it out all over the place? Are the subscribers thoroughly sick of hearing from other marketers?

If you consider all this and still feel you absolutely must have a larger list to send to this very minute, proceed carefully.

If You Sponsor a Mailing, Get Introduced

The point of renting a list is to introduce your brand to someone else’s subscribers. The trick is to make sure you’re introduced properly.

For example, accessories vendor Red Ruby Rose pays Offbeat Bride a fee, and an OB editor writes up a little recommendation, explaining just why their readers might love Red Ruby. Red Ruby gets exposure; OB gets paid.

And here’s another example – an email from chocolatier Vosges, sponsored by the daily email magazine Urban Daddy.

With the proliferation of daily deal emails, there’s even the option of getting listed in an email like this one from Daily Candy (who prepare subscribers beforehand).

Want to sponsor a mailing yourself? Here’s how.

Steps for Sponsoring a Mailing

  1. First, find another email marketer whose brand fits well with yours. (If you were their subscriber, would your email delight you?)
  2. Contact the marketer with your proposal. Will you pay them to feature you? Will you trade space in each others’ emails? (Note: this works best if you have similarly-sized audiences.) You may have to ask around to find a partnership that works.
  3. Make sure your host marketer introduces you to their list correctly. It’s best if they announce you in a previous message, unless their subscribers understand at sign up that they’ll occasionally hear from other marketers.
  4. Turn over your message. It’s best if you agree that it will be sent with your host marketer’s usual design, so readers identify it correctly. To cover your bases, make sure there’s some sort of introduction from the host that explains just why their readers will love you.

Would You Sponsor a Mailing?

In our view, there are better ways to grow your list and market your business than list rental.

But what do you think?

Would you pay to have a sponsored message sent on your behalf to another brand’s subscribers?

Have you done so? What were the results, and would you do it again?