How to build your email list: 7 tactics to grow your list and your repeat customer rate
Do you know why email marketing isn’t dead?
Because it’s where your brand gets attention after getting permission.
Ads on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are an interruption. Sure, brands can reach a wider audience on social media with eye-catching creative and influencer endorsements. But no amount of tweaking can overcome your audiences’ truth: They’re on social media for personal connection and entertainment.
We saw this play out when Instagram updated its algorithm to favor videos from accounts you don’t follow. The backlash slapped so hard that Instagram reversed course on some of the changes.
On a more practical level, Apple’s data privacy changes wiped out much of the audience-targeting parameters that made paid social a viable option for small businesses. Cost per acquisition has since soared, and return on ad spend has plummeted.
It’s not so much that paid social is ineffective—it’s just that it’s no longer affordable for most small DTC businesses.
This is why more small businesses are re-investing in email marketing. While it may seem sexier to imagine your brand as among the first to pin its success on an emerging social platform, email marketing makes up for its lack of novelty with tangible results.
When you use email marketing, you can expect a conversion rate that’s 3x higher than social media and a 122% return on investment, on average.
“The money is in the list.” We challenge you to find a more truthful marketing proverb. When someone gives you explicit permission to contact them, they’re more likely to buy. Keep reading to learn:
- How email lists help businesses grow
- The basics of email lists
- Real examples of how brands grow their email lists
- A list of tactics that will show you how to build an email list from scratch
How email lists help businesses grow
An email list is full of people who have given your brand explicit consent to contact them. It’s an owned channel—as in, your brand owns the data, and no algorithm switch-up can take that away from you.
Younger folks are gravitating toward “private” apps, like Snapchat and BeReal, and people of all ages are using platforms that support smaller communities, like Discord and Signal. It’s becoming more lucrative for brands to mimic the one-on-one method of communication audiences are re-prioritizing for themselves on a fracturing internet.
Even Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated that the future of communication is private, one-to-one interactions, rather than the large social media networks our brains may not be equipped to accommodate.
Which brings us to email—tried and true, and only (legally) accessible when someone gives your brand explicit permission to access their inbox. It’s this respectful permission, so rarely found in our digital lives, that grows businesses.
With email, the customer journey may begin with a website visit, where someone might browse products or subscribe to your email list for a sweet, sweet discount. When they do subscribe, that’s your brand’s cue to start engaging with them.
Here’s what that looks like, and how each type of email contributes to business growth:
Welcome series email
A welcome series is a controlled introduction to your brand after someone has found it via their own means.
Main purpose: Use your welcome series to give people a first look at your brand story, introduce your best products, and incentivize people to continue engaging with your brand.
- Average open rate: 51.68%
- Average click rate: 6.25%
- Average conversion rate: 2.12%
7 ways your welcome series contributes to growth
- Encourages a purchase through a discount code
- Introduces new and featured products to a fresh audience
- Gathers additional Customer-First Data™ for segmented campaigns
- Drives website traffic back to your online store
- Expands owned channel audience via requests to forward
- Extends social media reach via requests to follow
- Builds brand trust that can translate to word of mouth
Dive deeper: Learn how home and garden brands engage audiences at the beginning of the customer journey (with examples).
Abandoned cart email
An abandoned cart email is sent after someone places an item in their cart on your website but doesn’t complete the purchase.
Main purpose: Use your abandoned cart email to nudge people toward completing their purchase. Here’s where you can also feature similar or alternative products to encourage a purchase that might work better.
- Average open rate: 51.34%
- Average click rate: 7.60%
- Average conversion rate: 3.90%
5 ways your abandoned cart email contributes to growth
- Transforms abandoned purchases into completed purchases
- Gathers Customer-First Data on product preferences
- Introduces similar or alternative products to an engaged audience
- Creates a new email segment of people who are close to buying
- Drives traffic back to your website for possible purchasing
Browse abandonment email
A browse abandonment email is sent when someone views a product page on your website but leaves before making a purchase. In this case, items haven’t yet been placed in a cart.
Main purpose: Similar to an abandoned cart email, use your browse abandonment email to nudge people toward starting and completing a purchase. Here’s where you can drive people back to your website so they can dive deeper down their education rabbit hole, which is likely what they need most at this stage of the buying journey.
