From Scratch- Three (More) List Building Strategies

In our last post, we explored four (free) list-building strategies for agency marketers who’ve got to build a house list for clients or themselves. In this post, we’ll look at list-building strategies that require budget, which modern marketers can leverage as they seek “lookalike” contacts, leverage paid media, prep and attend events and trade shows, purchase modern contact lists, and augment their existing forms.

First, nail the basics

A quick reminder that your paid list-building strategies require the same foundational elements we spoke of before, but they’re even more critical now. (Your client’s money must be spent wisely, or you’ll be looking for your next gig sooner than you’d expect.)

  1. Do you deeply understand your buyer personas?
  2. Your brand’s content strategy and tactics should be sound
  3. These tactics are truly reliant on your client’s existing contact data
  4. Mastery of the basic principles of digital marketing

Of these four foundational elements, Points 1, 2, and 3 are essential for paid list-building integrity and marketing success.

Three Paid List-Building Strategies

Here are three pay-to-play models for list building strategies:

  • Paid media (Google AdWords, LinkedIn sponsored content, banner ads, etc.)
  • Events and trade shows
  • List buying and list augmentation tools

1. Paid Media – Google AdWords, LinkedIn Sponsored Content, Mobile Ads, etc.

Paid media is the oldest form of list building in the marketer’s toolkit. There are risks:

On some ad platforms you can quickly flush a great deal of money down the proverbial toilet if:

  • You’re not managing your keywords and targets actively (Point 1, above)
  • You’re not offering excellent educational or entertaining content in exchange for contact information in your ads (Point 2, above)

Consider the following:

  • 82% of Americans ignore online ads, more than double the rate that ignore TV ads (37%), according to a study by Goo Technologies/Harris Interactive.
  • When asked what improvements would make them pay more attention to online ads, more than half of Americans (58%) – and fully 69% of Millennials (ages 18-34) – suggested the following:
    • Make the ad funny –40%
    • Make it entertaining –32%
    • Add stunning graphics –19%

Contrasting these stats (not the suggestions), with Facebook’s recent quarterly report results driven by mobile ad revenue. In coverage on CNBC, they noted:

“Facebook’s main money stream, ad revenue, hit $6.24 billion, versus the $5.8 billion expected… Mobile ad revenue took the lion’s share (84 percent) at $5.42 billion, versus the $4.84 billion expected.”


Most people think of Google AdWords when they think of paid ads. The great thing about Google ads is that you’re capturing people searching for your product or service at a moment of heightened interest. And – with Ad Extensions – local businesses with decent Ad Rank scores can extend their ads with more information about their business – like phone numbers, hours, and addresses.

Make sure every ad click takes your prospect to a landing page that fulfills the promise of the ad, and offers something wonderful in return for that email address.

Google’s AdWords platform has changed significantly in the past few months, and there are fewer ads available on popular keywords – so the bar has gone up. Your ad prices will be higher, and your quality score requirements are more exacting in order for your ads to show up favorably.

It’s because of the noise and cost and management overhead of effective AdWords campaigns that I’ve turned to social media platforms for advertising today. My two favorites are LinkedIn (for B2B content) and Facebook (for B2C and some B2B) leads.

Advertising on LinkedIn

LinkedIn will allow you to get in front of a wide, targeted professional audience in a social, yet professional context. And Sponsored Posts are a great way to drive leads, using high quality content offers that (once again) educate and/or entertain your prospects, driving them to a rich exchange of contact for content.

LinkedIn has confirmed their sponsored content is most effective in terms of advertising on LinkedIn’s platform, as opposed to their right rail ads (see screen shot, below). And, according to LinkedIn, content posts get 15x more engagement than job posts.

One list building strategy paid ads, such as buying ads on LinkedIn as this picture illustrates, to help build your list from scratch. The article offers insight in paid media, events and list buying.

I recommend that clients start with a self-serve option at $1,000 a month minimum to test. LinkedIn averages $5-8 per click and $50 per lead across all of their early advertisers, so $1,000 a month is my recommended minimum if you’re able to spend $50 per lead.

For self-service ads, LinkedIn recommends you target an audience of 100,000-300,000 members. Try launching three or four campaigns and offers to test your offer relevance and help identify and establish the messages that most resonate with your targets.

LinkedIn has a frequency cap, which means they’ll show the same ad to the same group only a couple of times, which is why you should have several offers running at one time.

Job titles will likely be a more expensive Cost Per Click (CPC) than seniority/function, so if you can, test both options to see which performs better.

LinkedIn estimates the average CTR for content offers across LinkedIn is 0.34%, and the average engagement benchmark across LinkedIn is .37% – so you can compare your results and set expectations using those benchmarks.

Likes, comments, and shares are added value, so your clients won’t pay anything unless their prospects actually click through to the landing page where you can capture their contact information. Conversion tracking on LinkedIn became available in July 2016, but (as of this writing) you can’t buy ads on contacts or registrations yet (like you can do on Facebook). You can buy only on clicks or impressions.

Note that – like Facebook – 70% of LinkedIn traffic comes from tablets and mobile devices, and 30% from a desktop or laptop; so your landing pages must be mobile friendly. (Of course, if you use Act-On, you don’t have to worry one bit about that!)

Advertising on Facebook

The two main things I like about Facebook advertising – in terms of list building – are:

  1. That you can target very specific prospects using a wide range of platform tools, which Facebook makes incredibly easy to use. From geographic to demographic to behavioral and interest targeting, you’re able to finely tune your targeting on multiple attributes at one time. And you can target only those who don’t already know / like your Page.
  2. That you can pay for contacts on your site, using their Cost Per Registration methodology, paying only for registrations on your website as a result of your FB ad. That way, if you target properly, you’re going to pay only for those contacts who exchange their contact information for your content. And you’ll have a good idea of what they do, how they think, where they live – even with whom they’re connected.

