“Back End” Email vs. “Front End” Email

When we talk to new prospects about email marketing, too often we start off talking about two very different things.

The confusion revolves around the difference between back-end email and front-end email – and the differences are significant.

Put simply, back-end email is email to your House List.  Front-end email is email to rented or purchased lists.

We strongly recommend back-end email.  We cautiously recommend front-end email.

Back-end email
Back-end email involves sending email promotions and newsletters to people who have opted in to your company’s email list.  They know you or have asked to know more about you.  They are your customers or they are prospects who have expressed an interest in your services.  They have given you permission to email them.

We use back-end email to nurture sales leads and cultivate customer relationships.

For many clients, we set up an internal database and email capability so emails can be sent out quickly (almost immediately) as needs occur.

As a lead nurturing tool, back-end email helps to ensure that all leads are treated with a consistent contact strategy – and no leads fall through the cracks.

As a customer cultivation tool, back-end email helps to ensure that customers remain engaged in your company and are given frequent opportunities to renew, to upsell and to cross-sell – as well as offer referrals to you.

Back-end email is one of the great marketing tools of our time – and every business or organization (regardless of size) should have this capability in place.   (Call me if you’re interested.)

Front-end email
Front-end email is a very different animal.  Front-end email is generally used a lead generation tool – getting strangers to raise their hands and say they are interested in what your company has to offer.

The strategies we use in lead generation email are exactly the same as the ones we use in lead generation direct mail.  List selection and offers are the key drivers in both.

Many people are drawn to email as a front-end marketing tool because they assume it will be cheaper than direct mail.  In some cases, they are right – but there are some important factors to consider:

You can buy all kinds of cheap email lists on the open market.  But many of these lists are built without any permission-based process in place … so don’t be surprised if you get a lot of spam complaints when you use it.

You also may need to use your own server for these lists.  Most of the reputable email service providers like Constant Contact, iContact, Vertical Response and Aweber prohibit using any rented or purchased lists on their servers.

But there are email lists that may be a better option for you.  If you look at the direct response lists that are developed from trade journals, conferences, associations and mail-order buyers, many provide both direct mail and email lists.  Both are opt-in lists.

Pricing for these email lists are not cheap – and are typically double or triple the cost of the same direct mail lists (presumably to avoid cannibalizing their direct mail business).

But the key with these lists – and in my opinion, the litmus test for legitimate email lists – is that you won’t be allowed to take possession of the list.  You will need to send your email creative to the list owner and they will execute the mailing.

For very good reason, they want to protect a very valuable asset.


In summary, every business or organization should have a back-end email capability in place.  But if you’re going to use email on the front end, go slowly.

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."