- Average open rate: 53.83%
- Average click rate: 5.77%
- Average conversion rate: 0.78%
5 ways your browse abandonment email contributes to growth
- Drives traffic back to your website for more education, leading to a purchase
- Gathers Customer-First Data on product preferences
- Introduces similar or alternative products to an engaged audience
- Creates a new email segment of people who need more information before buying
- Keeps your brand top of mind as people compare your product to other brands
A post-purchase email is sent after your customer buys something. Post-purchase emails are actually a series of emails that act as shipping and delivery confirmations, review requests, assembly and maintenance instructions, and up-sell emails that encourage more buying.
Main purpose: Use your post-purchase emails to set expectations and create brand loyalty. The immediate purpose of your post-purchase emails is to communicate basic information like when a customer can expect to receive an item and your returns and exchange policy. The short-term purpose of your post-purchase emails is to up-sell, cross-sell, and create brand loyalty.
- Average open rate: 60.00%
- Average click rate: 3.86%
- Average conversion rate: 0.45%
7 ways your post-purchase email contributes to growth
- Reinforces a good relationship between your brand and the customer
- Gathers Customer-First Data on buying habits
- Lays the groundwork for repeat buying
- Creates a new email segment of people who may purchase again
- Expands your list of positive reviews
- Stimulates word of mouth and email list growth through forwarding
- Grows your loyalty program, if you have one
Dive deeper: Learn how sporting goods brands create loyalty with post-purchase emails (with examples).
Email marketing benchmarks by email type for Q222
Before you build your email list: what you need to know
Before you can run, you need to learn how to walk. Some fundamental aspects of email list building are regulated by governments, so it’s important to know what you’re allowed to do before you begin.
Here are some basics to build on:
Compliance: the backbone of consent-based marketing
In the United States, the CAN-SPAM Act governs commercial email and gives people the right to opt out and unsubscribe from your email communications at any time. In Canada, CASL sets out similar rules and consumer protections.
But since it’s the most aggressive privacy and security law in the world, most brands adhere to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), established in 2018.
GDPR compliance is an article in and of itself (one we’ve written), but the basics are:
- People have the right to know how their data is collected and why.
- When someone asks, you must delete all the data you have about that person.
- You’re only allowed to collect personal data from people who have given you explicit consent.
- You need to add consent checkboxes to any sign-up forms that don’t clearly state what people are signing up for and why you need their information.
- When someone subscribes to your email list, use double opt-in by asking them to confirm their subscription via email before adding them to your list.
- All emails need an obvious unsubscribe link, and it needs to be easy to unsubscribe.
Data collection best practices
To grow your email list, you’ll use a form field to collect email addresses. But what are some other data you should be collecting? And when should you collect it?
While 85% of forms have two fields or less (email address and name, usually), you do have license to experiment with more form fields to collect more information about your subscribers. Most marketers think of form fields less as a “magic number” and more as a trade-off: Fewer form fields make it easier to subscribe, but more form fields mean higher-quality sign-ups.
This is why A/B testing is important. For example, Wilkinson Sword UK, a centuries-old razor brand, discovered that adding a few more fields to their sign-up form led to a welcome series purchase rate of 39%—almost 20x the average.
Forms with up to five fields only see a small dip in conversion (<0.1%) compared to forms that just ask for email addresses. But if you’re still nervous, you can use a multi-step process to collect Customer-First Data that gives you the information you need to send more relevant offers to your customers.
To help you visualize how you can collect Customer-First Data in steps, here’s a basic data collection scenario for the purpose of email list segmentation:
Step 1: collect basic information upon sign-up
Ask for email address and name, and experiment with one additional field that tells you which product set subscribers are most interested in. Draft one welcome series per product set.
Step 2: analyze data by purchase intent and product interest
When a subscriber views a product page or places an item in their cart, that’s information you can use to segment your list into “highly engaged” subscribers, then segment again by product type.
Step 3: zero in on your VIP customers
When a customer buys, that’s the best information of all. But when they buy multiple times, they graduate to become VIPs. And if they refer your brand via a loyalty or referral program, you may want to consider granting them special access to super VIP offers.
Before we move on: never buy an email list
Whether you own your brand or run email marketing campaigns for one, at some point you may be offered an email list for purchase. If you get an offer like this, don’t bite.
First, emailing people from a list you purchase isn’t legal because those contacts didn’t give you explicit consent to email them.
Second, a purchased list is a low-quality one. You’ll be emailing people who have never heard of your brand because they didn’t discover it on their own.
