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Segmenting your Subscribers

November 15, 2011

The smart segmentation of a database is the practice of making email messages more targeted to individuals by dividing subscribers into groups of people with similar likes.  In mailing lists you will find that there are people with many different interests and likes, so it makes sense to identify them and use segmentation to improve results by sending appealing, targeted content.  Good segmentation proves to recipients that you know what you are doing and there is thought behind each send.

Help getting started

To move away from the less effective ‘blast’ emailing approach, which involves sending a single generic email to your whole list, you need to start understanding the differences in your audience to convince them to open, engage and convert more often.

Setting your objectives

Objectives to consider are increasing relevance, increasing ROI or improving response rates. When deciding how to segment a database it is important to identify your main objectives. Consider what will make the campaign a success and what do you want to achieve it? Keep in mind that some of your subscribers need to be treated differently. New customers compared to existing customers will have a different relationship with your brand and if you recognise this, you’ll be away.

Segment on arrival

Segment your new subscribers early as possible. The best place to start is to determine what makes the most sense for marketing your product or service. Take a look at your current database and the information you already hold to see how useful this could be with your segmentation. Consider all the points at which you collect data and the effectiveness of this process. Make sure your subscription form gives people the opportunity to specify which segment they belong to. Do this by asking them to select a topic, product or other area of interest.

Back to basics

Build mailing lists to include additional information as you will need more than just an email address!  Even very basic details such as gender or age will help get you started.

As you are reaching out to individuals, each new segment targeted will multiply the level of content needed. This applies to a single email to each segment, or launching targeted newsletters. As this will take more time, make sure you have the resources in place to deliver relevant content.

For better performance, test your emails against control groups to make sure you’re hitting the mark with each segment. You can do this through open rates, click-throughs and conversions.
Understand your segments

A key area of segmentation is identifying your prospects from your customers. Look at dividing subscribers between existing clients, or those who have already done business with you, from those who haven’t. Identifying a customer from a prospect make a big difference as to how you should be introducing your products and services and will allow for a much stronger email marketing strategy.

Reviewing current statistics will allow you to obtain valuable information on individual preferences to recognise key segments.

Separate your active subscribers from your inactive subscribers.  Consider separating subscribers who have clicked in your email within the last few months, with those who haven’t. Then test frequency or content for the less active subscribers who are damaging your response rates.

Profile v Behavioural

Profile based segmentation is basic demographic segmentation through profile data (age, gender, location etc) and can be one of the most effective ways to target your message. This data should be captured at the initial contact stage.  Whilst profile based data forms a strong basis for a customer focused email strategy, it is reliant on customers providing you with the information.  A very powerful way to segment is to look at click behavior and browsing or purchase history, as this will give you a deeper understanding of your customers, so messages can bepersonalised and tailored.


Once the data has been segmented, you need to integrate it into your creative design. Testing will reveal the best approach for each segment and will help you avoid over-emailing subscribers who are not as interested in the message. Simple subject line testing or segmentation involving user-based content will allow you to reward customers on a certain date for example.

Great results

Taking the time to deliver customised content can make a significant difference with the engagement of your recipients and build on the valued and trusted relationship between you and your customers.

Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 Wisdom Report, showed a sample of doctors who segmented and personalised their newsletters compared to another sample of doctors didn’t.  The doctors who delivered targeted content and used personalised subject lines had an average open rate of 41% against an average of 22% for those who didn’t. Sharing of newsletter content by “Forward to a Friend” and social media increased by an average of 25%, whilst those doctors without targeted content showed only a 3% sharing rate.  


Delivering targeted content to segmented lists will help any business with their email marketing campaigns. Just take the time to review your list and what you know about them, to start delivering the content your customers want and need.
By dividing your database into smaller chunks or people who share the same characteristics, you can then begin to regard them differently with more targeted emails, to help you to build relationships and improve ROI.

According to Return Path (May 2009); 85% of companies that collect personal data from subscribers do not use the information topersonalise their email marketing to subscribers.

For further information and reading, why not download the Guide to Data and Analysis and Segmentation Whitepaper, by the DMA.

Posted by Jenni Malley

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