Segmenting Lists Matters for Email Marketing and Here’s Why

October 3, 2013

I used to work for an environmental organization whose update email was lacking. It was far too long, the subject line was always boring (“April 2013 Email Update” is a file name, not a subject line!), and there weren’t enough pictures. On the back end, the distribution list wasn’t segmented at all, meaning every person – donors, policy wonks, board members – got the exact same email at the exact same time. These subscribers don’t have the same reason for reading, so not segmenting the list was a missed engagement opportunity.List segmentation allows you to target your audience in a way other outreach, like social media and blogs, don’t allow, because the content is sent to individual instead of the general public. So, after overhauling the general look of the email, my first move was to pull out the Hill email addresses, whose members I knew were more interested in our policy work than making a personal donation. This didn’t take much time – I dumped our list into Excel, split columns at the @ symbol, sorted alphabetically, then pulled out the handful of government domains – and it had a profound impact.

Tailored content

If you have an advanced website, users can check boxes about the type of information they want to receive when they sign up (for instance, I signed up for both morning updates and popular opinions, but didn’t pick Sports updates, from the Wall Street Journal). In this scenario, the lists get different emails. However, some of the biggest power of list segmentation comes from tailoring content within the same email blast. 

You may be thinking That’s great, but we already spend a lot of time getting content for a single email, and I can’t imagine spending tons of time to tailor for lists. Fear not. The changes I made for the Hill email were really just small pivots. I knew they’d be interested in policy papers and floor comments that most of our list could care less about, so I added those links where appropriate. In subject line I always highlighted the policy topic, which I only sometimes did in the general email. For most emails our “Donate NOW” button occupied the high-value upper right-hand quarter, but for the policy list I had a “More ocean politics” link, directing to our policy page. All together, these changes took less than five minutes, but made a substantial change in the number of opens and clicks.

I’ve seen this done a million ways: separating by location, so you don’t send minor LA event invites to people living on the East Coast; a separate list for major gifts donors, making sure all links go to a high-ask or more personalized site, keeping the relationship high-level; having a different tone in email for new subscribers as opposed to long-time subscribers.

See a group behavior

When I segmented the Hill addresses, I was also working to improve the overall newsletter click-through rate (CTR) and open rate (OR). I A/B testing publication times, looking for which achieved the best results. What I found is that the behavior of the Hill list was substantially different than our general list, which consisted primarily of personal email addresses from donors. This isn’t shocking, since people behave differently at work than they do at home.

I found that Hill staffers open more emails sent around 11 a.m. on weekdays, about the time they get back from morning meeting. Personal email addresses, on the other hand, tend to be opened more on the weekends or early morning, when people are on their own time. As I learned more about my list, I was able to further target people based on when they opened emails.

Better metrics

One of the most unexpected results of segmenting Hill staffers was seeing which offices opened our emails religiously – and it included many offices that never returned call and meeting requests from our government relations department. Having a separate list allowed me to run a metrics report in seconds and give it to that team, which used the information to better target offices. With this information, he could see which Chiefs of Staff read, clicked, or forwarded our emails, and sometimes when on the Hill the team would stop in just to say hi, knowing the individual knew the organization.

This wasn’t the only way I used these metrics. I decided to run our open list against our inactive donor list, and found that quite a few people who no longer gave to the organization continued to read our content religiously. I worked with the development department, and this information allowed us to initiate a reactivation campaign.

With just a few clicks I was able to better engage readers and collect more meaningful metrics. What can segmenting do for your list?

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