December 5, 2020

List building is the key to growing a business…so says every online marketing guru who knows what they are talking about.

Those gurus often take it a step further–by offering a “list building secrets” bonus as one of the key add-ons that accompanies their latest software or technique (where their deliverable is a program to market products more effectively online). 

They are clearly not dumb…there is a method to their madness. 

After all, anything they are selling to help grow businesses might also need people to sell it to, no? I guess that could be a list?

Hard to believe but it’s true.

Regardless I am not as smart as those gurus.

I am closer to an “O.G.” — if I’m lucky.

I cut my teeth during the 1980’s in direct mail…that should be worth something…right?

Whether “guru light” or “O.G.” or just a guy who mailed in excess of 1.5 billion pieces (which was anything but junk mail!), I didn’t do what would be called “list building” in the go-go 80’s…nor do I do it now.

Is this blasphemy given that it’s coming from someone who regularly extolls the importance of the “list” over all else (i.e. over the offer and creative) when examining what’s most important on the “3-legged stool of direct response marketing?”

Read the P.S. for much more about this…and a training I am releasing today, just to you.

But what am I stammering about saying I didn’t do list building…ever?

We had a  9 million name database while I was at Boardroom, toiling almost exclusively in direct mail—9 million names built on sales–and not built with opt-ins or an extravagant funnel…or dare I say, scraping “likes”  from Facebook accounts.

We did it the old fashioned way…which that alone might make me an “Original Gangster.” Maybe. ☺ 

The cost of paper and postage…and the fact that there was no email and no Internet at the time (not even Facebook!), made pure list building as we know it today virtually nonexistent.

If you were list building for the sake of list building back then, the prescription was that you could continue running Super Bowl ads with no meaningful response device…or go bankrupt…or probably both.

At a time when the fax machine was state-of-the-art and direct mail was the most scalable medium, there were few “freebies” given out in promotional advertising.

That is, marketing always had to sell, even if the offer was a “free trial.”

Put another way, there was never transformational content just for opening up a #10 envelope.

Simply giving away stuff for free, especially content, with no immediate expectation to buy, wasn’t part of the model.

It is today and we are better for it.

“List building” is, however, not a casual enterprise in today’s marketplace…which I assume those (mostly) digital gurus referred to above would obviously agree.

Unfortunately saying it’s critical, and a no brainer to do, and even giving out an “instruction manual” to do it, doesn’t make it happen.

And if it’s that important, don’t you think we should do it in a way that’s better than downloading emails from a list of “suspects” from a company we found on The Google called “1-800-BUILD-A-LIST” (not that this is one of the gurus list building secrets mentioned previously).

But it’s why the notion of “building a list” is an outdated concept…despite it being the fad of the last decade or so…and we will say it will remain outdated for the duration of this blog post as well. ☺ 

How about “curating” a list rather than “building” one?

If you begin with curation, you will learn from the ground up the real power of your list…in the present… and on into the future.

And this is not just a silly semantic argument. 

First of all, through curation, you will realize in no uncertain terms that your list is not simply names on a piece of paper…or part of an elaborate CRM system…or inside the data of your email service provider. 

It’s partly those things but there is one overriding thing that is more important than everything else. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again for emphasis (and in case you forgot)…wait for it…

Lists are people too. 

So what does “build” vs. “curate” (in terms of lists) have to do with anything except making a meaningless semantic argument? 

Let’s start with definitions.


Construct (something) by putting parts or material together

In terms of lists, doesn’t that sound somewhat robotic and unfeeling? 

Could you ever create an “online family” rather than “a list” that way?


  • Select, organize and present (online content, merchandise, information) typically using expert knowledge. 
  • Select, organize and look after the items in a collection or museum.
  • Select the performers or performances that will feature in an arts event or program.

Imagine using “expert knowledge” to build a list.

Imagine seeing your list as live, real people, precious enough to put in a museum?

Imagine having everyone on your list “spotlighted” (featured) at some point in time–them alone–and not treated like a number all the time?

And here is curate used in two different sentences, directly from the dictionary:

“Both exhibitions are curated by the museum’s director.”

“In past years the festival has been curated by the likes of David Bowie.”

When we’re talking about “museums and David Bowie” instead of “putting parts or material together,” that alone makes “curate” more exciting than build.

So let’s extrapolate on these definitions regarding how we build, or better yet, curate a list.

The difference could be expressed in music from some “O.G’s” of rock:

To build a list would be to just put another brick (i.e. person) in the wall. (Pink Floyd)

To curate a list would involve getting intimate with multi-dimensional humans before adding them (i.e. make them heroes for more than one day) (David Bowie)

I will do another post, hopefully next week, regarding the best sources to use to accomplish this.

And it’s not as complicated as you think.

Hint: Think quality before quantity.

Quick story: I host a virtual mastermind called Titans Xcelerator (TXL) for which I charge $2,000 a year…the same price as many online, digital products that promise to make you jump higher and run faster than your competition.

I promise that too with TXL…but with a lot less fanfare.

I have found myself (probably too often) getting on a Zoom call (or into an email correspondence) with folks in my online family (like you)…they could be prospective members to TXL I guess, but that is not the reason I connect with them–I simply want to get to know them because…I want to get to know them.

It’s refreshing (although I admit it is time consuming).

At least I don’t get back to everyone immediately…that’s where I draw the line. 🙂

Try it…I dare you.