Again, depending on your product or service, I recommend starting with a $1,000 a month minimum to test.

You can A/B test the same offers on LinkedIn as on Facebook if you like, and see which platform performs best for you. Of course, this platform A/B test isn’t apples to apples. So if you use Facebook’s advanced targeting, and its CPR pricing, you’ll want to watch contacts from both platforms go all the way through your client’s funnel (to purchase) before you determine which platform is most effective for your client.

2. Events and Trade Shows – Boosting Leads with More than Fishbowls

Events and trade shows can be the most expensive lead sources you can have. But there are many reasons to bite the bullet and spend money and time on attending and having a booth at a few critical shows per year. Some important considerations are:

  • Will their competition be there? If so, will your client’s absence be notable?
  • Would sales reps have the opportunity to meet their clients, as well as prospects, at the event?
  • Is there an announcement (data / product / service / executive appointment) you might leverage at the event?

Any one of those considerations could make the case to spend the money. And once your client has committed, you as their agency can help boost leads at the event.

My favorite way to make a big impression at an event is to look big before, during, and after the event via social media and thoughtful content (Point 2, above).

Pre- Event Activities

If you’re targeting a number of accounts who’ll be at the event, and want to advertise your presence at the event so they’ll know before they go that you’ll be there, you can deploy ads targeting their attendees in LinkedIn.

If you follow the ideas I outlined above, you could target, for example, either job-level or skills-based employees – using the right rail and impression-based pricing. That way, your target might see your ad, announcing you’ll be at the upcoming show, never click on it, but know – and anticipate – that you’ll be there.

If you can arrange for a special announcement – news of your products, a release of data important to your market, even a Customer of the Year Award – that might coincide with the event, consider building momentum for your client through Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook posts encouraging followers (using the event hashtag) to watch for the announcement.

The more you share your news and anticipation of the event (sprinkled in with your educational content around your market), the bigger presence you’ll develop and deliver. The organizers will notice (and appreciate) too (‘cause of the hashtag).

During the Event:

During the event, be sure to have someone from your team who’s practiced in social media sharing live post key points and photos during key event speakers and sessions. Again, using the event hashtag and other relevant hashtags, your brand will be associated with thought leadership from inside the event itself, and will reach an additional audience of those who aren’t attending the event, but are interested in following news of – and from – the event.

Have them share like a roving reporter, and as a bonus for your brand and those who follow it, end-of-day wrap-ups where you post about the highlights – and your thoughts on them – will boost your readership, thought leadership, and leads.

Post-Event Follow-up:

Every sales rep will follow up on the event leads you’ve paid to collect. Where you can do your client a boost in service is to package a special post-event content summary (Scenes from the Event) with observations from their executives that would be another valuable piece of educational (and entertaining) content that they can use once they get back to the office. These could be blog posts and/or newsletter content.

Your thoughtful, post-event content delivered right to their email inbox will go a long way to ease a content into a sales call when the time is right.

3. List Buying, Rental and Augmentation Tools

If you happen to sell your products to marketers, or the IT crowd, or have a specific set of technology tools that you’re targeting with your products and services, there are some interesting options available to you.

The Bad and the Good of Data (List) Buying or Rental:

The bad: (Buyer beware!) Data and list buying and rental have evolved, as have the technology and methods to facilitate the distribution of the data. Now more than ever you have access to many organizations (both reputable and questionable) that can provide you purchased or rental data. Obtaining names that may have been scraped from websites (which are illegal to mail to under CAN-SPAM and NOT an industry best practice) and have not given consent will result in more spam complaints and a direct hit on your client’s sending reputation.

The good: Those of us who’ve seen the development and maturity of the digital channel know that as a result of our increasingly digital footprints and a human element of scrutiny and digital investigations, it’s actually possible to obtain finite data consisting of (but not limited to) marketing, engineering, and IT employees and executives in any company or demographic you can imagine.

(Editor’s note: Act-On does not recommend buying lists. That said, we know professionals, the author of this post among them, who feel that with due diligence and great care, list-buying is a tactic to consider if your client is launching a new company and has no list yet. Caveat emptor.)

Data Augmentation Tools

As you’re capturing leads using Act-On or on your website, there are plenty of augmentation providers who can help your clients understand not only the demographic keys to their prospects, but – and this is great for people who sell products and services reliant on technology – you can see what kind of technology they use, and (this is cool!) their estimated adoption dates so you can also see when their contracts are about to be up.

Using Datanyze, for example, in the screen shot below, you can see a profile of how has implemented their technology stack. If I sold a product that competes with DoubleClick, for example, I might find all the companies in my local area who are using DoubleClick, and then map out when each one was about to renegotiate their contract.

There’s no better way to build a smart list than to be able to tell – three months ahead – when a prospect is ripe for an alternative solution.

Datanyze Insider example:

Here is a screenshot of Datanyze.

Another data augmentation tool set is the kind that validates and appends your prospects’ contact and company information as they’re submitting information via your forms. An example of this is SmartForms by ReachForce. It’ll append up to 100 relevant data points in real time, as soon as the prospect clicks the submit button.

This functionality removes the need for progressive profiling, and can be helpful to companies who want to more instantly understand more about their leads at the very earliest contact.

These are just a few ideas to showcase the speed, depth and breadth with which you can serve your clients’ list building efforts. From ideas to technology to tactics, you can build high quality lists using new tools to boost effectiveness in existing channels.