In 2015, more than 200 billion emails were sent and received every day. By 2019, that number is expected to rise to nearly 250 billion.
What does that mean for email marketing? Two things. One, email is far from dead. But, two, the novelty has worn off. Sadly, firing off the same old, one-size-fits-all campaigns no longer works. So, what does? Segmentation.
What is email list segmentation
If you’re new to the topic, email segmentation is the process of grouping subscribers into meaningful categories in order to create and send content that pertains as directly to them as possible. Breaking down your list (singular) into multiple lists (plural) lets you tailor your campaigns and individual messages to fit the needs, interests, and customer-life-cycle stages of real people.
Unfortunately, getting started with email segmentation can be incredibly daunting. In fact, part of the problem is the overwhelming number of segmentation options available. As Ott Niggulis points out in the incredibly helpful “Email List Segmentation Strategies For High-Volume Ecommerce Stores”:
“Every company knows different things about their customers depending on what products and services they offer. For example, you might know if your customers use OneDrive or Dropbox for their files. If they prefer a certain brand of cereal for breakfast or how many children they have. All this can be successfully used.”
“There are no rules that are carved in stone on what information can or can’t be used for list segmentation – pretty much anything that can be tied back to a customer's email address is fair play.”
While the fact that “pretty much anything” is “fair play”, it’s good news for advanced users, for the rest of us… it’s near paralyzing. That’s why – to help you get started immediately – I’ve put together seven email segmentation lists you can create today.
Demographic segmentation – the most basic and commonly used segmentation tactic – builds lists around variables like age, gender, nationality, location, industry, income level, occupation, job title, marital status, and more. These human characteristics provide a potent jumping off point for businesses who find segmentation confusing.
Start off by using a single segmenting variable – like age or income level. If you’re feeling particularly courageous, utilize a combination of variables for better granularity. Where can you go to get demographic variables?
Once someone becomes a customer, you can automate the process of collecting demographic information by including key questions in your checkout process or by using a tool like Facebook’s Custom Audience.
Unfortunately, demographics are harder to capture prior to your visitors becoming customers. That’s why your site should include two opt-in methods: a short form and a long form. GetResponse does this by allowing tentative visitors to subscribe to their blog with just two fields:
While it only contains two form fields, GetResponse’s blog sign-up already contains useful demographic information based on the subscribers’ areas of interest.
But – for visitors who want more in the form of a white-paper or industry report – they raise the bar accordingly:
GetResponse’s “Marketing Resources” sign-up includes seven required fields instead of just two.
Likewise, take note of the radical difference between Shopify’s single-field sign-up form on their homepage and the far more in-depth form required to create an enterprise-level account on Shopify Plus:
Shopify’s free trial sign up requires nothing more than an email address.
Shopify Plus’ sign up, however, digs deeper into demographics by requiring visitors to fill out six different form fields.
The point of these examples is to follow suit. Create two forms – one short and one long – on your site and build your long forms around the demographic questions that are most relevant to your business.
Simply put, a lead is anyone who’s expressed interest in your business and raised their hand to connect through a host of online options like downloading an eBook, signing up for your newsletter, or attending a free webinar. Such followers are newly aware of your brand. They’re impressed with what they see but haven’t crossed over into the land of paying customer.
Approach this segment with caution; inundating leads with heavy-handed sales pitches or product specific deals will often drive them away. Instead, focus on earning your lead’s trust by adding value to their lives that doesn’t require a purchase.
It’s okay to email them about your products and services, but that can’t be the main focus. When you do push for the sale, major on testimonials and case studies from satisfied customers, provide freemium trials, always express empathy, and reaffirm your expertise not by talking about how great you and business are but by continuing to provide top-notch content that nurtures your newly formed relationship.
Nothing is more frustrating for an ecommerce company than customers who desert their shopping carts at the last minute. Sadly, this happens more often than we realize. As per the 2015 Remarketing Report by SalesCycle, over 75% of customers abandon their carts across all the sectors.
Customer abandonments occur due to a variety of reasons like hidden shipping costs, better price elsewhere, checkout hurdles, delayed checkouts, unsuitable delivery options, or just a last minute change-of-mind. The end result? An unnecessary loss for your business.
“If you can lower the abandonment rate, even by little, it can have a big impact on your bottom line,” writes Michal Leszczynski, the Content Marketing Manager at GetResponse.
