Is buying an email list a legitimate way to breat interest for your brand or business?

When you’re just starting out or you’re launching a brand new project, you crave results. You want validation that your idea is legit. Most of all, you want SALES coming in the door.

To get these things, you need a group of people to TELL about your idea. Bingo: you’ll buy an email list.

What’s an email list? It’s exactly what it sounds like—a list of email addresses. In marketing we often talk about “building your list,” or gathering email addresses of people who are interested in what you’re selling so you can market to them.

When done correctly using a high-quality list of leads, email marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing channels with the highest ROI. In fact, one in five companies report returns of more than $70 for every $1 spent on email marketing. The only other place you’ll find those kinds of returns is in Vegas!

It makes sense, then, to think that buying an email list would put you on the fast track to marketing success. Buy a couple thousand names, send out a few emails and watch the sales come rolling in.

Unfortunately, it hardly ever works that way. Even when a source is promising a “highly qualified” list of leads that match your target demographic, believe me when I say you’re going to be disappointed with the results.

Here are three reasons buying an email list is almost always a bad idea—and the one scenario where it can (maybe) work.

Purchased email leads may be qualified, but they’re cold.

‘Qualified’ means a lead is a good fit to be your ideal customer. If you sell stiletto heels, for example, a qualified lead would be one who is a verified fashion-conscious woman in her early 30’s.

But no matter how well the lead matches your target demographic, it’s ‘cold’ because the person has no idea who you are. A lead is described as ‘warm’ when he or she has already expressed interest in your product, which means the person is much more likely to make a purchase.


In a brick and mortar store, a warm lead might be someone who came into the shop last week but left before buying. In an e-commerce shop, this might mean the person has already visited your website or liked your page on Facebook or—you guessed it, signed up for your email list.

But a cold lead? When you show up in their inbox, the person has no idea who you are or what you’re doing there. Tell me—how likely are you to buy something from a company you’ve never heard of and didn’t seek out?

Not likely at all.

It can harm you more than help you.

Not only would you probably not buy something from a strange company, there’s also a very good chance you’re going to be annoyed with the unsolicited email.

Buying email lists rose to popularity more than a decade ago when the average internet user was much less savvy to spam mail. Unsolicited emails could sometimes slide by, disguised as a “special offer” or “exclusive membership.”

Not anymore. People guard their email addresses almost like their social security numbers, and trespassing in a stranger’s inbox will quickly get you blocked.

What’s worse, you could actually be reported for spam. Many email programs like Mailchimp have built-in spam blocking measures to protect customers. If too many of your marketing emails are reported as spam, you can be banned from sending them anymore, period.

Not the intended result—in fact, quite the opposite.

You’d get better return securing actual leads.

Buying email lists isn’t cheap. It can easily cost upwards of $10,000 for a list of a few thousand names.

Know what you could do with ten grand (or heck, even a few hundred bucks)? Spend it developing a valuable, useful piece of content your audience actually wants to consume, then offer it to them in exchange for their email address.

Bam! A real, warm, qualified lead that wants and expects to hear from you. A much smarter investment than a list of random names.

The one exception

There’s one scenario where buying an email list can work, and in fact it’s not really buying a list at all. It’s borrowing it from a complementary brand.

Here’s how it works: you find a brand with a large following in a niche that’s similar—but not competitive—with yours. If you sell men’s sport watches, you might seek out a bike shop or a running shoe store. Then, you pay them for access to their email list.

Email partner

Here’s the key: you don’t email their list independently, without warning. You have your new partner make the introduction for you in the form of a joint giveaway, discount code or featured content.

The lead already knows and trusts their brand, so it makes sense that they’ll receive yours warmly, too.

Be aware, though, that even in this scenario you probably won’t be given access to the actual email addresses on the partner’s list; you’ll simply provide the messaging and they’ll be the ones sending the email.

So in general, buying email lists is a major no-no. While it sounds like a great way to launch your brand into the public eye, in reality your money will most likely go straight down the drain.

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Tami Brehse

Tami Brehse

Tami is a television news anchor turned digital marketing consultant who helps small businesses achieve their PR and marketing goals.
Tami Brehse
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