Stop focusing on “Building an Email List”

Focus instead on “Building an engaged audience”

For an updated version of this article, click here.

“George, how do I grow my email list”?

“Well, why do you want it?”

“Because I’ve heard marketing experts say that this is the most important thing to do in marketing?”

Having been around marketing experts for years, I will tell you that the real reason is: “We want to grow an email list because we want an audience that we can reliably communicate with.”

Let’s switch the question.

  1. When you are fixated on “building an email list” it becomes tempting to do whatever is necessary to get their email address, forgetting that it may actually erode the relationship. Example: A pop-up window asking for your email address is annoying, but businesses still do it because it does build a bigger email list, even if the subscribers are initially reluctant, and increasingly annoyed by unexpected emails. To understand this, and a better alternative, read my post “No More Lead Magnets.”
  2. When you instead focus on “building an engaged audience” you’re thinking about the relationship with your audience — and whether they are engaged with you or not. Your actions will become more aligned with their needs and wants, rather than a soulless numerical metric of “how many email subscribers do I have?”

Meet people where they’re at.

Email list-building was hot in the 2000’s. As the internet grew in importance, it was still kind of novel to get emails from brands you like. Then, I started noticing — as did my marketing friends — that audiences began growing tired of being on email lists. Services like (helping you quickly unsubscribe from many email newsletters) grew popular.

You like surfing Facebook? Great, you’ll see my posts there.

You prefer Youtube videos? Yep, you can watch my videos.

You listen to podcasts? You can subscribe to my podcast.

If you care about your audience — they hope you do! — you will go to where they are.

Of course, this needs to be balanced with your limited time. I’ve written about this before: Focus your marketing efforts on just the one (or few) channels you’d like to become really good at. There are more than enough people in any one channel you choose, e.g. Facebook, Youtube, Podcasts, etc.

In other words, don’t force your audience to give you their email address in order to get your best free content. Post it where they are at.

Holding ransom + Steep payment

This is one of the things all of us dislike about marketing:

  1. They tell us they have something free for us.
  2. They then dangle their free report, free video series, free templates — and make us salivate — and then require our email address to get to it.

They build up our desires with an initial lie of “free”, then hold it for ransom.

The “payment” of our email address is also a deception: It’s not a one-time giving over of your email. It’s a continuous barrage into your inbox of things they want to tell you and sell you. The payment is steeper than originally looked (“Just enter your email address here!”)

Don’t be like those marketers.

“But my email list is the only thing I really control!”

…is what the marketer will tell me.

The rationale is that they cannot communicate reliably to their audience on Facebook or Youtube etc. because the algorithms can change anytime.

They say that the only reliable way is to email their list.

Not true.

So many marketers and clients have lamented to me about their low email open rates. In fact, average email open rates are less than 25% (!)

They might even have heard that their email messages are going into their audience’s spam folder… and therefore never really reaching them.

Here’s the reality:

  • You cannot guarantee that your email subscribers will receive your email…
  • …and even if they receive it, you can’t guarantee they’ll open it
  • …and if they open it, you can’t guarantee they’ll care about your message!

The only thing in your control?

It’s whether your content is authentic, relevant, and consistent… or not.

  • Authenticity = Sharing your truth
  • Relevance = Caring to find the intersection between yours and your audience’s truth
  • Consistent = So that your audience can depend on the rhythm of your content

An engaged audience comes out of you being authentic, relevant, and consistent.

You build an audience that cares about you.

If they surf Facebook, they will be looking for your posts, in the rhythm that they’ve become accustomed to seeing from you.

If they watch your Youtube videos, they’ll be missing you if they don’t see your videos in the Recommended stream, and will go to your channel to see what’s new.

And yes, if they subscribed to your email newsletter, they’ll look forward to it!

So… should we build our email list?

If your audience wants to receive your content via email, and if you don’t mind sending a regular newsletter, then yes, offer that service!

As I wrote in my blog post “No Lead Magnets”, I do have an email newsletter which I keep as simple as possible, so that it’s personally sustainable for me to keep it up.

But the way I look at my email newsletter is not “the most important asset in my business and the one channel I can control.” No.

It’s for those of you who like to read email newsletters, and want to keep up with my latest content in that way.

But I have many people who either follow me on Facebook or Youtube or Twitter or Linkedin who aren’t on my email newsletter. I meet them where they’re at.

The Bottom Line? Your Intention. Release fear & control, and dive into Caring & Generosity.

My guess is: it’s what you deeply wish for anyway… not having to be afraid your audience might or might not do something, but instead, being able to give your energies over to a caring and generous expression of truth.

Share your truth, care for your audience, and they will not let “algorithms” get in their way of your content.

They will keep looking for you, and delighted when they see your content.

To read my best articles about Authentic Marketing — without giving me your email address — click here:

Written by

Authentic Business Coach & Author of 4 Books including "Authentic Content Marketing" and "Joyful Productivity"

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