Two Approaches to Get Started With Segmentation

The hardest thing about effective e-mail marketing segmentation is getting started. Do it anyway. Your program can’t survive in today’s engagement-driven deliverability world without it.

Making effective e-mail connections that drive response and revenue requires segmentation. That sounds fine in concept. Many marketers know they need to do more segmentation in order to engage subscribers and break through the clutter. However, many of us also struggle to get access to the data and in developing creative approaches that match the customer lifecycle. I urge you to not be intimidated, but to demand greater data integration and access from your vendors and to start to test new content and creative approaches so that you can be automated and fully functioning in 2011.

Ease into segmentation to avoid overtaxing your precious resources, and use the early tests to learn about subscriber interests and understand key success metrics. That will build your confidence and help you make a case for automation, data integration, and creative services – all of which are essential for advanced segmentation and higher results.

There are two ways to get your arms around your segmentation opportunity, both with the goal of “right message, right person, right time.”

  1. Segment by customer profile and craft messages around customer demographics, firmagraphics, and behavior.
  2. Segment by customer life stage and speak to customers who are in specific life stages.

Customer profile segmentation: With profile approaches, even simple segmentation can make a big difference. Separate your file into large segments that distinguish subscribers by a factor that has significance to your business. Clickers are a good place to start. Those subscribers who have clicked on something in the past month are more likely to be engaged than those who have not. You can do less storytelling with clickers. A retailer may simply alert clickers that the sale continues until Friday, or put in specific sale amounts for pants, sweaters, and scarves. A business software marketer may send clickers three titles of the most popular whitepapers, or an invitation to participate in a LinkedIn community. In both cases, clickers need less background and more options to get them to act, whereas non-clickers may need more confidence or education prior to taking action.

Why burden the clickers with information they don’t need, and which will just get in the way of their actions? At the same time, don’t skimp on that critical storytelling information for non-clickers, as they clearly don’t have a strong connection with the offer yet.

Other “starter” segments that are worth testing are new subscribers (vs. long time), buyers, geography (North vs. South or Coast vs. Heartland), and gender.

Draw the segment lines around key drivers for your business – differentiators that give you a clear path to a custom message that will make an impact. For many B2B marketers, the most important driver of customization is job title. For many retailers, the key data point is most recent purchase. Don’t choose geography if location has no bearing on purchase behavior. Your business is unique, but good marketers understand the key customer attributes that lead to increased sales and satisfaction. Focus there for your segmentation and you will be rewarded with the biggest lift.

Life stage segmentation: To effectively segment by life stage, first abandon the notion that every e-mail program has to be a long-term affair. Short-term e-mail conversations can be even more powerful, particularly because they address a specific need at the time when the need is most acute. A four-message reminder series that disrupts the messaging flow around renewal time can be much more powerful than the generic newsletter which comes like clockwork every two weeks all year long. So why not replace the newsletter with custom messaging for all customers who are up for renewal this quarter? Similarly, consider this list of customer life stages, and create a custom series of two to 20 messages that cluster around the stage. Remember to think through the dialog of the conversation if the message series is longer than three messages so that you can intensify, cease, or adapt the message stream to accommodate response. For example, stop pitching the purchase mid-stream if someone has already upgraded from free trial.

  • Purchase
  • Upgrade
  • Download
  • 90 day anniversary
  • Choose competitor
  • Renewal
  • Event attendance
  • Event no show
  • Service call
  • Start/end free trial
  • Long website visit
  • Non-activity

Remember that not every e-mail program has to be long-term. The goal of “right message, right person, right time” can be well-achieved through segmentation that focuses on a specific life stage, as well as customer profile.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to nurturing engagement via segmentation strategies? Perhaps we can address them in a future column, or learn from others’ handling of them.

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