Creating contact lists for email and sms marketing

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Creating Your Email and SMS Contact Lists

Learn what you should and shouldn’t do to grow your Digital Contacts Lists for your Small Business

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One of the most important things any organization can do to market themselves is to establish and build their list of customer and prospect contacts for email and text. But digital marketing capabilities and digital marketing regulations have grown exponentially since the early days of email, making it more important than ever to follow some key best practices – and avoid common pitfalls.

Benefits of Email & SMS Marketing

Here are six “dos” and four “don’ts” when it comes to building your digital contact list so you can build your business.


Get permission to email your customers and prospects. 

Getting permission is also called getting “opt-ins”.  Before you can upload any email addresses into a mass email marketing database, you need to make sure you asked them to “opt-in” first. You can do this through a sign-up sheet in-person, a checkbox on a shopping cart webpage, or a dedicated landing page. This is the most important of all the “do” items – while it might be tempting to load contact information from your existing address books into your outreach lists, be cautious; it can be easy to cross the line into contact that violates CAN-SPAM and GDPR regulations. The best way to ensure responsible, compliant outreach is to enable your audience to raise their hand to hear from you (and this also ensures an engaged, qualified audience).


Every time you invite your audience to opt in, set expectations. 

Whether it’s a sign-up sheet, a checkbox on a shopping cart webpage, or a dedicated landing page, your opt-in methods should always be clear about how you will communicate with them, including:

  • Content:  No matter what method you use to grow your list of contacts, you always want to let people know what to expect if they join your list. Will you be sending along stock updates and sales notifications? Menus and recipes? Or tips and expert advice? 
  • Contact Method: Also outline what kind of communications they will receive so they know to expect texts, emails, or other forms of outreach. 
  • Frequency: When you invite people to join your contact list, let them know what you will be sharing and roughly how often.


Utilize out-of-the-box opt-in forms. 

Many digital marketing products make it easy to add a form to your website or to create a standalone landing page to drive communication opt-ins. A dedicated form or landing page allows you to: 

  • ask for several pieces of information at once (more on that later)
  • include information about what to expect, your privacy policy and terms and conditions 
  • include a link in your routine communications with your existing contacts
  • walk away with a digital database that’s ready to roll– in many cases, already synced to your digital marketing tool.


Ask them in-person. 

Sure, you’re building a digital marketing list. But that doesn’t mean that meeting people face-to-face doesn’t have its place. Whether you have a brick-and-mortar storefront that people visit or you appear at networking events as part of an online store or charity, don’t hesitate to use in-person opportunities to invite people to join your list and tell them about your outreach programs.


Add an incentive. 

While the content you provide through your campaigns should be valuable enough to keep people reading, an incentive to sign up for your contact list can get them to your content in the first place. Often, restaurants will offer a free appetizer or other item for list signups, and retailers might offer a percent off coupon in exchange. Consider what you can offer and what might entice your customers to give you their information. 


Keep your audience in mind when coming up with a strategy to attract new contacts. 

Identify what kind of audience you WANT to build before you try to get them to opt in. There are a few easy questions to ask yourself.

  • What do my customers find valuable about my business?
  • What can I offer them that no one else can?
  • What is my most popular product or offering?
  • What are my repeat and ideal customers like, and what do they have in common?

All of these answers can help you attract the right people and determine the mix of communication tools you want to use to reach out to them, from email and SMS text messaging to events and social media. 

Attracting the right audience is also important because not all contacts are created equally– people who aren’t likely to support your business can bring down your numbers and create more work for you.

Now, you could stop at taking only these “do” suggestions and have a pretty good start toward your digital marketing contact list… but you’re missing out on a few tips that can take you from a good start and help you to create great routines that will keep your list growing over time.


Buy lists of email addresses and phone numbers. 

As a business owner, you WILL be contacted at some point with an offer to buy contact lists to help you reach new prospects. But ultimately, it’s not worth it. There is no guarantee that these records are accurate and high-quality, and because these contacts have not raised their hands to hear from your business, reaching out to them can give them a negative perception of your business as well as harming your digital engagement rates. With enough negative engagement (like spam reports), you can hurt your email deliverability chances in future campaigns.


Restrict yourself to gathering email addresses only. 

While the most common method of contacting your customers might be email, it’s not the only valuable piece of information you can get from your customers. Email addresses work well hand-in-hand with cell phone numbers for SMS text marketing programs, of course, but think bigger; gathering information like birthdays, anniversaries, preferred product brands and areas of interest can help you create personalized communications that take your customers’ individual experiences into account, and these can be easily gathered via the sign-up forms that products like Constant Contact can provide.


Wait until you have a “huge” list of contacts to start your digital marketing. 

Often, we hear customers tell us that they are afraid they just don’t have enough people to reach out to for that first communication. But even the smallest number of engaged, loyal customers is valuable because they want to hear from you, and they value what you are going to share with them. In many ways, your first loyal contacts are the perfect sounding board to perfect your voice and efforts and may be more likely to give you earnest, actionable feedback on your marketing efforts. 


Think of growing your list as a one-time task. 

It’s a problem every business owner would like to have: you set out to gather contacts and got WAY more than you ever thought you could. Fantastic! But it doesn’t mean you’re done. No matter how many contacts you did (or didn’t) get, your list-growing efforts should never be one-and-done. New prospects and customers come into your orbit each and every day, and old customers may drift away for one reason or another. Continuing to grow your digital marketing contact list should be an ongoing process integral to the growth and success of your business– and as your list grows, your business will, as well.


Small Business Digital Marketing Tips from Constant Contact

 During the Digital Marketing for Small Business session at the Amazon Business Small Business Summit 2023, Dave covers the fundamentals of social media marketing, email marketing, and text/SMS marketing. In the below guest posts, Dave walks you through how to create your digital marketing contact list and more. 


Explore these digital marketing posts:

About Constant Contact 

Constant Contact delivers for small businesses and nonprofits with powerful tools that simplify and amplify digital marketing. Whether it's driving sales, growing a customer base or engaging an audience, we deliver the performance and guidance to build strong connections and generate powerful results. 

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About Dave Charest

Dave Charest is Director of Small Business Success at Constant Contact, the online marketing leader trusted by millions of small businesses to provide email, web, social media, text and event marketing tools. In his role, Dave acts as an educator and an advocate for small business leaders, marketing professionals, and nonprofits by providing them with practical marketing advice that can help them achieve their goals. He is a dynamic leader, speaker, creator, and award-winning marketer who strives to inspire small businesses by simplifying the complex world of online marketing

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