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May 26, 2017
Email Marketing  |  8 min read

How to Personalize Your Email List With Segmentation

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Kathryn Hawkins

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve (hopefully) got a growing list of email contacts. (If not, get started!)

But once you’ve gotten your list into tip-top shape, don’t go into full blast mode—in order to keep your valuable contacts from jumping ship, you need to focus on ensuring that every message they receive is truly useful to them.

Case in point: Let’s say you run an e-commerce company that sells apparel for young children. As we all know, kids grow up fast. So, while one of your customers might have purchased three sets of size six-month pajamas, you shouldn’t be marketing the same products to her six months later—but if you’re able to promote offers for some PJs that’ll fit her toddler, you’re likely to nab another sale.

How can you make sure you’re sending your prospects and customers the right offers at the right time? It comes down to a process called email list segmentation.

In this case, for instance, you can segment the list based on the child’s birthdate. As the child grows from infant to toddler to preschooler, you can send his parents offers for products that are a (literal) fit at every stage of growth—using a timed email sequence based on your young customer base’s typical sizing patterns. And hey, how about a happy birthday discount code?

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Email segmentation is a powerful alternative to the “batch and blast” email marketing practices of yore, and it’s a simple enough practice for even smaller businesses to effectively use. Here’s how to get started:

Gather your data

Before you can segment your email list, you need to know who you’re talking to. There are a number of ways to collect intel: simple lead-gen forms, surveys (possibly with a gift card enticement?), CRM tools that connect email addresses with job titles and companies, web visit history… Oh, and good old-fashioned conversation. Take notes on each customer or prospect, and consider using an email automation system with built-in web history tracking and lead scoring that can help you qualify your leads and group them according to distinct criteria.

“One of our most successful segmentation methods was a survey that we sent to a targeted list of prospects in order to further qualify them; their needs, their goals, their industry, their company dynamic, the types of things they would like to learn more about, and their greatest challenges,” says Jose Romero, senior digital strategist at Overit, a creative agency in Albany, New York.

Once you’ve gathered the data, what do you do with it? Here’s a look at how a variety of businesses are using email segmentation to optimize their communication strategies:

By role

Much as your B2C baby apparel company would market different products to the parent of an infant and the parent of a toddler, a B2B company might send different email messages to different people within a company. Collect enough information about your prospects in your email form to identify their roles within their organizations, so you can customize effectively.

For example, ERA Environmental Solutions, a software company targeting the oil and gas industry, sends different emails to a top executive and a junior chemist, “with particular focus on tone and the information we’re trying to convey,” says digital marketing specialist Matthew Mercuri. “We understand that the junior chemist won’t have the power to make massive software acquisitions or purchases, but we do understand that they have the ability of running it up the chain.”

If you’re targeting lower-level gatekeepers, focus on the educational content that you can provide, such as e-books, white papers, and videos. Once you’re able to connect with executives, focus your messaging more heavily on demo offers and lining up that all-important phone call or meeting.

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By needs

Before you begin your marketing efforts, it’s important to generate buyer personas so that you have detailed insights into who your customers are and what pain points you can help them solve. Once you’ve done this, you can group your subscribers based on these pain points, and craft customized messaging for each.

Evan Harris, co-founder and CEO of SD Equity Partners, works with a customer base that needs access to financing. So, for instance, “if their issue is that they need a loan quickly and are feeling stressed over their short timeline, then explain to them how working with you can help to alleviate this stress and get their loan approved in an efficient and timely manner.” Alternatively, if the challenge is that they haven’t been able to secure a loan due to past credit problems, that messaging would be reflected in the emails. Whether through surveys, forms, or one-on-one conversations, get to know your customers as well as possible so you’ll be able to find the messaging that hits them.

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By region

Have a few different stores? If so, it’ll be important to segment your list according to your audience’s geographic location. While some of your offers and news announcements might apply to the entire chain, others—such as special menu items or live music at a restaurant, for instance—will only apply to one. Make sure that you carefully segment your leads based on which store they’ll be likely to frequent so that they only receive the deals and promotions that are relevant to them.

Is your only shopfront online? Regional marketing can still apply to e-commerce businesses: For instance, if it’s 30 degrees colder in Maine than California, perhaps it’s not the time to brag about beach weather and shilling sunglasses to your chilly New England customers quite yet.

By stage in the marketing funnel

You’ll often be marketing to several groups of people: Prospective customers, existing loyal customers, and past customers you’re hoping to win back. Although you want the same thing out of each of them—a sale—you’ll need to target them in different ways.

“Few things are more irritating to an existing customer than bombarding him with emails that give him the impression you don't know who he is,” says Jacob Dayan, partner and co-founder of Chicago-based Community Tax.

Some marketers go even further, using website data to showcase who’s truly interested in your offers. “Of prospective customers, we segment those who show the greatest interest versus those who appear only moderately curious,” says Dayan. “We reserve our most urgent offers for potential customers who are making repeated visits to our website and consuming lots of content.”

And what about the elusive “win-back” customers—the ones who’ve left you but you’re hoping to reconnect with? Segment them with a special message showcasing everything they’ve lost, and consider including a special promotion if they decide to come back. At the frozen yogurt chain Pinkberry, for instance, deserters are greeted with a photo of—well, dessert—and an offer for a free froyo with a week to redeem it.

Finally, why go to all the effort to send highly targeted campaigns to your customer base, rather than rely on bulk messaging? Well, one look at the numbers should be pretty convincing: An e-commerce jewelry-making retailer,, tested targeted email marketing to segmented lists against a standard batch-and-blast campaign and found that customers converted to their offers at a rate of 208 percent compared to the non-targeted offers. Take the time to get to know your audience and understand each group’s unique needs, and in turn, you’ll be rewarded with loyal customers who genuinely care about your company.

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