When it comes to your house list, one size does not fit all.
One key lesson we've learned about e-mail marketing over years is this: One size does not fit all. The more relevant your messages are to your subscribers' needs, wants, and expectations, the better the response and deliverability.
In order to create relevant messages you must be able to create good segments from your house list. Further, good segments require good information collected from subscribers when they sign up.
If you don't collect much information from subscribers beyond e-mail address, how can you create highly targeted segments?
You probably have a little more information than you realize. You should be able to sort your list by opt-in date, e-mail address domain, or partner vs. direct opt-in, for example. These may not create the most personable segments, but they can still be useful to observe how each one is different in respect to engagement.
You'll still need to gather additional data points from subscribers. The following list of ways to collect more information can be used to create segments and relevant messages.
1. Invite readers to fill out or update their profiles.
This is one of the best ways I know of to get your readers to share valuable information with you, but you have to proceed carefully. After all, online consumers are growing wary of sharing too much personal information until they get to know you better.
You can't request too much information at sign-up, and the link at the bottom of your message probably gets very little activity. You must, therefore, be able to answer the unspoken question: "Why should I tell you anything about me?"
The answer, of course, is you need to know more so you can send only the most useful kinds of messages. Frame the invitation that way and send it in a welcome message or an additional communication within a week or so after opt-in. Add a small incentive, such as a discount coupon or extra download, to sweeten the deal.
Alternately, ask readers to fill out a survey. Keep it very short and simple. No more than 3-5 questions. Offer a checklist rather than require essays. Even a simple request such as "help us improve this newsletter" can yield a motherlode of fresh data from your most active or engaged readers.
2. Use the search engine optimization terms that drive the most traffic to your site.
I picked up this tip at the recent Email Insiders Summit. What search words do people use to find your site? Web analytics can reveal what visitors are most interested in. Which pages get the most visits, or the longest page views? Where do people come from, and where do they go when they leave? Incorporate the terms they used to find you in the first place into message content, subject lines, calls-to-action and other communications, such as the preference page invitation.
Then, review the data manually. Tally key words and phrases used to find your brand. You'll quickly see a pattern you can use.
3. Target messages based on subscribers' past behavior.
Use behavior data to segment out inactive users (those who haven't opened or clicked in a set time period) to capture those who clicked on product links in earlier e-mails but didn't buy, or who bought from you once but never again.
I'm receiving this type of e-mail from an online florist whose subject line "Come Back and Save an Extra 10%!" reminds me I've purchased before. Because I had a previous good experience, I read their messages.
4. Interview the people who talk directly with your customers.
These include your customer-service or call-center people who should be familiar enough with your Web site to offer feedback or pass along comments about the site's usability or what customers are looking for when they call. Again, you can turn this information around to create useful segments that speak to customers' needs or interests.
5. See where people click in your e-mail messages.
If I'm promoting men's shoes but a large portion of my audience clicks the links for women's shoes, I can use that data to promote woman's shoes in the next offer.
Don't forget to include a link to a mobile-friendly version (typically a short text e-mail). If you see a lot of action on that link, that's the clue you have a large mobile readership. At the bottom of the text-only versions, offer a link and invite mobile readers to update their profiles and switch to that e-mail format.
Choice Vs. Behavior: Which Yields Stronger Segments?
I understand the value of behavior data, but still believe strongly in choice, or in segmenting on what subscribers have proactively told you they want. If you're unclear, ask them. If you absolutely can't ask, then use behavior data and test the segments every send to make sure they're delivering the results you expected and the returns you want.
Until next time, keep on deliverin'!
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Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.
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