To Segment or Not to Segment

To segment or not to segment?

I don’t know the answer – do you?

I’m having this debate right now and would love your help. As a multi-product retailer, what is the role of e-mail? Is it to drive people to your website so they can choose what they like? Or, is it to give them such relevant e-mails (you always lead with what they have shown interest in) but open up the door to other options?

I’m on the fence on this one. What do you think?

Need more details? Let’s try this example.

Pretend you’re getting an e-mail from a multi-product retailer like Sears, Target, or even Walmart. At any point, your interest in these stores could vary wildly from shopping at them to get children’s shoes, to a pack of gum, to a screwdriver to jewelry. And, just because you bought one genre of product this trip, doesn’t mean that it’s an indicator of what you’ll buy from that location next time.

In the print world, these entities send you free standing inserts (FSIs) and print newspaper ads that blanket the best products and deals. Yet, in the social world, blogs and posts tend to be product specific – e.g., “Save $10 at Target on all Cosmetics This Weekend.” So, here we have very different channel-specific approaches.

The question is, what is the right approach in e-mail? There are two schools of thought:

  1. The mass message: Since you don’t know what these people will be inclined to buy, build the brand by creating messaging that shows a wide range of products and know that some will resonate and some won’t. In fact, maybe it will make your reader aware of something they didn’t even know they needed before seeing your e-mail.
  2. The segmented simple message: Stop trying to be all things to all people, and run the risk of seeing your message as irrelevant. Send messages that are targeted with products for “lookalike buyers” and keep the offering to a minimum. Allow the recipient to provide feedback through a preference center, which will give them the control to manage their relationship with you and make the most out of it.

Both of these options have merit. Both of them appear to have very valid points for and against the usage. If you had to put money on which one will move the monetary needle the most, and most effectively over time, which one would you choose?

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