- Your email deliverability will suffer.
- Your engagement rates will plummet.
- Your unsubscribe rates will jump through the roof.
Email marketing, and consent-based marketing in general, is about patience and respect. Preserve brand integrity. Never buy an email list.
Real examples: how these brands built their email lists
Before we get into a list of tactics, let’s set up some context through real-life examples. Here we’ll give you 3 examples of brands who built their email list in different ways, so you can draw inspiration after you settle on which tactics make sense for your brand.
Mystery Tackle Box: using double opt-in to collect valuable data
The Mystery Tackle Box website uses fun illustrations and a sample image of their in-box magazine to draw your eye to their sign-up form. When you sign up, you’re asked only for your email address to make the experience as frictionless as possible.
But that doesn’t mean Mystery Tackle Box misses out on capturing high-quality information about subscribers. Through their double opt-in email, which asks people to confirm their subscription, Mystery Tackle Box takes the opportunity to ask for list and frequency preference—which translate to product interest and brand interest.
Brava Fabrics: growing their email list and saving money through A/B testing
While it’s standard to encourage email sign-ups by offering a discount code, it’s not the only way to see success.
Brava Fabrics was curious to see if they needed a discount code to build their email list, so they came up with an alternative.
They tested a 10% discount against a contest that entered people to win €300 in free products for signing up. The two options performed identically, so they went with the more budget-friendly contest option.
They also tested €300 against €1K and found that increasing the prize didn’t increase the conversion rate—proof that growing an email list doesn’t have to mean breaking your budget.
Chubbies: using order confirmation emails to get more subscribers
Important reminder: Your transactional emails are opportunities to build your email list. While a sign-up request should never overshadow crucial information like shipping and delivery, don’t miss the opportunity for further engagement within emails that see sky-high open rates.
Chubbies uses an eye-catching rewards signup as a logical next step after a purchase. Not all customers who buy have received your welcome series—the customer journey is famously non-linear, so you’ll want to capture people’s email on a VIP list after they’ve purchased via other channels, too.
How to build an email list: list of tactics
Think of this list as a progression from conventional (as in, we know this tactic works for most brands) to niche (as in, this tactic will work for some brands better than others).
Every brand is different, and building your email list works best when you know where your ideal audience hangs out.
Some brands have seen great success with physical sign-up sheets at live events, while others have discovered how to leverage niche online communities.
You’ll only be able to recognize effective listing building opportunities if you know your audience inside out, so never skimp on good customer research.
That said, here’s a list of tactics to run through, whether you’re just starting to build your email list or you’ve been at it for a while:
1. Sign-up forms
The most common way to gather email addresses is through a sign-up form on your website. Here’s what you should know about them, based on data from more than 80K online businesses using Klaviyo:
- Pop-up forms convert at a higher rate (3.2%) than flyout forms (2.2%).
- The top 10% of sign-up forms have submission rates of more than 6%.
- 85% of forms have two fields or less.
- Forms with up to five fields only see a small dip in conversion (<0.1%).
- Forms have higher submission rates on mobile (3.2%) than on desktop (2.3%).
- Sign-up forms with discounts have 90% higher subscription rates.
Most email subscription forms use a discount incentive to encourage sign-ups. If that’s not in your budget, you have alternative options, but you can also factor in that people who view a sign-up form with a discount are 190% more likely to make an initial purchase than those who view a sign-up form without a discount.
Here are the main types of forms you’ll use to build your email list:
These days, a lot of brands are experimenting with phone number fields to build their SMS lists, and they’re finding the extra field doesn’t affect submission rates much: Forms asking for phone numbers and emails see similar submission rates (2.9%) compared to email-only forms (2.7%).
An embedded form lives on your website as a static form with an email address field and a sign-up button.
For example, Specialized Bikes uses their email sign-up form to ask for a phone number. They encourage the exchange by asking the shopper to specify their riding style—a signal that they care about their audience’s personal preferences and will only contact them about what they’re interested in. You may want to consider this tactic if you’re a higher-end brand that offers specialized, niche interest products.
A pop-up form doesn’t appear on your website until something triggers it. For example, an exit intent pop-up form is triggered when someone hovers over the address bar in their browser, signaling they’re about to leave your website. A welcome pop-up form is triggered after someone spends a certain amount of time on what’s likely your homepage.
