A Better Way to Do Email List Segmentation

Many folks know that the most powerful marketing is that which gets the right message to the right person at the right time. One of the best ways to deliver the message is through email marketing. Although email marketing lets you get the message directly to a person’s inbox, how do you know it’s the right message for that specific contact? For years we’ve guessed at segmentation, focusing largely on demographics, titles, or industries to segment email lists so we could start refining our approach and begin the slow ascent to personalization. Few brands have evolved beyond this approach. But there is a better way to do email list segmentation. Several, in fact.

Before I dive into the ways to segment your email list, I want to stress the importance of better segmentation. Many of us have signed up for emails from a company or brand. Usually we sign up because we read a post, saw a video, or tried a product we really loved. We wanted to get more of that in our inbox. But soon after signing up we found ourselves bombarded with irrelevant messages. In a world of choice and too much email, we finally decided to unsubscribe. As a brand you never want to lose a prospect, especially one that was willing to subscribe to your emails. Many factors contribute to the decision to opt out, but irrelevant messaging is a big one. Fine tuning your segmentation and building out messages for each segment will help reduce the number of opt outs and keep your customers engaged.

Now on to the strategies for email list segmentation.

Strategy One: Email List Segmentation By Customer Stage

One way to segment customers and develop targeted messaging is by segmenting email lists based on the stage the customer is in their journey. For example, a company that targets mothers could have their customer’s journey broken down by:

Stage One

First Time Mothers

Stage Two

Mothers with Children Under Age 5

Stage Three

Mothers with Children in Elementary School

The concerns, needs, and level of knowledge at each phase of the journey are different. Therefore, the content and services/products that speak to them at each phase will also be different. First time mothers will want content that helps them establish patterns, care for infants, and adjust to their role as a new parent. A mom with children in elementary, however, would be more interested in balancing work and family, laying ground rules for technology, selecting after school activities, and teaching kids core skills and values. By separating these groups, you ensure that they receive the messages and offers that truly speak to them.

Strategy Two: Email List Segmentation By Pain Point

Another great way to segment is by pain point. Your company likely solves a few problems for your customers, especially if they are at different stages of their journey. Customers see themselves in problems, not solutions. To make that personal connection it helps to start by identifying the client’s problems and let them self-select what content they want—content that will help them solve their problem. For example, our marketing agency solves a few problems. For us, we can segment our customers based on a key pain point, which is usually presented to the customer as a question but spoken internally as a key category or solution. Below are some examples.


Improve Market Visibility

Pain Point Question

Are sales stagnating?

Are you losing business to the competition?

Do people stare at you blankly when you say your company name?

Customer Loyalty

Are you struggling to keep customers?

Is customer satisfaction low?

Sales Support

Do you need more qualified leads?

Is your sales team begging for help staying connected to prospects?

The client can select their specific pain point and get directed to a landing page of related content and/or added to a list with content and offers that help them understand and solve the problem. This also helps you, the company, qualify the prospect and funnel them directly to the right product, service, or team member instead of guessing at what they want.

Strategy Three: Email List Segmentation By Behavior

Another way to segment is based on the choices customers make and what they engage with both in email and online. There are manual/low tech ways to do this, as well as advanced techniques using predictive analysis, AI, and data mining. Each mail client handles this differently, but the most common and low investment way to segment based on behavior is to use hyperlinks and tags.

Most email tools these days let you add hyperlinks to your email that act as a survey tool. Clients can make a selection and the hyperlink either drives them to a piece of content or to a landing page that simply says “Thanks. Your preferences have been saved.” Each link is associated with a specific tag which is applied to their name. Tags let you further segment out lists and create targeted campaigns.

For example, using the pain points above we can ask a customer in an email, “We want to make sure you are only getting the best content for your needs. To help us customize your experience, please tell us which of these sound like you. Select all that apply.” Then we list the pain points, create a hyperlink and tag, and the system automatically updates their record based on their choices. The nice thing about this is it’s an up front, not creepy way to ask customers to provide more details to help tailor their experience.

Of course, there are the more advanced tools that integrate with your website and social media that can assimilate a user’s behavior across the internet and use it to help you create customized experiences. An example is when you search for something in Google, and then every website and social media platform you visit shows you ads for that item you just searched. This functionality is usually cost prohibitive for small businesses. It also crosses the line and is often viewed as a practice that is invasive and violates privacy. It's always best to be up front about what information you are collecting and how you plan to use it. It's also always best to not be a creep on the internet.

Generally, the best segmentation approaches use a mix of all three to create a personalized experience. It takes time to develop enough content and sequences to really nurture each segment, but by starting to tag and properly identify your audiences, you can start developing more meaningful messages and experiences for your subscribers.

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