Email me and see what happens.

But give me up to a week to respond…

It’s obvious that this sort of thing rarely leads to a membership or a “sale” (and for a $2,000 price point, many gurus would see the call or contact as a waste of time…or maybe even stupid).

They would probably say:

How can you scale like that?


“Why are you spending one-on-one to get a $2,000 order?”

However I will beg to differ.

This “technique” if I can call it that, can be a secret ingredient to scaling.

And frankly, many sellers of $2,000 products are spoiled since it comes so easy to them.

I try not to take anything for granted.

And working harder to get that same “order” (if you get it) tends to lead to a higher lifetime value. I can guarantee that from personal experience.

Every time I do a call like that it also always leads to insight that I can’t get from a 100% automated funnel, and it is insight that serves me in spectacular, and not as obvious ways.

Despite often not adding a quick, positive jolt to your checking account, if you believe that everything is not a revenue event but everything is a relationship event, you will be richer for these insights, for years to come. And the money will come as well.

You get rich slowly.

Read The five ways we get paidfor additional insight.

Bottom line: Is it worth it?

Of course it is.

Even if they don’t join (now or ever) they have been curated onto my list (like a hero) rather than simply added (like another brick in the wall).

And since Life is long and I am always Fishing without bait, I win every time, sale or no sale, because I curate rather than build.

You don’t still think this is just semantics, do you?

I realize if I did this with everyone who raised their hand to join, or just to “chat,”  I would be out of business very quickly so you still have to be selective.

However, ignoring everyone except in an automated way until they buy (which is the rule of thumb in list building today) is too distasteful to me.

And more importantly, it doesn’t add anything to what I (and hopefully many of you) are really in this marketing game in the first place.

Yeah…it’s to make money…but just as important is:

H-to-H (rather than B-to-C or B –to-B)

H-to-H is “Human to Human” INTERACTIONwhich beats B-to-C or B-to-B TRANSACTIONS(S) anytime.

LinkedIn expert Josh Lee taught me “H-to-H.”

If he can accomplish  it on a platform that is a B-to-B version of Facebook, with Facebook being the best example in the world of how to build a list without curation (and LinkedIn being a close second), shouldn’t we be able to do more H-to-H everywhere with our marketing messaging?

One final, huge, benefit when you curate your list rather than build it:

You deepen your relationships from the start, go even deeper if/when they become buyers, members etc…and ultimately you will be able to confidently eat your own dog food.

Hmmm…that might not sound like a good thing…but frankly, it’s the best thing.

A properly curated list–rather than just a list of added friends who aren’t friends at all—becomes an online family faster through osmosis; and those that become buyers or members or take the relationship further, become part of a more intimate family, which we will call the  “cousin’s club.”

Once part of the cousin’s club, and through more and more intimate curation, you find out more of their super powers over time, which they then share freely with other cousins in the club.

And then it comes full circle when you are the one who becomes their customer, buying goods and services from those same cousins.

Please…no incest jokes. ☺

And this is not the same as signing up a family member to a life insurance policy they buy from you or getting them involved in the best multi-level marketing scheme you ever invented.

We do play games with family now and then.

Buying from your cousins is about you, the curating list owner, the matriarch or patriarch of the cousin’s club, reaping more benefits than you ever could have imagined…or planned.

Example #1:

While curating a Facebook expert to join my online family (and on the surface I spent “too much time doing it”)—it ended up being time well spent (keep reading).

To my unexpected luck, he joined Titans Xcelerator.

Now there was also some unexpected monetary gain, and not just luck, which was not planned…and that part was all “gravy.”

I followed that up by having him present on the secret sauce that he uses as a media buyer on Facebook to the other members of Titans Xcelerator…which expanded the knowledge of the group and led to various members hiring him.

More monetary gain for both sides of that equation too.

Including me.

I didn’t need him to send me references or case histories on how he made his clients oodles of cash.

I saw him performing on the battlefield first hand which was infinitely better.

I was hungry for some tasty dog food and I ate it gratefully (yes, I hired him). ☺

The result?

An 8 to 1 ratio, revenue to media spend, on Facebook, for my own product.

Example #2:

A copywriter I met and inadvertently vetted (when I didn’t have to), joined Titans Xcelerator…I quickly discovered her super powers… encouraged her to recruit for writers inside the Titans Xcelerator membership to work with her, inside her copy lair…

…which led to “my turn!”

She is currently writing the entire email series, quite expertly I might add, for the next launch of Titans Xcelerator.

Dog food is yummy, especially when the meal begins with meaningful curation.



P.S. I created a 4-part video training series which is titled:

The lost (but now found) universal formula…to create perpetual winning promotions

(specifically for todays overwhelmed marketer)

Below is a screen shot that will take you to the first video in the training.

Please click on it to access the video…and I have a big ask…

While I’m proud of it I’m not quite proud enough to know if it’s really ready for prime time.

So here’s the big ask:

Until my online family (cousin’s club?)  gives a thumbs up (with feedback, good and bad),  I don’t want to send it to a wider distribution.

It’s 25 minutes long which is why it is such a big ask…I will understand if you don’t have time to watch it…but I would be so grateful if you did and if you send me an email back with your comments.

I think you will get something out of it too…although if you don’t it’s even a bigger ask than I thought! ☺

Thanks in advance!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Title Goes Here

Get this Free E-Book

Use this bottom section to nudge your visitors.