Note that, according to our data, pop-up forms convert at a higher rate (3.2%) than flyout forms (2.2%). Still, you’ll need to run some tests to see what works best for your brand. You may want to test a welcome pop-up on pages with higher time on site, for example.
Here are some pop-up form examples for inspiration:
Exit intent pop-up
With a bright pink background and eye-catching product shot, it’s hard to ignore Olipop’s 10% discount on first purchase.
If you’re proud of your product label, consider showing it off with your exit intent pop-up to entice people to sign up for your email list.
Welcome pop-up form
House of Wise welcomes people to their website with a request for their birthday—a great way to imply you’ll get a birthday gift and $20 off your first order if you sign up for their email list.
If you want to collect more data about your potential customers but don’t want to intimidate people with a large, clunky form, you can use a multi-step form.
For example, you may discover that your submission rate drops when you ask for a phone number as a first step. If this is the case, try testing a multi-step form to see if people start filling out the form with just one field and finish their submission once they’re invested in getting a discount.
2. Brand partnerships
Great things happen when we work in teams. One of the most effective ways to see fast email list growth (after a good amount of relationship building) is by leveraging someone else’s.
When you’re performing competitive analysis for your brand, add a step to find complementary brands. These are brands that don’t compete for revenue with yours, but your products could make a great bundle if people bought them as a set.
Look for brands that are more well-known than yours but haven’t formed partnerships in your category yet—this cross-section will make for a great partnership, wherein both brands have something to gain.
Odds are, your brand partnership will be about much more than building an email list. But as you’re finalizing the details, here are some options you can include to make sure email list building is part of it:
- Giveaways: Use your partner’s email list to run a contest that requires an email subscription to enter.
- Social media content: Create social media posts for your partner to run on their accounts to encourage people to subscribe to your email list (with an incentive).
- Website promotion: Develop a co-branded email subscription form for your partner’s website.
- Co-branded products: Develop limited-edition co-branded products with your partner, and encourage an email sign-up for VIP access.
A great example of a co-branded product is Sanzo’s partnership with Disney-owned Marvel. To celebrate Asian culture in film, Sanzo, maker of Asian-flavored sparkling water, created a co-branded, limited-edition lychee drink collection featuring characters from the film on the can.
Since 2018, sales had been growing for Sanzo by at least 400% each year. But the month of the Shang-Chi sparkling water launch, Sanzo saw 6x growth in ecommerce revenue. This is because Sanzo was able to extend their reach by leaps and bounds with the Disney-Marvel name in a way that made sense for both brands.
3. Referral marketing
Some of the best people to help grow your email list are your customers—more specifically, your loyal customers.
If you have a loyalty program, you have an opportunity to grow your email list with customers who already love what you do. A loyalty program uses rewards like discounts, early access to new products, or exclusive access to products or brand features to encourage people to keep buying.
When you use a points system, you’re attaching certain customer actions to benefits. One of those actions could be to sign up or ask a friend to sign up for your email list.
For example, Never Fully Dressed values their email list so much that they offer 100 points for an email sign-up—double the amount for following their Instagram account.
4. Short codes
A short code is a five- or six-digit number that allows brands to send text messages to their SMS list. If you have a large email list, you may want to start using it to grow your SMS list.
To do this, include a short code in an email and ask the recipient to text that number with a keyword, like “JOIN”, to subscribe to your SMS list. When the recipient clicks on the short code on mobile, a text message will open so they can text the keyword to subscribe to the list.
In the email, make sure to include text that informs people what they’re opting into when they send the subscribe word to your number. This is important for gathering explicit consent, which is required by law for SMS and email lists.
You can, of course, use this same tactic without short codes, and just send folks to a landing page to your site to sign up—like Graza did. In other words, you can use your email list to build your SMS list, and vice versa, in increasingly creative ways.
Interactive quizzes are a great way to accomplish 3 things:
- Collect plenty of Customer-First Data on product preferences.
- Build your email list.
- Develop a custom welcome series that can lead to more sales.
Quizzes are especially powerful in the health and beauty category. Doe Lashes, for example, built a quiz to find out more about their audience’s lash preferences: the kind of look they prefer, their eye shape, and the current length of their natural lashes. To receive their quiz results, users submit their email address and still get a 10% discount.
Doe’s quiz has earned them 3x more email sign-ups than a traditional pop-up form. The brand also turns one-fifth of quiz takers into customers, meaning Doe Lashes’s welcome flow has a conversion rate 9x higher than the industry standard for the health and beauty category.
