Why All Email Contacts Aren't Created Equal and the Right Ways to Treat Your Email Opt-Ins


This article is published in collaboration with HubSpot which we use to power inbound marketing and CRM for BlackBox.

In the multifaceted universe of email marketing, it's a cardinal truth that not all email contacts are fashioned equally. Like diverse ingredients in a gourmet recipe, each type of contact adds a unique flavor to your marketing efforts. 

Overlooking this diversity can lead to a bland outcome, manifesting in lackluster open, click-through, and email deliverability rates. In collaboration with HubSpot, this exploration into the email marketing realm will unravel the complexities behind different email contacts. We'll dissect why treating them with a one-size-fits-all approach is a recipe for disaster and how understanding their distinct nature can spice up your email campaigns. 

Prepare to delve into the art and science of email marketing, where every contact counts and every message has the potential to resonate profoundly.

How to Treat Purchased Email Lists (Highest Level of Risk)

Embarking on the use of purchased email lists is like playing a high-stakes game where the odds are stacked against you. These lists are often replete with unverified, unengaged, and non-consenting contacts, turning your well-intentioned email campaigns into unwelcome intrusions. The ramifications of using such lists extend far beyond poor metrics; they strike at the very heart of your brand's reputation and trustworthiness.

Email marketing experts and those specializing in email deliverability and compliance are unanimous in their verdict: mailing to permission-less, outdated, or obscurely sourced email lists is one of the greatest threats to email deliverability success. These lists can be riddled with spam traps and invalid addresses, leading to high bounce rates, spam complaints, and potential blacklisting. In the intricate web of email regulations, such as GDPR and CAN-SPAM, using purchased lists can also lead to legal complications, further endangering your brand's credibility.

To navigate these treacherous waters, it's imperative to employ robust email compliance tools. Solutions like BlackBox's email compliance tools offer a lifeline, enabling marketers to preemptively identify and avoid risky lists. These tools help maintain the health of your email list, ensuring that your communications reach genuinely interested and consenting recipients.

Building and nurturing an organic list may require more time and effort, but it pays dividends in the long run. Engaging with contacts who have willingly opted in to receive your emails fosters a relationship based on trust and relevance. This approach not only enhances engagement and conversion rates but also solidifies your brand's reputation as a respectful and ethical marketer. Remember, in the realm of email marketing, shortcuts are often illusions, and the true path to success is paved with consent and genuine engagement.

How to Treat Subscribers (Lowest Level of Engagement)

Subscribers form the bedrock of your email marketing ecosystem. These are individuals who have opted in to receive specific types of content from you, signaling a baseline level of engagement and interest in your brand. Treating subscribers with the utmost respect and understanding their preferences is key to nurturing this fledgling relationship.

When someone subscribes to your content, be it a blog, newsletter, or updates, they set clear boundaries for the kind of information they wish to receive. Deviating from these preferences is akin to inviting yourself over for dinner unannounced—it's likely to be met with disapproval and discomfort. For instance, imagine a subscriber who signed up for updates on your latest blog posts; if you suddenly start bombarding them with emails about unrelated products or services, you risk alienating them. This situation is similar to subscribing to a specific magazine, like Life, and then unexpectedly receiving issues of In Style in your mailbox. What was once anticipated content becomes unsolicited and unwelcome.

To effectively engage with subscribers, focus on delivering content that aligns with their interests and preferences. This approach not only respects their choices but also enhances the likelihood of sustained engagement. However, this doesn't mean you can't introduce them to other relevant content. Subtle and strategic cross-promotion within the context of their subscribed content can pique their interest in other areas. For example, HubSpot skillfully integrates tests within their blog subscriber emails to gauge interest in their marketing software, a practice that can be emulated to gently expand the subscriber's journey with your brand. Providing value through relevant, high-quality content is crucial, and doing so within the parameters of their expressed interests is the hallmark of effective subscriber management.

Maintaining a clean and up-to-date subscriber list is also essential. Regularly updating your list and removing inactive or disengaged subscribers helps ensure that your efforts are focused on those who are truly interested in your content. Utilizing analytics tools can provide insights into subscriber behavior, enabling you to tailor your content and strategy more effectively. For instance, monitoring which articles or topics resonate most with your audience can guide future content creation, making each email more impactful and relevant.

Treating subscribers with respect, delivering on their expectations, and subtly broadening their engagement with relevant content are key strategies in nurturing this crucial segment of your email list. By doing so, you lay the groundwork for a loyal and engaged audience that values the content you provide.

How to Treat Prospects (Fairly Unengaged)

Prospects in your email database are akin to seeds that have just been planted; they show potential for growth but require the right conditions to flourish. These are individuals who have indicated a passive interest in your company, products, or services, yet remain on the periphery of active engagement. The challenge and opportunity here lie in nurturing these prospects, gradually increasing their interest, and moving them closer to becoming leads.

Identifying why a prospect remains fairly unengaged is the first step in tailoring your approach. There are generally two scenarios to consider: either they have never explicitly shown interest in being contacted by a salesperson, or they did show interest at some point but have since become inactive or disengaged.

Prospects Who Have Never Indicated Sales Readiness: For prospects who haven’t raised their hand for direct sales contact, your goal is to gather more information about their needs and preferences. This is achieved by providing high-quality, targeted content that resonates with their interests. Engaging them with compelling offers, educational resources, or insightful articles can encourage them to interact more with your brand. For example, a prospect might be drawn to a well-crafted guide on a relevant topic, leading them to provide more information via a landing page form. This process not only helps in segmenting your prospect list but also in delivering more personalized and targeted content. As you learn more about their preferences and behaviors, you can refine your strategy to better meet their needs and pique their interest.

