Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
January 19, 200911:00 PM

Renting Lists

In the old days of Marketing (sometime last year), you could get away with renting someone else's list. There are some who might argue that renting lists is still the way to go. Why don't people take the budget they were going to use to rent someone else's list and use it to build their own?

Are your customers really that close to you that they would not mind if you gave out their personal information to a third-party? Sure, you did everything above-board by allowing them to opt-in to being communicated with by a third-party, but does that still make it right? There is an argument that says if the consumer has given you their permission and you feel like the third-party has some kind of communication that they might find relevant, where's the harm? In fact, aren't you really providing a service to those consumers?

Renting a list is easy. Building a list is hard.

Renting a list is a short-term solution. Building a list is a long-term strategy. If something was easy and quick and had long-lasting effects, it would make perfect sense. If the process is simply a fleeting way to try and bump numbers without any real foundation for future growth or for building a relationship, it might be worth re-thinking whether it's a proper marketing strategy at all.

We had limited choices before. Now, the choices are endless.

If you could not afford a 30-second spot, you might try advertising in your local newspaper. If you didn't have a budget for that, you might try sending offers out to your existing client database. If that wasn't rich enough, you could ask someone with a similar business if you could send your message to their database. Now, we have online tools. We have everything from paid search and email to online social networks and Blogs. It's actually not all that hard to present yourself to potential consumers by providing value - it could be superior promotions or it could be the creation of unique content. However you slice it, there are countless new opportunities and channels to look at that will probably cost you the same (maybe even less) than if you rented someone else's database of email addresses.

There are many people who will think this is all wrong.

That's fine too. Why not start your own Blog to extol the virtues of buying, selling and renting third-party lists? Direct Marketing is still a huge and important part of the Marketing toolkit, and I'm wondering (out loud) what these newer deals looks like, how they work and how well they perform? Clearly, there is still a market for buying and renting lists of people. It may not be the sexiest kind of advertising, but there would not be so many businesses doing it if it were dead.

How do you feel about renting lists?

By Mitch Joel

Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Nicky Jameson
    Mitch Joel

    I explicity tell anyone who opts into my EZine or other list that I will NOT rent, or share their details in any way. I also have it on my blog disclaimer.

    Most ethical marketers do and should display this proviso on their sign up box. They should also say if signing up to a list means that the signee is going to be flooded with information from other lists.

    I personally won't sign up to a list that doesn't reassure me they won't trade, rent or sell my name and email. Who don't respect my privacy. And I believe that should be each user's rule of thumb.

    Leaving this information off does not imply the signee consents to their details being rented out or sold.

    Now to renting lists themselves, yes it's easy to rent a list rather than take the time to build a relationship with those on your list.

    But when you buy/rent from a list broker, the qualiity is often low, you have no idea if it's current, whether the list is "permission-based" - and you risk falling foul of Spam laws - rightly so.

    There's a market for Viagra too.. but that doesn't mean I like getting email about it. While companies may rent/buy lists, as a consumer I dislike ending up on someone's lists when I've not consented or explicitly asked for it.

    Ethical Internet Marketers, in my opinion, take the time and effort build their lists - and their relationships. The rewards are far greater.

  • Posted by Sarah Stabler
    Mitch Joel

    I've been a media buyer for over 10 years and a pioneer in email marketing. I agree that a list that you build surpasses any that you could rent.

    But consider these facts. When people opt-in to lists for a newsletter, I've seen 50% of them also opt-in to receive third party emails. They chose this! (I dont men a pre-checked box)

    Next take into consideration that some sites are in the business of building lists solely to turn around and rent them. And these lists can keep getting bigger.

    So what I believe is that there are segments of people here - those who believe in the sanctity of their lists and keep them close to the vest. And there are those who solely eye their lists as income generators. Each segment I describe (and there are more) plays out to the needs of its participants.

    It's all relative. And as long as true permission marketing, people and list owners have their choices. (I am not talking here about spammers and other malpractices that go on.)

  • Posted by Keith Beucler
    Mitch Joel

    I thought by now everyone had a spam filter on their email. As far as lists go, I think most would agree that quality is better than quantity. With that being said, there are still a lot of people using huge lists and making a ton of money. I guess it really depends on what you are offering and who you target audience is. Of course you need a much lower conversion rate the larger your list is.

  • Posted by Sarah Stambler
    Mitch Joel

    Typo in my name - Stambler not Stabler from Law and Order!!!

  • List brokerage is still VERY big business, and list quality and performance is directly in proportion to price. You get what you pay for - as always.

  • There are two major points to this Blog posting:

    1. I was wondering about people's general feeling about renting lists now - with all of these amazing tools available to build their own lists. It's much easier to build your own list today compared to the pre-Intertubes days.

    2. How do the results compare. How does a house list compare to a rented list in terms of performance?

    My feeling (but I could be wrong, and it could be on a per circumstance basis) is that building your own must be more effective?

  • Posted by Don Lange
    Mitch Joel

    House lists have always been more responsive than rental lists because the relationship between the buyer and the seller is direct. The value of a rented list – especially in email where the transaction is transparent to the recipient – lies in the relationship between the list owner and the people on the list. If the relationship is strong and based on something (such as the editorial bond between a subscriber to a magazine and the publisher) then the list has real worth, the delivery of the email itself considered a tacit endorsement of the advertiser, and can be very responsive. This is because conscientious list owners (well aware of the transparency) have a vested interest in delivering 3rd party advertising that has been properly vetted and only approved if there is a demonstrated value to the recipients. The rental lists that have very benign relationships between the list owners and the people on the list (such as for example, contest entrants) are usually poor responders.

  • Posted by John Wall
    Mitch Joel

    First rule of Fight Club...

  • Posted by etiennechabot
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with Mitch. Renting list is less likely a strategic move than building and most importandly, manage your own. In the era of internet email subsciptions and hundreds of emails in your inbox everyday, the importance of properly targeting your customers has never been so high, Rented list are less likely to be appropriately targeted. In 2009 there shouldn't be any direct marketing initiative without true Permission Marketing.

  • Posted by boler

    Are your customers really that close to you that they would not mind if you gave out their personal information to a third-party? Sure, you did everything above-board by allowing them to opt-in to being communicated with by a third-party, but does that still make it right?

  • Posted by Heather
    Mitch Joel

    Re: "Clearly, there is still a market for buying and renting lists of people. It may not be the sexiest kind of advertising, but there would not be so many businesses doing it if it were dead" -- isn't this a bit of a lemming theory? Sounds a bit like "there wouldn't be so many people eating at McDonald's if it wasn't good for you." I think marketing should be about effectiveness, not "it's what everyone else does." Those who are successful in marketing are those who stand out from the crowd, not those eating a burger we know is bad for you just because it's convenient, fast and cheap.

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