6. Niche communities
Remember when we said it’s important to know where your customers hang out? If you’re a brand that caters to a specific, niche audience, you may be able to leverage small or emerging online communities to build your email list.
As more people hang out in messenger apps like Discord, Slack, and Signal, small brands may be missing opportunities to tap into those communities to build their lists.
Tread lightly—this won’t be appropriate for every brand. People tend to hang out in these spaces to connect with people, not to be sold to.
But your brand may be right for this kind of list building if:
- It appeals to a clearly defined, niche audience.
- Your audience is united by an emotionally driven mission.
- You’re willing to engage in conversation with this audience as an individual with the goal to learn more rather than promote your product.
This list-building tactic requires patience, emotional intelligence, and a collaborative mindset. Your first priority here isn’t to ask people to subscribe to your list—it’s to help your community first, over a months-long period of time, and suggest a closer relationship through email after you’ve contributed value.
You’ll know it’s appropriate to promote your email list when:
- Community members express an interest in what your list provides.
- Community leaders trust you after you’ve developed a personal relationship.
- You’re running a special event or experience for your community.
If your brand is new and you have some runway, you may want to start here, put in the work, and take advantage of the network effects. Leveraging niche communities may be a longer road to building a list, but if you do it well, you’re also building a strong recommendation engine for your brand.
How to direct your paid audience to an email sign-up form
After all, your competitors are still using paid social, so you won’t want to disappear from the channel entirely. You may as well invest in brand awareness, but in a strategic way that will pay off in the long run.
When you’re able to direct paid traffic to owned channels, you can increase your ROI while decreasing retargeting costs. Here are some ways to make that happen using paid social to build your email list:
Promote a contest with sign-up as an entry requirement
If you’re sensing a theme throughout this article, it’s “incentive.” If you want to grow your email list through paid social, one of the first things to consider is running a contest campaign.
To enter your contest, people who see the ad need to subscribe to your email list. Bonus if you can also incentivize them further to share the post with a friend.
Pay an influencer to encourage sign-up
If you’d rather not run a contest ad from your own account, consider investing in a white-label influencer campaign instead. White-labeling through an influencer gives you a bit more control over the content of an ad while leveraging an influencer’s audience to ask for email sign-ups.
Offer a sign-up discount via paid social campaign
If your budget can handle it, skip the contest and run an ad that incentivizes an email list sign-up with a discount code. This is a great option if you’re launching a new product and want to include paid social as part of your go-to-market strategy. You’ll still generate some revenue from the paid ad campaign, but you’ll also see the long-term benefits of expanding your owned channels.
Use Twitter to drive newsletter subscribers
If you have a sizable Twitter following, you may want to consider using the app’s newsletter tool to get sign-ups. Pair the tool with a promoted ad that drives people to your profile so they can sign up.
Use LinkTree on Instagram with a discount link to sign up
Less of a paid ad and more of a no-brainer, we couldn’t mention social media without reminding you about LinkTree.
LinkTree is a tool for Instagram that enables brands to include a collection of relevant links in their bio. When someone lands on your Instagram profile, they’ll be able to click on one link that takes them to a centralized place for all your brand’s goodies: new product launches, exciting news, relevant content, and, most important, an obvious email sign-up with a discount incentive.
Now what? How to use the data you’ve collected to build email marketing campaigns
After you’ve built your email list, you’ll need to start segmenting it. That’s because the best email content is content that’s most relevant for the needs of each person, and email list segmentation is what unlocks this kind of fun.
Some example email segments are:
- VIP customers
- Highly engaged subscribers
- SMS opt-ins
- Browse abandoners
- Cart abandoners
- Holiday shoppers
You’ll be able to communicate with these segments using Customer-First Data—the combination of zero- and first-party data—which can answer the following questions:
- Who has or hasn’t made a purchase?
- How long do they wait before ordering again?
- How much money are they spending, and when, and why?
- Who has a habit of buying only during gift-giving holidays?
- What makes someone unsubscribe?
- Are people more likely to open transactional emails, but more likely to click on promotional or educational ones?
- What makes someone bounce, and what makes them buy?
Your online store, ecommerce customer data platform, and any integrations you use on the back-end (like your 3PL, loyalty program tools, customer review tools, etc.) are a good place to start looking for these kinds of valuable Customer-First Data points.
Give your marketing team the power to grow your brand’s owned audience with a unified customer platform like Klaviyo.