Stop Using Ethical Bribes to Grow Your Email List

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

We all want to grow our email list, right? After all, it’s not just an extra task to do, it’s an actual business asset. And you don’t want just any old people on this list, you want folks who really like what you have to say.

If you look around on The Wonderful World of Web, you’ll find a ton of articles on using ethical bribes to build your list. 

Others will tell you to use ethical bribes

Marketers who use ethical bribes will tell you that they are irresistible, free products to tempt people to give you their email address and join your list. These are usually small products like ebooks, cheat sheets, checklists, and templates.

Some other names for the same thing include: Opt-in incentive, Sign-up incentive, Content Upgrade, Lead magnet, Light bulb moment, Opt-in Freebie, Freebie, Free gift.

These are all names for that micro-product that you offer to your site visitors in exchange for a little info and their email address. They’re used interchangeably in articles and in the how to’s on how to build an email list. But each of those names have a slightly different connotation.

Why not all of these names are helpful

While I can’t say that I love any of these names, the name with the worst connotation is ethical bribes. A bribe makes you think of criminal activity. It brings to mind coercion and unsavoriness.  Unless that works for your brand, you should probably avoid it. I mean avoid using the term in your own articles AND avoid it in your own head.

You don’t want the mindset around this tiny product to be that of a bribe. My friend Candace Schilling, a writer and editor, has a saying, “Words have energy. Use it.” Don’t use the energy of the word bribe if it doesn’t fit – site visitors will pick up on that. It’s a bit smarmy and desperate.

Now, there are some people who use the terms freebie or free gift. Those names are fine if the product is really free, like if you have a download on a page and don’t ask for any opt-in to a list. But if you’re asking for an email address in exchange, these little products aren’t free.

You’ll hear people liken these tiny products to free samples. But that’s not quite true. Free samples would be your blog posts, your free Youtube videos, social media tips, and the free, no opt-in required downloads you provide. This is a little more picky, but it does create a disconnect in a visitor’s mind, and that’s enough for them to bypass signing up. 

For example, I know that if I see a button that says GET IT FREE, if I also see the opt-in form right there, I get that they mean I have to sign up but I don’t have to pay in money. But, when I see a just a button for something FREE, click on it, and on the second page I’m asked for my email address, I feel tricked. Even though I know the opt-in form is probably coming. Be careful with these names.

The sign-up and opt-in incentive, and lead magnet names are pretty straight-forward and accurate, though not so inspiring. I will generally use the name lead magnet. Content Upgrade is a very positive name and descriptive of the product, but some people give those away, and some people charge an email address. I’ve only heard Mike Killen use Light Bulb Moment. It too has a very positive feel, but I’m not sure everyone is going to know what it is if you use that name, say, in an article. The mindset, though of creating a light bulb moment for your customer is really what you want.

What this micro-product really is

A lead magnet is actually not a bribe and it’s not free. It’s the second step in a suite of products. The first product you have is your free content available in many places. With each of those pieces of content you should also put out an offer for a paid product. This first paid product (second product in the suite), is your lead magnet.

Build your own lead magnet – read about my free (no opt-in required!) lead magnet checklist here!

Your lead magnet is a very inexpensive product. It costs one valid email address. An email address has value to both you and the customer. The customer values her clean inbox, privacy, and lack of distraction. If she gives her email address to everyone, they’ll all be emailing her, and she will be bombarded every day. She doesn’t want to add to that! You value her email address because it is permission to send her emails, build a relationship, and present offers.

You want to write an offer that promises enough value so that the site visitors who align with you and your business will be happy to exchange their email address for that value. As soon as they do that, they become a customer. They have bought a product from you.

The second half of this is that you have to earn the right to keep that email address on your list. You have to provide as much (or more!) value in your lead magnet as you promised. You have to use her email address responsibly. You can send frequent emails, but they must provide some bit of value. If you don’t she won’t open your emails, and will likely unsubscribe.

What this means for your business

Email Addresses have value

Not thinking of the email address as a valuable method of payment means you’ll be less likely to hang on to it. You will underestimate the value it brings to your business in the form of a direct connection with a customer to whom you can make repeated offers, make sales, get feedback, and get referrals.

If you underestimate the value of the email address, you also won’t be compelled to continue to provide value and nurture your email list. And if you slack off on the value, you’ll lose that address and lose the opportunities that address brings to you.

Ethical bribes – pick a new name

So, back to ethical bribes… that name just doesn’t rise the level you need it to. I see why it’s been used, but you need something better. Something to remind you that you’re creating a product and exchanging it for real value.

People buy things from businesses. If you have to bribe them, that’s criminal, and if you have to give away everything, you’re not going to stay in business for long.

stop using ethical bribes to grow your email list

I’m going to stick with the name lead magnet. I like the clarity, and the word “lead” to me indicates something of value. The word “magnet” indicates attraction. I can strive to provide value in exchange for valuable lead attraction. 

Do you have other names for these micro-products?

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