5 Tips for Better Email Audience Segmentation

Meet Burt: He’s 32 years old, lives in Omaha, loves muscle cars, hates spinach, and unabashedly collects Frisbees. In other words, Burt is a person with unique desires, motivations, and perspectives, all based on his personal history, just like every single consumer you’ll encounter. The more clearly you can speak to Burt as an individual, the more likely you’ll be able to build a rapport and earn his loyalty, which might just result in his becoming a lifelong customer. Creating that type of customer connection is the Holy Grail every marketer seeks, and one of the best ways to personalize your communication with customers and prospects is through email list segmentation.
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Quick Email Segmentation Refresher

You are a savvy marketer. You already know about the “spray-and-pray” method of email marketing, which entails sending out a generic and uninspiring email to your entire audience, and you also know that method just doesn’t cut it when the average person wades through 90 emails a day. The solution is email list segmentation.

Jordie van Rijn of EmailMonday sums it up best by explaining email segmentation as “the art of thinking in groups.” By dividing your email list subscribers into groups or “segments” based on a shared attribute, you can directly speak to that group’s unique priorities, needs, and desires. If you own a small chain of pet supply stores, emailing everyone on your list announcing a sale on aquariums would likely be irrelevant to the majority of recipients, since only a portion of your list actually owns fish. In a best-case scenario, your email would be ignored. Worst case? You’ll be flagged as spam and will see a drop in the number of subscribers.

With one simple tweak, you can dramatically improve the performance of that email. When customers subscribe to your email list, ask them what pet(s) they have and segment the list by animal. Now you can send your big aquarium sale email only to the customers who would be most interested and likely to convert.

Welcome to email segmentation in a nutshell. If you are just starting out with email segmentation, check out this great introductory course. If you already know a thing or two about email marketing segmentation and want to improve your email segmentation strategies, let’s look at five different email segmentation best practices.

1. Segment by Demographics

Filtering by demographics is usually the simplest way to begin designing your first email segmentation strategy, and segmenting by just one demographic identifier can allow you to dramatically increase the personalization of your emails. Demographics refers to characteristics such as:

  • Gender

  • Location

  • Income

  • Industry

  • Job Position

  • Age

Andrew Raso explains that demographic information “can tell a lot about a person’s needs or interests.” Here’s a simple example: If you own a clothing company, you definitely want to segment your list by gender. Your male customers won’t exactly go ga-ga over your new summer dress collection.

Here are some other examples:

  • Send out your new line of swimsuits to customers who live in the south in March; remind customers in the north about clearance coats, gloves, and mittens

  • Send VIP deals to big spenders, and highlight sales for more price-sensitive customers

  • Send new spreads of the latest office-wear fashions to white-collar professional workers  

2. Segment by Lifestyle

Just because two customers have some demographic information in common does not mean they will respond the same way to your products. Norma and Skylar are both 35-year-old women who own dogs, but Norma is a stay-at-home mother in the Midwest who’s looking for simple and low-cost ways to keep her dog, Fido, healthy and happy. Skylar is a hard-charging attorney in New York who doesn’t mind spoiling her dog, Sassy, and wants to find ways to keep him entertained in her small apartment.

At first glance, Norma and Skylar seem similar, but while Skylar doesn’t bat an eye at spending more on high-end organic dog food for Sassy, Danielle needs to stick to her budget. When you understand your customers’ lifestyles — and their personas — you’ll also understand which of your products and services will be the most relevant to them.

3. Segment by Hobby

What inspires your customers? What do they love to do in their personal time, and how can your products or services help them do that better? Maybe Danielle loves to go camping and hiking with her family. If that’s the case, then she might need a travel vest for Homer that allows him to carry his own water and treats on the trail. Skylar, on the other hand, prefers to take car trips home to see her family in Pennsylvania at least once a month. She wants to make sure Buster is safe and comfortable, and may be interested in a pet hammock seat cover for her car.

Your customers won’t take the initiative to call you and tell you about their passions and hobbies, but it’s still possible to get this information. Raso suggests sending surveys to customers, with the incentive of a giveaway. Another option is devising an entertaining quiz that can funnel useful information to you. Consider all the quizzes you’ve taken or seen on Facebook, and you’ll get the picture.

