Segementation = success?

19May10

From my experience working in the online industry, email marketing has usually been a large part of the businesses’ marketing regime. I’ve heard plenty of experts say that customer segmentation is the key to successful email campaigns, but I’m wondering if that’s always the case.

If we’re talking about huge, money-making companies, they’re likely to have the budget, customer base and employees to carry out a really effective email marketing campaign. Even my last employer, who was not ‘huge’ by any means, made the effort to have a small but dedicated email marketing team that produced professional looking, relevant and un-spammy emails.

While I was in that role, work started on segmenting the customer base. And it was done the right way – they asked customers to fill out a preference form, incentivised the process and made it as easy as possible for them. Initial response was fairly low (compared to the numbers of overall customers), but once the targeted email campaigns started, the results were extremely positive. However – by segmenting the customer base, each segment had to be catered for separately,  by providing a different email for each segment that had been created (4 in total).

This was a lot of extra work for all involved. But as we were learning, it was potentially well worth the rewards. However – would the same tactics work for a smaller company? In my example, there is only one person running the email marketing strategy. Due to previous segmentation work – there are 6 existing segments, and customers can be a member of any number of them simultaneously.

But the one lone marketer can’t possibly produce 6 marketing emails per week. And some segments are decidedly more popular than others. So, what does he/she do?

The way I see it – each customer will have a completely different and unpredictable experience. One customer might get 3 emails for 3 weeks in a row, and then hear nothing for 2 months. Once customer might hear nothing for 6 weeks after they sign up, and when they finally receive their first email 6 weeks letter, condemn it to spam as they have forgotten who the sender is. This sort of erratic behaviour can be confusing for the customer and potentially damaging for the brand.

This situation strikes me as being untenable and in this case, unfixable. At least, not without a lot more resources at hand.

I think the moral of my story is, while the (fairly limited) advice to email marketeers on the web is all about segmentation and personalisation of emails, (which I absolutely agree where this is possible), surely it’s more damaging to segment a customer base if you can’t provide them with a regular, predictable and useful newsletter?

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5 Responses to “Segementation = success?”

  1. 1 Erika

    Can you not, instead of producing 6 completely separate emails, produce email sections for your 6 subjects, as it were, and build each user’s email depending on their preferences? Every customer then gets the same number of emails, but what they contain is different. E.g.

    Customer 1
    Common intro
    Subj 1
    Subj 3
    Common end

    Customer 2
    Common intro
    Subj 3
    Subj 4
    Subj 6
    Common end

    etc….

    As you know, I have absolutely no experience of email marketing and am maybe over-simplifying things terribly 😉

    • Hi Erika, thanks for your feedback! Despite your proclaimed ‘lack of experience’, your suggestion is of course, eminently sensible.

      A problem can occur here when your segments don’t have any common theme. You could definitely put all the content into the same email and let the email switch in/out the relevant sections, but could different sections work together as successful content? Particularly if a customer happened to want mails about, for example, both sports AND fashion – two very different subjects.

      Then there’s the second, hypothetical problem that either the email software doesn’t have the capability to perform this technical wizardry, or the knowledge of how to make it work isn’t contained within the business.

      This approach definitely works well in a large number of cases though, as I’ve seen in practice!

  2. This may not be what you want to hear, but the main problem in email marketing is that the senders and receivers tend to disagree about what is spam and what is product information that will make the users day. This includes the reasoning of almost every companies that someone who is a customer will also automatically be interested in regular emails.

    The true trick is to segment out the small minority that actually welcomes the emails from the sender in question. (As for how to do that, I have no solution, apart from being greatly in favour of strict opt-in systems—but these will yield some false negatives and are unlikely to be popular with the senders.)

    • I think I’m fairly aware that many of the receivers of email will consider them to be ‘spam’ at times, even if they voluntarily signed up to receive them. But I also think that an approach such as the second one detailed in my post, will invite much higher levels of complaints of spam.

      A double opt-in system is definitely a good method to ensure that subscribers really meant to subscribe. I also think it’s important to cleanse databases of inactive users, which will constantly bring down all the statistics about how successful any mail campaign actually is.

      Overall, I think if a company of any size are going to delve into email marketing, they should have a really solid plan to begin with, making sure that they are able to sustain the level of communication they have promised their customers.

  3. it´s interesting dilemma that I´ve also been recently been tackling.

    every base list tends to have a core early openers and active clickers that most email software can isolate. they deserve special treatment, after all they are more interested.

    i find these segments for example tend to appreciate less html loaded emails and in many instances prefer text alone. with some deft usage of conditional tags and rss to to email that some platforms including free ones, offer you can save hours in composition/preparation of emails.

    but the above can be combined with a regular master list email that can be auto generated from a regular blog post.

    what would be useful would be a better way to visualize how each list has been contacted in a ical automatic for the people kind of way. Like an autodump of all send/schedule emails dates in a google calendar with a row for each list in your account.


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