Using Lists in Your Email Marketing Program

by Jordie van Rijn last updated on

Most people respond well to lists, we make task lists, grocery lists, packing lists, guest lists, and more. They organize information for us. In fact, we like lists so much, we make our own ultimate list for life: the Bucket List. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that list making is just part of human nature. Nor would I be surprised to find out you already made at least one list today.

Email marketers think a lot about lists – usually how to grow their email list. That’s because savvy marketers know the importance of having a quality marketing database of interested subscribers to send to. Those are the subscribers that are more likely to buy. The money is in the list, so growing it means growing the ROI, but how about those other types of lists, are you using those? Let me explain…

Why you should be using lists in your email marketing

If we know people respond to lists, why don’t we take all this list making and apply it to our own email newsletters to help improve the content and make it more effective? An additional plus is that lists make your job as a content creator easier.

Lists are a great way to make your email marketing both easier to pull together (for you) and easier to scan (for them). Using lists as part of—or all of—your email content means you can:

  • Give structure to otherwise unstructured content.
  • Make your content scannable, very important!
  • Encourage people to keep reading your email, which also means they are enticed to scroll past any type of ‘fold’ especially when on their smartphones.

Those are the general benefits of using lists in your email. Now let’s delve into some specific examples of lists that rock emails.

Get creative with lists

A list isn’t limited to a static bulleted or numbered text list. Although that can work, it could also be borderline boring. You can use lists to gain the benefits above while at the same time be creative.

For example, check out this email from It’s a “list” of outfits to wear Monday through Friday, that includes a little narrative as well as a picture of all of the pieces of each outfit.


Shopbob’s shopping week message puts products in context of specific scenarios, or what we (as marketers doing business cases and claiming marketing budget) call “use cases” – like going into a client meeting. The second you think about these uses, you also think “Do I have a  client lunch up ahead?”, and “Do I have the ideal client lunch wardrobe?“ exactly what a marketer wants to achieve.

Shopbob’s shopping-week message is rather lengthy, but it keeps you scrolling because you do want to see what’s next for Tuesday and then Wednesday and so on. Keeping subscribers scrolling is now more important than ever as emails grow longer when viewed on smartphones and mobile devices. If they don’t scroll, you lose.

Convey more information without making it overwhelming

Lists also make it easier to ‘cram content’. With that I mean, that usually you want to try and stick to one or two messages per email. But sometimes, as with a reactivation email, you’ll want to say more than usual. Lists make that possible without overwhelming, as you can see in this email from, which gives the recipient five reasons to engage once again with the brand.


Four of the reasons are reminders of the kinds of useful information that’s available as a subscriber and the fifth is an exclusive little secret, hinting at changes to come. Below the list is a special offer to woo the wayward subscriber back, just in case the reasons for re-engaging weren’t compelling enough.

Although it’s not as long as our first example in length, this email has a lot more text and still keeps you scrolling because of the numbers and your own curiosity in finding out what’s next. Here comes a great idea for an email split test, it is even number 41 on my own list of 150 email split testing ideas. Just imagine how this mail would look without the list, would it be just as effective? Try two versions and test it out.

Make their choice easier

Sometimes consumers don’t make a buying decision because they are confronted with too many choices. This email from handles that brilliantly with a list of five must-have clothing items for the winter wardrobe.


The message insinuates you’ll be a winter fashionista if you add these five pieces to your wardrobe. You can make this format fit to your own situation, an email such as this could also list things to buy for a party, a shopping list for family during the holidays or things essential for X,Y or Z. When you make a list like this, you’re also providing a bit of extra value for your subscriber, because you’re doing the filtering work for them. Rather than make them think and make a list, you’re handing them the list—and all they need to do is buy.

Provide value with a checklist

We are constantly hearing that we should be sending content of value to our subscribers, to avoid list fatigue and disinterested non-openers. But marketers can’t always think past the “buy now” kind of messaging they’re used to sending. So think of a list.

An email can deliver a lot of value to your subscribers if it delivers a useful to-do list, shopping list or checklist. It could even be a list describing how to best use the product they just bought from you, or something seasonal like a yard cleanup checklist for spring. Ideas for lists of any kind abound. And that’s not hard to come up with, is it?

It doesn’t have to be a list of things they should do, it can also be a list of things they should NOT do. Or a combination like the checklist for avoiding email mistakes, as long as there is value in it.

Onboard new customers and educate new subscribers

Lists are a great way to teach new customers how to use your product or service. For example, this email from spells out how to get started as a new customer with a list of three simple steps. All have links to next steps or more information.


The GoBank mail does a nice job of putting the contact information up at the top in case the new user had additional questions and needed some assistance, the first sign up is often an important step, but getting them to actually use your products is where brand ensure loyalty and email customer lifetime value. So any possible way to make those steps more fluid, is a definite value. And if people were thinking that they get a unfriendly person on the phone, look at that dog!

The same principle applies for welcoming all types of subscribers. Consider this email from that welcomes new subscribers by telling them what to expect…as a list.


Setting the stage for new subscribers from the very beginning can help to improve engagement later on, making the welcome email a critical tool. And this one does an even better job by spelling everything out, eliminating surprises later.

How using lists makes marketing easier

Checking out the examples above, you can see how effective lists can be in an email. But there’s another benefit: Content creation can be easier. If you’ve ever been the copywriter wondering how you will fit a lot of necessary content into what should be a short email, you’ll see that lists can make that task much easier.

Rather than you having to worry about getting the message across in fewer words than you’d like, you can let the list do the heavy lifting for you.

The same holds true for directions. As with the example, the list makes the explanation easy, eliminating the need for a lot of words to try and explain the process. Instead, there’s very little text.

As you can see in all of these examples, using lists in your emails can be a strategic way of communicating your content to your audience. Are you sold on lists yet? Because they’re ready to start selling for you. Have any advice or questions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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