The art of warming up a stale email list

You've been collecting email addresses for years, dutifully filing them away in a spreadsheet and importing them into your email campaign software. Then one day you realize you've never actually sent anything to your list! This a problem a lot of email marketers face when sending their first campaign. Somehow in between collecting all those email addresses and running your business you forgot to actually send an email. We faced this same issue this week with our contact list. If you have an old list your about to send email to, wait! Make sure you understand the legalities and what kind of response to expect.

Any email list older than 3 months that hasn't been used is considered stale. Stale lists can lead to blacklists if you're not careful. Before you send your next sales pitch out to that list consider this:

  • Will your subscribers remember who you are? If they signed up for your fantastic list three months ago and never heard from you will they remember who you are now? Chances are they'll be annoyed and delete your email or, worse, mark it as spam.
  • Do you have a plan for follow up campaigns? Even with a fresh list it's important to have a strategy behind the email you send. Blasting a list with a "hey go buy my new widget" or "check out my new website" message isn't really enticing. You may know what your widgets or website has to offer the members of your list but to them you're coming off as pushy. You need to build a rapport and trust before trying to make any sales.
  • Is it even legal to send to such an old list? Technically it is illegal but if you warm up your list the right way most people will let it slide.

How to "thaw" an old list

The first step to turning a stale list into an active and engaged one is to thaw it out. You do this by reintroducing yourself to your list. When we had to warm up an old list our reintroduction email was part of a series of 4 emails. Our "thaw" email had the following goals:

  • Reintroduce ourselves to subscribers. We literally said "Hi, let us reintroduce ourselves" In them email. We then let the subscriber know who we were and how they knew us.
  • Remind them how they got on our list. You'll normally have a blurb somewhere in your email covering this but we put this information front and center. This was key. We had to let the recipient know exactly how they knew us an give them enough information to jog their memory.
  • Ask them to unsubscribe. This one may be controversial but we wanted to actually focus on getting people off of our list. If someone had absolutely no interest in our services then there's no reason to keep bothering them with our emails. So our last paragraph, just before the call to action, let the recipient know that we had no interest in being spammers and gave them a very prominent unsubscribe link.
  • Call them to action. Of course, we wanted the recipients to check us out again. In this case we didn't have a very specific campaign goal. Since it was an old list we couldn't expect much of a response so instead of offering the subscriber something special we simply invited them to check out our website and learn more about how we could help them with their web design and software development needs.

What to expect

Do not expect a lot from your warm up email. Expect a fair amount of unsubscribes and bounces. Expect little if any traffic to your website or clicks on your call to action. Don't worry, this is to be expected. You actually want to lose any dead weight from your list before you start growing your list again and start sending the campaigns that matter. The leaner your list is, the better your overall stats will be on subsequent campaigns.

Surprisingly, we only had 4 unsubscribes and about as many hard bounces. That's not bad for a list that has been collecting dust since 2012. Subsequent campaigns will now be more focused and targeted. At the same time we'll be focusing on our efforts on growing that list as well.

Once your list is warmed up sufficiently (1 to 2 emails to a stale list) then at that point you can begin to send the campaigns that really matter and start to expect results that'll move the needle.

The one thing to always keep in mind when sending a campaign is that you want your recipients to be delighted to get your email. You always want to be offering them some kind of value and never simply self promoting. People like other people who are helpful, even if those "people" end up being companies. You can make money without being sleazy. Spammy tactics work in the short term, we can't lie about that, but running a business you can be proud of will bring you real wealth. Keep that in mind when developing your products and marketing them.

So next time you need to warm up an ice cold mailing list, make sure you reintroduce yourself, keep an eye on cutting the fat from your list, don't expect much from the first few emails, make your call to action clear, and, above all, be patient as you build trust with your customers again.

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