No matter what you’re selling, every customer will approach your business with a unique set of expectations. Everything from where they’re from, to their age, to their income will inform how they perceive and interact with your brand. This may sound like common sense, but in the world of online marketing, this can often go overlooked.

Take email marketing for example. If you’re looking to acquire new customers, email is nearly 40% more effective than both Facebook and Twitter. Yet, 56% of people who have unsubscribed from marketing emails say the content no longer feels relevant to them. Businesses that use a one-size-fits-all email strategy run the risk of alienating leads and leaving money on the table.

If you’ve put effort into building up your email list, but aren’t getting results, it’s time to consider segmenting your email campaigns.

What exactly is email segmentation, and why should I use it?

Email segmentation involves using contact data to split your email list into smaller groups (or “segments”). This is typically based on common characteristics, like their job, location, and most recent purchases. For example, if you ran a clothing company that mainly sold t-shirts, you wouldn’t send an announcement to everyone that baseball hats were back in stock. Most of your customers would ignore it. However, if you sent it only to the list of customers that have bought hats before, most of them would likely open and read your email.

Email segmentation allows you to:

  • Create more effective email campaigns
  • Send targeted emails exclusively to the most relevant groups
  • Increase retention, conversion, and other email KPIs

In fact, personalized marketing emails have been shown to increase unique open rates by 29% and unique click rates by 41% compared to non-personalized campaigns.

So, how do I segment my email campaigns?

When it comes to marketing segmentation of any kind, everything revolves around data. In order to sort and segment your contact list, you need to have a database that allows you to input and associate information with each of your entries. That database might live within a CRM, email marketing tool, or marketing automation platform, depending on what tool(s) you’re already using and what kind of email campaigns you want to send.

The kind of data you’ll track will vary depending on the kind of campaigns you want to run and your business model and industry. You’ll want to collect basic information, like your contacts’ names. But you might also need to collect highly specific and industry-dependent details, like the last time a customer had their house cleaned.

Before you can get started filling out your database, you’ll need to answer two important questions: what kinds of data should you collect? And, how much data are you capable of collecting?

What kinds of data should I collect?

Your data collection priorities should be influenced by your business model. For instance, a birth date won’t be particularly useful to a tire shop the same way it would to an event planner or a caterer. That being said, there are certain types of data that are broadly applicable (time zone), whereas others are tied closely to the nature of your business (favorite flavor of ice cream).

What you should be most concerned with is the unique needs and rhythms of your customers. Do you sell outdoor equipment? Then you should try to get your contacts’ location, so you can promote warm weather gear to people in Texas and cold weather gear to people in Washington. Do you sell basketball jerseys? You’ll want to keep track of your leads’ favorite sports teams. Think deeply, and compile a shortlist of the most crucial types of data for your business. Then do your best to rank each item in order of importance.

How much data should I collect?

To start, you’ll need to list the data that you’re already collecting. Create a list of every category of contact data, from any source. Nothing is too insignificant—any behavioral data, like email opens or CTAs clicked, could potentially be useful. There may even be data you’re not aware you’re tracking, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the difference between explicit and implicit data:

  • Explicit data is any information that you explicitly request from your contacts, like their name, or their occupation
  • Implicit data consists of any information that you can deduce about your contacts from their behavioral patterns

For example, you could track a customers’ income level based on their purchase history. Or, you could determine their interest in certain product categories based on CTAs they’ve clicked on. Looking carefully for these connections, and including any you discover in your list, will give you a better idea of the real value of the data that you’ve already collected.

Most decent marketing automation software allows you to add secret fields to your forms. You can use these fields to track detailed behavioral information, like which page a visitor was looking at on your website when they signed up for your email list. In turn, that can be used to farm implicit data to get a fuller picture of your contacts’ needs and interests.

Identify data opportunities

Once you’ve listed out the data you already have, you’ll want to identify any potential opportunities for collecting more. Get creative, and look for new ways to source data wherever you can find it—whether from voluntary surveys, or even sales information imported from your CRM. That being said, it’s important that you keep your ideas grounded in reality. Don’t plan on springing a 100 question survey on your website visitors and getting everything you need. The more questions you ask on signup and survey forms, the less likely your leads are to answer.

Arriving at your segmentation roadmap

At this point, you’ll have two separate lists:

  1. One list made up of all the types of data that could be beneficial for your business
  2. Another list that gives you the scope of all the data that you’re able to collect using your current resources

Putting both of these lists together, you have a roadmap of potential segmentation strategies. Now, you can pick a data type to turn into a segment, and build a campaign around it.

But before you start drafting  emails, you need to adjust your data collection process to capitalize on the untapped data opportunities you identified earlier. For instance, you may need to change a question on a survey, or add hidden fields to a form to collect the new data you need for your next campaign. Make sure you’re using email campaign software that can automatically import any new data from surveys, or transaction data from your store, into your contact database. Otherwise, you’ll have to segment your contact list manually.

Designing your campaigns

Once you have your data collected and organized, the final step is to design and send out a campaign. Depending on the strategy you’re using, your business model, and the length of your sales cycle, you might write one email, or many.

Below are a few examples of different segmented campaign strategies that you can try for yourself or use as inspiration. If you’re looking for more ideas, you can also read our list of five example email marketing workflows, sorted by business goal.

Welcome emails

As mentioned earlier, you can use hidden fields in your email signup form to track which page of your website your contacts were browsing when they chose to sign up, or even if they signed up at an event or retail location. This information can help you understand what drives their interest in your business, which is especially useful insight when making a first impression. Using this data, you can set up a segmented welcome email flow, with a unique welcome email for each signup source. For example, if they signed up on your blog, your welcome email can include links to your best blog posts. If they signed up at a business event, you can mention the event name in the subject line, and reference the keynote speech in the copy.

Reminder emails

If you run a service business, repeat customers are your top priority. In many instances, knowing the amount of time since a customer’s last appointment can let you make accurate predictions of when they’ll need a follow-up. For instance, a mechanic could send oil change reminders to every customer who’s gone 3 months since their last service appointment. Many absentminded people will appreciate the reminder, and are likely to bring their car in for service where they would have otherwise forgotten or put it off.

Re-engagement series

What should you do with your contacts who don’t engage with you at all? If some of your contacts haven’t opened or clicked through any recent emails you’ve sent, it’s time to switch things up. You can do this by pulling them out of all your other email flows, and sending them a special re-engagement series. This series can run at a slower pace than your normal campaigns. It could also feature discounts on their favorite product categories (if any) to lure them back into doing business with you. If they don’t engage with this series, you should consider removing them from your email list altogether.

With so many transactions taking place on the internet, it can be easy to forget that every email on your list belongs to people with their own lives and experiences. By using email segmentation, you can speak more directly to those individuals and their pain points.

Looking for more ideas to improve your email marketing? Take a look out our five favorite strategies for more effective email marketing. And if you’d like to go more in-depth with marketing automation or use it in other areas of your business, make sure to read our essential guide to marketing automation.

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