Email Segmentation: Moving Your Strategy From Basic to Best

According to my research, only 11% of businesses don’t segment their emails. That means 89% do, which is pretty close to everyone that matters, since we can safely assume there will always be a handful of businesses that won’t bother. 

However, just because almost everyone is segmenting doesn’t mean everyone has reached the level of sophistication of a business like Petsmart. And that’s where your competitive advantage can kick in. You’re probably among the 89% of brands doing email segmentation. But are you doing the basic stuff only, or constantly growing in sophisticated segmenting?

Why segmentation matters

Email segmentation is absolutely required in order to do targeted email marketing, and targeted email marketing is simply required in today’s world with its attention-challenged consumers and over-crowded inboxes. Anything you can do to target a message and sound less generic works in your favor. Even something as simple as segmenting by gender can help you to deliver more relevant email marketing.

Why you need data to segment

Knowing you need to segment, however, is not the same as having the data you need to do so. Let’s compare collecting data to looking at my picture. If you check out my photo at the end of this post, you’ll see I am a middle-aged male. Would that tell you enough to target your marketing to me? That depends on what you’re selling, so maybe. You could at least put me in the male category and take a guess at my age.

On the surface, you might even learn a little more about me. You can probably see why I wouldn’t be interested in any hair care products, for example. But would you know I have an addiction to Italian sports cars? Or that I have kids? Or that I play hockey? A photo can’t tell you any of that, nor can my email address if I subscribe at your website. You can only get that information by knowing what kinds of emails I open and engage with, which websites I visit, what I look at when shopping online, and what I buy. You could also get this kind of information by offering a Preference Center or sending me a survey and letting me choose to tell you about myself. But you would never know any of this based on my gender and age. You need to collect data about me in order to target marketing to me.

Divide and conquer

So why should you strive to collect this kind of data and move past basic segmentation? The reasons for constantly improving your email segmentation are many, and include:

  • Higher open rates
  • Higher click-through rates
  • Higher conversions (i.e. ROI)
  • Better email deliverability
  • Lower unsubscribe rates
  • And better, more detailed email analytics for making the kind of informed decisions that can lead to even more targeted segmentation and messaging

Slice and dice

Email segmentation can be as basic as ZIP code or gender, or it can get extremely sophisticated—and should. You don’t go from zero to 60 with complex segmentation, but you can keep moving it forward, constantly adding another layer of complexity as you master one and move on to another. Consider all of the ways you might segment your emails, now and in the future:

There are the basics:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Geography

There’s degree of engagement:

  • Active, having recently purchased from you
  • Less active
  • Inactive 

There’s the data from web analytics:

  • What did they look at?
  • What did they buy?
  • What did they leave in their shopping cart?

If you’re a B2B marketer, you might segment by:

  • Type of industry
  • Job title
  • Size of business

And of course, there are interests, which can be determined based on behavior or by simply asking subscribers to do a survey or by offering an incentive for people to give you more information. For example, perhaps a 10% off coupon will entice subscribers to divulge a bit more about their hobbies, activities or interests.

Then there’s where they are in life or the sales cycle. A new mother, for example, is going to have different interests than a woman with four grandchildren because she’s at a different life stage. Similarly, an IT manager shopping for a new ecommerce platform is going to move through a sales cycle, from unaware to aware to interested to convinced. You need to know where that IT manager is in the cycle, just like you need to know where that mother is in her life.

As you can see, there are many ways to segment, and you can constantly be adding new layers of segmentation as you grow in sophistication.

Two special segments you’ll always have

That said, there are two types of subscribers you will probably always have: those new to your list (the new subscribers) and those tired of it (the inactives). These are definitely worthy of their own kind of attention as part of your segmentation strategy.

 New subscribers: Consider segmenting new subscribers and sending them more than a simple welcome email. Instead, send a drip campaign (a welcome series) to slowly introduce them to your brand. After a certain point, they become part of a different segment, but you’ll have learned some things about them by paying attention to what they responded to while receiving the on-boarding emails. You could maybe even entice them to divulge more information. That means you can segment them right from the start rather than wait to discover that information later.

Inactive subscribers: You’ll probably always have inactive subscribers. It’s simply human nature to lose interest over time. Don’t include the inactives with the actives. Instead, segment them out and market to them differently. First, define an “inactive.” For example, maybe it’s someone who hasn’t opened an email in over six months. Then create a segment and do a reactivation campaign for these unengaged subscribers. (And be willing to let go those who do not re-engage! They are dead weight)

Moving through stages from basic to best

It matters less how you decide to segment and more that you simply do it, and that you keep on doing it, constantly evolving your segmentation from the basic to the best that it can be. The effort will pay off with all of the rewards we mentioned above, from higher open rates to better deliverability and more. 

About the Author

Marco Marini has been at the forefront of email marketing since its inception as a channel. Prior to co-founding ClickMail, Marco developed pioneering email campaigns for CyberSource, eHealthInsurance, DoveBid and IBM Canada while holding key marketing roles in those organizations. Clickmail is a part of the Salesforce Marketing Cloud Partner Community in both the Channel and HubExchange programs. You can download their eMVision ExactTarget-Tableau Integration app today!

For more stats on email marketing and marketing as a whole, download the 2015 State of Marketing today! 

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