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Relevant Content In Email Marketing

Published by Charles Brodeur

Relevance is the right content sent to the right audience, which results in high response rates, delivery rates and reader engagement. Advances in email list management software and customers’ increasing willingness to provide specific information about their preferences mean that email marketers can now use sophisticated segmentation in email campaigns to tailor messaging to be more relevant than ever.

Now, marketers can provide different messages to many different segments of their database, using all sorts of factors that affect buying behavior. This procedure, called segmenting, allows you to create a series of highly-focused mailing lists without having to re-enter the data every time or require subscribers to sign up for many different mailing lists in order to get the email they really want.

Why Segment Your List

Sure, batch-and-blast is easy. However, segmenting can help you boost the overall performance of your email marketing program because it can improve both revenue and list quality:

Revenue: Subscribers are more likely to open and act on mailings that more closely reflect their needs and interests. Studies have shown that you will see a greater return on your investment when you target your mailings. A campaign that uses segmenting based on past behavior, customer reported interests and statistics such as opens, clicks or conversions can bring in nine to 10 times more  revenue than one in which the entire list receives the same message.

List Quality: Segmenting can help you keep your mailing list fresh and engaged. For example, you can target subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked in your emails for a while and try to re-engage them by narrowing down the content to fit their interests. And for current or new subscribers, a subject line or offer that is most relevant to them will stand out in an overflowing inbox and is less likely to be reported as spam.

How Segmenting Works

You need two ingredients in order to segment effectively: some relevant data and list-management software that can create segments. Typically, you can get good, actionable data by using  information subscribers hand over to you when they sign up for your emails or register as a customer at your website (customer-reported data), as well as information they generate by how they act on your email messages or behave at your website (analytic data).

Customer-reported data:
    • Industry
    • City or location
    • Sales Volume
    • Number of Employees
    • Position / Title
    • Opens
    • Clicks on links to landing or forward-to-a-friend pages, contact information

One caveat: Don’t ask for too much information at registration. You probably will not have established the kind of trusted relationship with your prospective subscriber that would make them feel comfortable handing over demographic data such as household income. You can, however, create a list segment and send a targeted email inviting them to come back to your website and fill out a survey or preference page, which can collect the more useful data you need to sharpen your messaging even further.

Analytic data:

    • What they purchased or downloaded
    • Which pages they clicked on, in which order, and how long they stayed on each page
    • Which products they clicked on without acting on
    • Products they clicked on and added to their shopping carts
    • Whether they abandoned their carts
    • Whether they are first-time buyers or repeat customers
    • How much they spent
    • Which keywords they used to find your site

Even if you don’t collect much data from your subscribers through surveys and preference pages, you still have plenty of information based on their email history, such as how long they’ve been on
your list and how often they open or respond to your mailings.

Segment Non-Responders to Increase Deliverability

Let’s say you want to trim the dead wood from your mailing list to stop wasting money on emails that are being deleted unopened or are piling up in abandoned mailboxes. Segmenting can help you quickly identify your non-responders and either get them back as active customers or give you a reason to drop them from your list. To do this, send an email to anyone who hasn’t opened your emails for six months or longer and invite them either to update their preferences or unsubscribe. Anyone who doesn’t respond within a set time would be dropped.

However, assuming the contact is still valid, you don’t want to simply toss it away. After all, you probably had to spend something to acquire it and you’d like one last chance to recoup your cost with a sale or other display of interest. Consider creating a “We want you back!” segment. Choose non-responders based on a cutoff date or period of time that they have not been active. Create a segment of these addresses and a special message that acknowledges the lack of response and provides a special offer for re-engaging. Or, better yet, consider a Telemarketing campaign to research the contacts information a little more actively.  This campaign can also invite them to update their preferences or their primary email address, or provide unsubscribe instructions so that they can opt out.

If you get a low response – say, less than a 20 percent open rate and less than a 5 percent click rate on any link in the message – you might consider removing any non-responding addresses from your database at this point. Do this especially if you receive a markedly higher number of spam complaints forwarded from ISPs. You don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your sender reputation.

If you generate more positive responses, try the mailing one more time. Create a second list segment of all those who didn’t respond and send one more mailing, then drop anyone who doesn’t respond in, say, a week or so.

Some Final Thoughts on Segmentation

Segmenting is a powerful tool, but you need to use it judiciously. Keep these two qualifications in mind when you get ready to slice up your own database:

Does this segment make sense? You can create any kind of segment you want once you have the right data but the segment should always have a clear goal that advances your email program or your company goal.

Do these mailings violate subscriber expectations? Related to the first concern, be careful not to let segmenting backfire on you. Sending additional messages, no matter how relevant, can irritate your buyers if your messages come too often or wander into product areas that go beyond what they signed up for. And irritated customers are the ones who vote against you by ignoring your messages, unsubscribing from your list or reporting your email as spam to their ISPs.

Segmenting will help you reach your customers with more targeted messages. However, it’s a tool that must be used correctly to deliver its potential benefits.

Charles Brodeur
eCommerce Consultant
BigTurns Professional Services Ltd 
Vancouver, BC V6E 4R1

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