The Rules of Engagement, Part 1

E-newsletters are a lot like dating. Remember dating? If you’re really interested in someone, you want to gain that person’s trust so that you will continue to engage with each other and you can progress to the next date… and beyond.

You can use your newsletters to gain the trust of your readers, and, with this trust, you can get to the next level of engagement and the next, until ultimately you lead your qualified readers to a buying decision. Successful newsletters — the ones that show you understand your audience — have recipients’ best interests at heart and are capable of delivering solutions for your audience’s problems. They make people want to do repeated business with you. This type of engagement can be very profitable. In fact, the Harvard Business School Publishing states that, with just a 5 percent increase in customer retention, service industries saw an average of 70 percent increase in profits. That’s one heck of a payback.

Three rules of engagement can lead you to successful reader relationships: target and segment your audience, create a dynamite content strategy, and deploy on the right e-marketing platform. Today, I’m going to talk about the first one, targeting and segmenting.

Know Thy Audience

Remember that as you create an ongoing, engaging relationship with your readers, your newsletter can provide you with a wealth of information. With data from each subscriber encounter, you can, with increasing proficiency, profile audience segments, gather valuable marketplace intelligence by mining the collected data, follow evolving trends with your readership, and individualize communications and incentives effectively. Here’s where to start:

  1. Determine your ideal customer profile. Create your target market segments by developing a specific audience profile for each. This will help you identify profitable opportunities, areas of growth potential, acceptable risks, and acceptable entry and exit barriers. Target profiles can be built with segmentation variables such as:

    • Demographics: age, sex, income, education, race, martial status, household size, geographic location, size of city, job function, intent to purchase, and purchasing authority

    • Geography: countries, states, Zip Codes, telephone numbers, ISPs, and mail services (such as AOL or Yahoo)
    • Psychographics: personality and emotionally based behavior linked to purchase choices; for example, whether customers are risk-takers or risk-avoiders, impulsive buyers or safe-and-sound purchasers
    • Lifestyles: hobbies, recreational pursuits, entertainment, vacations, and other nonwork-time pursuits
    • Belief and value systems: religious, political, nationalistic, and cultural beliefs and values
    • Life stages: chronological benchmarking of people’s lives at different ages (e.g., preteens, teenagers, empty nesters, etc.)
    • Geodemographics: people with similar demographics and psychographics living in clusters, or, as the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together”

  2. Create a database of your audience segments. Once you’ve built your target market profiles, you can start to build a database of email addresses with the data you’ve collected about each subscriber. You can then segment your readers based on the profile data, crafting your newsletter so it nurtures the individual needs and interests of your readers as well as your existing relationship with them.

  3. Develop audience fields. Your audience fields can expand over time to provide strategic insights into your readers’ purchases and buying influences as your relationship matures. In the technology marketplace, these fields might include existing hardware, software, and networking equipment; plan-to-buy information; or purchase influence or authority.
  4. Complement your existing database. Based on the target profiles and audience fields you’ve developed, you can complement your existing database entries with list building and opt-in strategies that include Web site registration, subscription offers, customer warranty and service cards, and email matching services. Remember that your database is a living, breathing entity — it is constantly evolving and is never complete.

Beautiful Choreography

With this as your starting point, you’ll be on your way to choreographing a very successful e-newsletter communication strategy. And, as you’ll see in my next article, you will then be able to create and develop specific content categories and resources that turn your newsletter into a custom communication program that helps you keep in touch with your prospects and customers. The more targeted your content, the more you can distinguish customers from prospects, nurture budding relationships, and decide which ones will give you the best return on your investment.

In the meantime, email to me your thoughts and comments at

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