4. Segment by Action (Behavioral Segmentation)

The actions your prospects take on your website or in response to your emails is a gold mine of information you can use to better understand their needs and help them in their consumer journey. By adding a tracking code or pixel to your site or asking your clients to sign in, you can see which pages they look at, how long they stay on each page, and where else they go on your site.

One of the most important pieces of data you can track is cart abandonment. According to Barilliance, the global rate of cart abandonment — the rate at which online shoppers put products into their carts but fail to purchase — is a whopping 77%. By putting products in a cart, your potential customer is waving a huge sign that shows exactly what they are currently interested in. If a particular item goes on sale or is close to being out of stock, you can automatically send an email to customers with that product in their cart to encourage them to complete the purchase.

There are nearly endless ways to use behavioral segmentation. Did a customer just purchase a litter box and scooper? Send a follow up email showcasing litter box mats and smell eliminators. Did a customer attend a webinar about a certain topic? Send them a white paper you wrote on a similar topic. In fact, you can create entire email drip campaigns based on how prospects respond to various pitches and offerings.

You can also segment users according to how they respond to your emails. If a recipient hasn’t opened your weekly email in several months, consider putting them on a monthly or quarterly list. Notice that a client hasn’t made a purchase in a while? Put them on a list for a reactivation campaign with great promos or emails that showcase new software features. On ConversionXL, Noah Kagan of OkDork shared an important observation: When he changed the subject line of his email and resent it to those on his list who didn’t open the original email, he achieved 30% more opens on his email.

5. Segment within Segments

Once you get the hang of segmentation, you’ll start to see a whole world of possibilities. There is no limit to the amount of segmentation you can do. Think about the pet store example: By merely segmenting your list by pet types, you’ll make a huge leap in your ability to personalize emails to your customers. But that’s just the beginning of what you can do. Someone who owns a Chihuahua needs different pet food, toys, and collars than someone who owns a Great Dane. A pet store can segment lists by pet type and then further segment into small dogs, medium dogs, and large dogs. Then they can take it a step further and segment according to senior dogs and puppies.

Assign multiple attributes to each entry in your customer database with comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing platforms so you can seamlessly build email lists based on the type of campaign you want to run. Want to invite your customers on the East Coast to a live webinar on how to care for senior cats? You can create that list (segments: East Coast zip code, cats as pets, senior cats) as long as you have the available data.

With that in mind, if you are still new at email marketing segmentation, you don’t necessarily have to segment your list down to a group of five subscribers. Even basic segmentation can lead to great results for small- and medium-sized businesses.

For example, Ferguson Enterprises, a plumbing and PVF distributor, sent customers an email asking them to define themselves by one of 14 categories. With just one click, Ferguson had 14 different segments. According to marketing company Binary Pulse, after a few more tweaks Ferguson saw an “81% lift in effectiveness from preference-centric emails.”

See insights on successful email strategies from Marketing Cloud customers.

Use Your Segmentation

Of course, the real test of your email segmentation strategy success will be how well you take advantage of segmentation. A poorly executed email campaign sent out to a highly segmented email list will still produce poor results. You need to write crisp, clear emails that speak to the unique needs of your intended audience. Segmentation merely allows you to get more personal.

Think about what drives a particular email segment. Why did they abandon their cart? Why did they view a webinar about your software but not sign up for a trial version? What would owners of a Great Dane want to buy for their beloved pet?

Implementing an email segmentation strategy requires more, in general — more effort; more time planning, writing, and designing; and more analysis. But when you “get” the segment, email marketing segmentation can do wonders for your email conversion rates and your company’s bottom line. When you respect and acknowledge the differences that make the members of your email audience unique, they will be much more likely to open your email, take action, and become a satisfied customer.

About the Author:

Jessica Bennett is a writer, editor, and novelist. Her clients span a number of industries, and she's written blog posts, product descriptions, articles, white papers, and press releases— all in the name of inbound marketing. She's proud to be Inbound Certified, but her VP of Morale, Avalon, doesn't quite get what all the fuss is about. But he's a rabbit, so you can't really blame him.

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