Previously Engaged Prospects Gone Cold: For prospects who have previously shown interest but have become inactive, a re-engagement campaign can reignite their interest. These individuals may have interacted with your sales team in the past, providing valuable lead intelligence that can be used to tailor your re-engagement efforts. Understanding their past interactions, pain points, and reasons for not converting is crucial in crafting targeted re-engagement emails. For instance, if a prospect was interested in a particular aspect of your service but didn’t convert, addressing that specific interest with updated information or new offerings can rekindle their interest. The key is to deliver content that directly speaks to their previous concerns or interests, making them see your brand as a potential solution to their needs.

Successfully engaging prospects requires a blend of patience, insight, and strategic content delivery. By understanding their current stage and interests, and providing them with relevant and valuable content, you can gradually move them along the path to becoming engaged leads. Remember, each prospect represents an opportunity to build a relationship, and treating them with the right level of attention and care can transform them into valuable members of your customer base.

How to Treat Leads (Engaged)

Leads represent a pivotal group within your email database; they are the contacts who have demonstrated a clear interest in your offerings and are actively considering taking the next step. Engaged leads are like gold in the realm of email marketing, and treating them with a strategy that matches their level of interest is essential for conversion success.


Understanding Lead Engagement Levels: The first step in effectively engaging leads is to understand their current stage in the buying process. Leads can generally be categorized into two main stages: 'Evaluation' and 'Purchase.' During the evaluation stage, leads are gathering information, comparing options, and weighing the benefits of your product or service. In the purchase stage, they are closer to making a decision and may require a final nudge to convert.

Content Strategy for Evaluation Stage Leads: For leads in the evaluation stage, your email content should be informative, comprehensive, and reassuring. Provide them with resources that help them understand your product or service better, such as detailed case studies, FAQs, and data sheets. These materials should demonstrate the value and effectiveness of your offerings, addressing any concerns or questions they may have. Personalized content that speaks to their specific needs or industry can be particularly effective. For instance, a lead interested in a specific aspect of your service might appreciate a case study highlighting success stories relevant to their situation.

Content Strategy for Purchase Stage Leads: Leads in the purchase stage require a different approach. At this point, they are considering committing to your product or service, so your email content should focus on closing the deal. Offer them incentives such as free trials, consultations, or special promotions. Make it easy for them to take the next step by providing clear calls to action and simplifying the decision-making process. Personal follow-up emails from a sales representative can also be highly effective in this stage, adding a human touch to your digital communication.

Personalization and Follow-Up: Personalization is key to engaging leads effectively. Use the information you have about each lead, such as their past interactions, preferences, and behavior, to tailor your emails. This could involve segmenting your leads based on their interests or stage in the sales cycle and creating targeted content for each segment. Regular follow-up is also crucial; whether through automated email sequences or direct outreach from your sales team, staying in touch with leads keeps your brand top-of-mind and reinforces their interest in your offerings.

Treating leads with a targeted and thoughtful email strategy can significantly increase your chances of converting them into customers. By understanding their needs, providing relevant and valuable content, and maintaining regular communication, you can guide them through the sales funnel and toward a successful conversion.

How to Treat Customers (So Engaged They Put a Ring on It)

Customers are the triumph of your email marketing efforts—the individuals who have not only shown interest in your brand but have also taken the decisive step of making a purchase. Treating customers in your email database requires a strategy that goes beyond conversion; it's about fostering loyalty, providing ongoing value, and deepening the relationship.

Post-Purchase Engagement and Support: The customer journey doesn't end with a purchase; in many ways, it's just beginning. Post-purchase, your email strategy should focus on customer satisfaction and retention. This can include welcome emails, onboarding sequences, and regular updates about new products, services, or features. Providing support and resources to help customers get the most out of their purchases is crucial. For example, sending tips, tutorials, or user guides can enhance their experience and encourage continued engagement with your brand.

Upselling and Cross-Selling Opportunities: Customers who are satisfied with their initial purchase are more likely to be receptive to additional offers. Email marketing can be an effective channel for upselling or cross-selling relevant products or services. Tailoring these offers to align with their previous purchases and interests can increase their effectiveness. For instance, if a customer purchased a particular software tool, you might send them information about complementary products or advanced features that could benefit them.

Building Brand Advocacy: Happy customers can become powerful advocates for your brand. Encourage this advocacy through your email communications by inviting customers to share their experiences, provide feedback, or participate in referral programs. Creating a sense of community around your brand can lead to increased loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. For example, featuring customer stories or testimonials in your emails can inspire others and showcase the value of your offerings.

Personalization and Relevance: Personalization remains key when communicating with customers. Use the data you have about their preferences, purchase history, and interactions to create emails that are highly relevant and engaging. This could involve segmenting your customer base based on their interests or behaviors and crafting messages that resonate with each segment. Personalized product recommendations, exclusive offers, or invitations to special events can make customers feel valued and understood.

Treating customers with care and attention in your email marketing not only enhances their experience with your brand but also lays the foundation for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. By providing ongoing support, relevant offers, and opportunities for engagement, you can transform one-time buyers into loyal customers and brand advocates.

As you continue to refine your approach and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of email marketing, keep in mind that the most enduring results come from building relationships based on trust, relevance, and genuine engagement. In doing so, you'll not only achieve your marketing goals but also create a lasting impact that extends beyond the inbox.

Are you segmenting your email lists based on your contacts' level of engagement with your business?

About the author: 
Corey Wainwright is a Bruce Springsteen fan who does content marketing, in that order. She also thinks HubSpot has the best CRM software out there.