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Email segmentation: Organize your way to better email performance

by Kate Lindemann  |  October 1, 2020

7 min. read
Email segmentation represented by paper airplanes

Tired of seeing your well-crafted emails go unread? If you’re taking a one-size-fits-all approach to email marketing, you’re probably not sending the right emails to the right people. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix.

Segmenting your email contacts is easy to do and has a huge impact on email performance. Whether you want to refine your email segmentation strategy or start from scratch, we’ll walk you through the process, so you can send emails customers want to receive.

What is email segmentation?

Email segmentation divides email contacts into groups or categories. Segmentation helps marketers send more relevant emails, making it easy to customize campaigns to different groups of subscribers. Contacts can be segmented according to any criteria, including location, customer type, purchase history and more.

Why segmentation is worth it

Segmented emails work better

Segmented email campaigns perform better than unsegmented ones – a lot better.

Mailchimp crunched the numbers, creating one of my favorite email marketing statistics: segmented campaigns got 23% more opens and 49% more click-throughs on average. That’s a big jump, but not a surprising one. Of course people are more likely to engage with emails designed around their interests and needs.

Graphic showing 49 percent more click-throughs in segmented campaignsSegmentation boosts your brand image

Segmenting your emails also helps build a positive brand image.

Email marketing allows you to drop in on your customers in their homes and offices. That intimate setting offers a unique opportunity to connect, but it can also backfire. Any missteps – like emails your customers don’t care about – feel all the more intrusive on their home turf.

Using segmentation to tailor email content to different groups creates a more positive interaction with your brand. And it decreases the odds of alienating your customers with irrelevant information.

7 smart ways to segment

There is no ‘best’ way to segment an email contact list. How you categorize your contacts is very individual. It depends on your industry, company and the types of emails you send.

Take segmenting by gender. In fashion retail, it’s a no-brainer. It makes sense to market menswear to men and womenswear to women. If you’re selling software instead of clothes, however, gendered campaigns are more likely to result in a PR disaster than a better click-through rate.

Woman looks annoyed at inappropriately gendered email
Not every segmentation strategy is appropriate for every situation.

Need some ideas to jumpstart your brainstorming? Here are some solid email segmentation strategies that might work for you:

1. Location, location, location

Knowing where your customers are opens up a lot of email segmentation options. Marketing a food delivery app? Remind customers which beloved local restaurants are just a click away. A travel agency? New Yorkers probably aren’t going to book a vacation to New York. You could leave them out of that campaign – or try to entice them to Miami instead.

Man in Times Square
The last place most New Yorkers want to go.

2. Position in the sales funnel

Different email campaigns can guide potential customers through each stage of the marketing funnel. And once a lead turns into a customer, your marketing strategy will change again. Now you’re helping them stay engaged and get the most out of your product.

3. Purchase history

Your customers’ purchase history is a treasure trove of segmentation opportunities. You can market your latest luxury product to big spenders and make sure more price-sensitive customers never miss a sale. Or, you can target customers with items that go with their latest purchase. If a customer just bought a new sofa last week, they’re not going to buy another one today. But while they’re redecorating, it’s the perfect time to tempt them with a lamp or a side table.

4. Loyalty status

Loyalty programs foster a feeling of exclusivity. Sending highly invested customers special offers leaves them feeling like insiders – and makes an already strong connection to your brand even stronger. You can also email these customers more frequently. They’ve already shown they like your brand, so they probably won’t mind if you pop into their inbox more often.

Email from Sephora's Beauty Insider program5. Industry and type of company

Segmentation is no less important when selling to businesses. Make sure small companies know how your product helps them punch above their weight. Tempt big corporations with bulk pricing options. Got a discount for nonprofits? Now you’ve got a direct way to let them know.

6. Job title

Don’t forget: Businesses are made up of people – and different people have different priorities. Should you emphasize money-saving benefits or ease of use? If you know your contacts’ job titles, you can explain how your product makes their job easier.

7. Engagement with past campaigns

People who clicked through in your last campaign probably liked what they were seeing. It’s a safe bet they’d be interested in similar content. If you’ve got more of the same, send it their way.

On the other hand, someone who didn’t even open your last email might have been busy. Or they’re just not that into that kind of update.
Woman clicking "read more"

Make email segmentation work for you

Decide what segments make sense for your business

Think about how your business is structured. You’ve probably already segmented your customers in some way. How is your sales team organized? Do you pitch differently to different kinds of customers? How do you group products on your website?

Now you just need to carry that structure over into your email marketing workflow.

Don’t overthink it

Start simple. It’s good to have options, and even different layers of segmentation. But you don’t need to go too crazy slicing and dicing your contact list. Think about the trade-offs between utility and effort.

It might be useful to send an email just to new customers, or just to customers in North America. But as fun as it might be to design a campaign for workaholics, you probably don’t need a segment of people who open their work email on Saturdays.

People filtered into email segments
Email segmentation is more about filtering and tagging contacts than walling them off.

Some people are put off by the concept of segmentation itself – they don’t want to fracture their customer community. But the reality of segmentation is much less rigid than the name makes it seem. You’re not permanently siloing your contact list. Instead, think of segments as an overlapping series of tags and filters. When it makes sense to reach out to a smaller portion of your list, you can. When it doesn’t, you don’t have to!

How to get organized

Once you’ve decided how to group your contacts, you’ll need a way to keep track of them. Most email marketing systems use features like tags and lists to make it easy to group contacts into segments.

For these features to work, you’ll need to keep your records clean and complete. This requires a bit of work upfront, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Tangled threads unravel into neat ballsFortunately, many types of segmentation can be automated. For example, you can sync your email lists with your CRM so that when you close a deal, contacts are automatically moved from the ‘lead’ segment to the ‘customer’ segment.

If you don’t have enough information about your contacts to create the segments you want, you can start gathering it going forward. But don’t go overboard. Filling out a form feels like more of a commitment than just entering an email address. Make things easy for customers by not asking for more information than you need.

Detailed email subscription formPut your segments to work

Now that you’ve got your segments set up and organized, it’s time to reap the rewards. Enjoy your newfound flexibility! Experiment with different types of content and different cadences. Design different campaigns for different segments. Or see if just a design tweak is enough to make the same campaign work for two audiences.

Use A/B testing and your email system’s analytics tools to track differences in performance. Pay attention to what works for specific segments (and what doesn’t), and refine your strategies over time.

And remember, your segments aren’t set in stone. You should shoot for some degree of consistency. But if something’s not working, reevaluate your strategy and resegment as needed.

Illustration of A/B testingLet’s recap

Email segmentation is a relatively easy way to tailor your email marketing to large groups of customers. With a little structure and organization, you can increase high-quality engagement with your brand – and send fewer irrelevant emails.

The best way to group your email contacts will depend on your industry, company and the types of emails you send.

As you decide which segments are right for you, never lose sight of the customer’s point of view. Don’t segment for the sake of segmenting, but rather to create a better experience for them.