The Ultimate Guide To Segmenting Your Email List

Shai Schechter • 2017

First rule of marketing: show the right message, to the right person, at the right time.

Consciously or subconsciously, you’re working toward this with every bit of marketing you do:

  • You’ve thought about who your ideal buyer is: the right person
  • You think about their pain points, their goals, and how your product helps them get there, to make sure your sales page sends the right message
  • And you’ve set up marketing automation to email your subscribers at the right time: like after they opt in to your list and at strategic points after that to encourage them to buy

You also realized some time ago that your ideal buyer can’t be “everyone”, because your marketing would become so generic that it resonates with exactly no one.

Even if your product is perfectly suited to a few different kinds of buyer, it’s tough to write marketing that appeals to all of them.

Which is why companies niche their products. An accounting SaaS for freelancers. Email marketing for professional bloggers.

And why it’s so much easier to explain the benefits of your product when you’re speaking one-on-one with someone you meet. You get to choose what to say based on their specific needs.

It’s so much easier and more effective to market your products when you can speak to a narrow audience. Where you can understand and empathize with their needs. Explain how they, specifically, can benefit.

A product just for them.

That’s the kind of marketing that sells.

So why not become hyper niched? Instead of selling to professional bloggers, sell to paleo-diet food bloggers who started their businesses in order to make enough money to put their daughter through college?

Writing sales copy would become a hell of a lot easier…

But you’d lose all those other customers.

Just because they didn’t fit your hyper-specific mold.

Customers who could also be an excellent fit for your product.

Niching like that would be fantastic for writing effective sales copy, but such a waste of all those other great customers in practice.

You want the benefits of that degree of niching, but without locking out so many other perfect customers, and without having one-on-one sales calls with every visitor to your web site!

How can you get all the benefits of one-to-one communication-of hyper-niched communication-but at scale?

How segmentation can help

When you have a one-on-one conversation about your product, you’re subconsciously identifying traits and characteristics-collecting data-about the person you’re conversing with.

As humans we’re able to use that data to affect what we say next.

Say you’re selling accounting software, and get into a conversation with Sara the restaurant owner.

You can tell her specifically how your software helps restaurant owners.

You can show her examples of other restaurant owners who got tons of value from your product.

And when she tells you that she’s worried because she was hit with a hefty tax penalty last year, you can tell her how your software helps avoid tax penalties.

You don’t have the luxury of that kind of back-and-forth conversation at scale.

And changing all your marketing to suit that one conversation would make no sense, because everyone on your list is different.

But there will be commonalities.

  • There will be other restaurant owners on your list (as well as some lawyers, and some dog walkers)
  • There will be other people who, regardless of the industry their work in, have that same ‘tax penalty’ fear as Sara has
  • There will be people who have never visited your sales page; people who have read it but not bought; and people who have bought various products from you
  • And so on and so on

Segmenting is all about dividing your subscribers into ‘buckets’, each bucket labeled with a description of the type of subscribers that belong in it. A subscriber can exist in many buckets.

  • Selling to bloggers? Segment Food Blogger vs Travel Blogger vs Finance Blogger
  • Selling a course to help people form better habits? Segment Wants to get out of bed earlier vs Wants to stop nail-biting vs wants to stop procrastinating

Without identifying these different segments of your audience, and tailoring your marketing to each, you have to resort to generic marketing to attempt to speak to all those people at once:

  • Your web site has to refer to all your customers using “catch-all” language that encompasses all of them
  • You’d end up showing a testimonial about how your product helped someone who may be nothing like the person reading
  • And you’d be showing an email opt-in across your web site and your blog-even to customers who have been on your list for years

If your copy doesn’t resonate with your readers, they leave. And the bullet points I just listed are a recipe for copy that doesn’t resonate anywhere near its full potential.

But once you start segmenting your list, everything changes.

For Sara, the restaurant owner:

  • Your sales copy can talk about how your product helps restaurant owners
  • Your testimonials can be from other restaurant owners
  • Your case studies from the restaurant industry can be placed above the others
  • Instead of showing an email opt-in as the CTA on your blog (she’s already on your list!), you’d show an ad for your entry level product…
  • …and if you know her motivation for opting in in the first place, that ad can speak directly to that motivation

Now, even though you’re communicating at scale, you’re starting to get all the benefits of a one-on-one conversation.

By tweaking your marketing to suit the segments your reader belongs to, you’re able to write content that resonates, no matter who’s reading.

And content that resonates is content that converts.

Three questions often get asked at this point

Q1: “This is great, but how can I actually implement segmentation? Do I need some complex database set up and expensive software?”

