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Using segmentation to survive—and win—the inbox war

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If you are not segmenting your email list or if you don't have a solid list hygiene procedure, it's almost certain that most of your email messages are heading for the junk folder or worse, en masse.

In addition to segmentation and hygiene, it is extremely important to make sure that your delivery rates are accurate and not inflated. Many email service providers are still using obtusely inaccurate metrics for delivery rates, hiding the fact that when email subscribers choose to have their messages directed to a bulk mail folder or trap them, the sending mail server still counts it as a message that has been received.

In other words, sent, received and delivered do not equal engagement.

This is why it is so vital that you segment your database and target your messages to meaningful subscriber groups. Segmentation increases the relevance of your messages and dramatically lifts the likelihood that your subscribers will engage with your communication.

Segmentation starts at the point of opt-in. When people are answering questions and opting in, you have a unique opportunity to collect the vital data you need to know about them. You should collect, at minimum, age, gender, ZIP code and job function. These four data points will allow you to extrapolate more complex assumptions about your subscribers.

For example, if a subscriber's ZIP or postcode and job function is known, I can fairly accurately determine his annual income without asking the direct question. For personalization purposes, I like also to collect first and last name, address and marital status when possible.

Psychographics are any attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests or lifestyles. One of the most effective ways to obtain psychographic information from your subscribers, clients and prospects is to survey them. Survey data can also be used to give feedback on your products and services in order to shape their development going forward.

Psychographic data identifies useful segments that, when overlayed with demographic and behavioral data, can be used to effectively score a subscriber's likelihood of engaging with a product or service.

An important caveat here is that what people think they want and what they actually want is sometimes not the same thing. I see consistent evidence of this in one of the consumer databases I work with: People who say they are interested in weight loss are, in fact, less likely to engage with email messages on the subject than the general population.

Proactively targeting subscribers based on their recent behaviors can also dramatically increase the results from your email messaging. At its most basic level, triggering email to go out on the anniversary of opt-in creates uplift in deliverability for two reasons:

First, the time that the triggered email goes out has a higher likelihood of corresponding to the time when the subscriber is typically engaged in such a way to take the time to read the message. Second, the fact that these emails are triggered individually and not in bulk means that there is no sending volume threat to the receiving Internet service provider, which massively increases the chances of the message being delivered to the inbox.

Adrian Saunders is senior VP and general manager with Lyris APAC, the Sydney, Australia-based division of email company Lyris Inc. He can be reached at asaunders@lyris.com.

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