Cart abandonment emails are an un-salesy way to remind would-be customers of their interest in purchasing. The key is being specific and including the exact product or products they left behind. Also powerful is to include time-sensitive discounts or free upgrades. Even better, set up a two-part abandonment sequence like Dot & Bo’s did:
Your first cart-abandonment email should simply remind would-be customers of the exact product or products they left behind.
Your second cart-abandonment email should again remind would-be customers of the exact product or products they have yet to purchase, but also include a limited-time incentive.
Once someone crosses the gulf between lead and customer, email marketers have a tendency to assume that their job is done. Don’t make that mistake. Current customers are hands down the most profitable segment in your list’s database.
Naturally, customers come in various forms. Categorizing them by their level of loyalty enables you to offer individualized services and expand sales. Some common groups:
These people probably made an impulse purchase, but never returned. Brainstorm ways to rejuvenate their attention and interest. Could you offer an enticing deal or incentive? Could you further educate them about your services? Could you conduct a simple survey to illuminate their needs and preferences?
Customers that make multiple purchases should still have their commitment to your brand reinforced and rewarded with a balance of promotional offers and educational material. Some examples include discounts tied directly to their level of past purchases, early bird announcements and exclusives, automatic renewal notices, or even just fun anecdotes from the life of your company.
Evangelists are the VIPs of your list’s segmentation. Not only do they buy exclusively from you, but they joyfully promote your business. Take extra-special care of this elite category with email invitations to private social media groups, beta-test offers, referral programs, and actively soliciting reviews and social media mentions.
Abby Hehemann’s Unwrapping Marketing Automation walks through how to create an entire automated workflow around precisely these kinds of users:
People residing in different geographic regions have different lifestyles, interests, and needs. That can sound obvious, but paying attention and responding to these subtle nuances will turbocharge your open-rates, click-through-rates, and conversion rates. And that's where location segmentation comes into play.
Time-based messages for different time zones, personalized travel direction for events, regional promotions, and location-specific sales are all ways you can cater to a subscriber's geographical coordinates.
For instance, say you’re having a winter sale in your online fashion store. You can tweak the subject and header image of your email to correspond with the recipient’s location, instantly grabbing their attention.
Few marketers are willing to travel the extra mile with geolocation personalization. Be the brand that stands out.
Segmenting by interests (i.e. topics) is a reliable, resourceful, and robust approach that organizes audiences based on similar tastes. By conducting onsite or email surveys, using long sign-up forms, creating customer profiles via UTM tags or studying browsing behavior, you can pinpoint what topics your audience cares about.
Sephora, for instance, does this masterfully. Two days after my wife browsed through a number of their mascaras, she received this email that opened not with a product pitch… but instead a series of tutorials that directly overlapped with the products she’s been viewing.
Then, at the bottom of the email, they included a link directly to the last mascara she’d viewed as well as other related products:
It happens. Subscribers who began excited to hear from you stop opening your emails and stop clicking through. Zombie subscribers hurt… often times even more than the people who say goodbye and unsubscribe. But disengaged audience members are not the end of the world. Start by quarantining them into a separate list, then go in one of two directions.
Plan A: Revive Them
One of the most effective methods to revive your list’s zombies is the “Magic-Nine-Word Email,” pioneered by Dean Jackson and Joe Polish of I Love Marketing. Here’s the script I myself have used for multiple clients:
Subject Line: Hi [Name]
Are you still interested in [Niche Product or Service]?
Plan B: Kick Them Out
Maintaining your email list takes money. Don’t waste precious resources on disinterested subscribers when you can focus on the ones who really care and, therefore, matter.
Hubspot’s bombshell post late last year -- Why We Unsubscribed 250K People From HubSpot's Marketing Blog & Started Sending Less Email -- offers a detailed look and both the pros and cons of kicking out zombie subscribers when all else fails.
Email Segmentation is Easier Than You Think
Email is far from dead. But the explosion of email to the daily tune of over 200 billion does mean one-size-fits-all approaches no longer work. Instead, you have to start segmenting your lists to create custom and personalized content based on the real needs, wants, and customer-life-cycle stages of your subscribers.
The seven we’ve just walked through represent the lowest-hanging segmentation fruits. Let me know in the comments if you’ve got another list segment that’s been paying off for you.