A: No. All you need is an email marketing tool (e.g. Drip): in many cases segmentation as simple as “set a tag or custom field on the subscribers who fit each segment”. There are more advanced ways, too, but for implementing the basics that’s all we mean when we talk about segmentation.

Q2: “Other than the “People who have bought Product X” segment, how do you actually get the data about who someone is and what will resonate with them?”

A: That’s known as profiling. I’ll touch on it a few times through this article, but it really deserves an article or two of its own - watch this space.

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Q3: “In what ways can / should I segment my list?”

Read on! What follows is an overview of four powerful types of segmentation you should be looking to implement for your list. I’ve been doing personalization consulting for a while now, and what I see over and over is that most companies are doing none or one of these.

Implementing just a couple puts you way ahead of the pack, with significantly stronger and better-converting marketing.

What your subscribers have bought / where they are in your funnel

Almost every marketing site today still advertises products to users who already own them.

And almost every marketing site and blog is showing an email opt-in form to everyone - even existing subscribers.

If an existing subscriber is on your site, you don’t want to invite them to re-opt-in… you want to use that space to promote a product you think they’ll be interested in.

No matter which checkout platform you use there will be a way to tag subscribers to say what they’ve bought, every time a purchase takes place.

This is great, because it means you can:

  • Stop advertising that product to them in your emails
  • Stop promoting that product to them on your web site
  • Start promoting the next product in your ladder, instead
  • Know which of your marketing efforts are working, and where there’s room for improvement

Who your subscribers are

Think about the kinds of things different people have in common in your audience, and the traits that would be valuable for you to know:

  • What industry are they in?
  • What’s their current skill level around the thing you help them with?
  • What’s their role in their company?

They’re all questions that would affect how you promote your product in a one-on-one conversation - so create segments for them in your email list so you can start personalizing based off the answers to them.

Other examples of ‘who’ segments:

  • Their country
  • Their income level
  • The size of their company
  • Their position within the company

The number one question readers are asking themselves when they read your marketing is:

Is this for me?

Segmenting and personalizing based off of who they are makes it much more likely the answer will be “yes”.

What your subscribers want AND need (their “Motivation”)

If you’re selling accounting software, some people will want to buy it so they can produce nicer invoices. Others will be fed up of fighting with Excel, whereas others will want it to help them avoid tax penalties.

Or, if you’re selling courses that help people build better habits, different subscribers will have different habits they want to break.

Those problems they have with their current situation, and those destinations they want to get to, are their motivation.

In real life you’d change what you say to these different people based on their current motivation, even though the fix is the same: your product. The way you speak to them in your marketing should change too.

Segmenting based off of motivations like these is powerful, because people are drawn to marketing copy that calls out their current pain points and desires.

The number two question readers are asking themselves when they read your marketing is:

Will this get me to where I want to be?

Segmenting and personalizing based off of motivation makes it much more likely the answer will be “yes”.

Where your subscribers have shown interest

If someone has visited a sales page on your site, but hasn’t bought, that’s incredibly valuable information for you to know.

If you can gather data about how interested someone is in a product, you’re in a strong position for re-engaging with them to attempt the sale:

  • How many times have they visited the sales page?
  • How much time did they spend on it / how far did they scroll?
  • Did they start checkout but then bail?
  • Where did they go instead?

Many companies are tracking this at the broad level (they can tell you that e.g. for every 100 people who visit the sales page, 31 make it to checkout, and 19 buy).

But few are tracking this in any meaningful way at the individual level.

And that’s where all the power is, because that’s what lets you re-engage with the individuals who didn’t buy.

What next?

Segmentation on its own is technically meaningless. It’s just a bunch of extra tags and custom fields in your email marketing tool.

But once you start segmenting, you can start personalizing your marketing and analyzing your segments based off of the segments you create. And that’s where the magic happens.

I routinely see conversion rates double after implementing a fraction of the segmentation I’ve talked about here - followed by the simplest of web site personalization based off of those segments.

Segmentation is the foundation on which so many conversion-boosting strategies and tactics can be laid.

Start segmenting your list now and you’ll be able to:

  • Change case studies and testimonials on your sales pages to suit who’s reading
  • Niche the headings and language you use on your site to better resonate
  • Show different calls to action on your web site and in your emails, on-the-fly, based on where someone is in your funnel and what you’ve identified they’ll buy next
  • Send emails to subscribers who fit certain criteria, or swap out content to better appeal to each recipient
  • Know how much a customer in each of your segments is worth to the penny, helping you make better decisions about where to focus your marketing spend
  • Target Facebook ads only to people on your list who have specific wants and motivations
  • And so, so much more.