Question: Why—and how—should I segment my e-mail lists?

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Answer:  Segmenting is all about improving relevancy—sifting through your master list until you find the subset (or subsets) of your audience that will find your message most compelling and relevant. The trouble is, segmenting takes a great deal more effort than the old "batch and blast" technique of sending out as many messages as possible to the widest audience. Some marketers can’t help but see segmenting as a lose-lose proposition: It costs more and requires more effort than blasting—and it receives fewer responses. If you continue to send every message to every customer, you threaten your customer relationships and your brand value.

E-mail marketers can choose from a wide variety of segmentation options. The option you pick will depend on the richness of your customer data and the extent of your technical sophistication. Following are just a few of the most basic segmentation methods you can easily use to increase the relevancy of your e-mail campaigns:

  • Demographics: Quantifiable customer characteristics, including age, gender, education and income level.
  • Geographic location: The customer’s city, state and distance from your nearest retail outlet.
  • Customer preferences: The frequency and types of messages that most interest them.
  • Analytic scoring: Behavioral or demographic analysis to identify the customer characteristics that will most likely result in a particular behavior (e.g., a purchase).
  • Online behavior: A customer’s e-mail use, past opens or click-throughs, Web page visits and conversions.
  • Customer type: Whether the customer is a repeat buyer, inactive or a new customer.
  • Customer satisfaction: A customer’s past experience with your company.
  • Timing or event based action: A customer’s recent action or an upcoming event, such as a purchase or a subscription renewal.

Bill Nussey is CEO of Silverpop (, a permission-based e-mail marketing solutions provider, and author of The Quiet Revolution in E-mail Marketing.

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