Why Segmentation Is So Important in Email Marketing | npENGAGE

Why Segmentation Is So Important in Email Marketing

By on Dec 2, 2010


In today’s modern email marketing environments, lots of focus is placed on design and content – which we can all agree are very important aspects of any email campaign. However, there is one component of soliciting your donors which should be considered for any and every communication you generate via email. This component is called segmentation!

What Is Segmentation?

Segmentation is essentially a methodology by which we distribute the constituents we want to communicate with into various buckets or groupings. We are breaking the audience and database into manageable groups for the purpose of communicating with them. This is typically accomplished by defining portions or segments of your audience who have similar characteristics or interests.

One of the reasons why this is important is because it helps you build rapport with your audience by proving that you know something about them and their habits and/or interests. As fundraisers, we are in the business of building relationships and knowing who we are talking to helps us to tailor our messages and ultimately communicate in a more meaningful manner. Your database system should allow you to build a profile for your top segments. In doing so, you should think about the common needs and interests shared by the various segments. That information will be utilized to determine how you will communicate or speak to that group moving forward and should provide a common-thread for future communications.

Segmenting your lists will lead to more targeted messaging and is proven to boost response rates and help to reduce unsubscribes. It will also help to prevent people from marking you as Spam.

The worst thing you can do: not segment your audience

If you don’t segment, you are treating all of your recipients as if they are the same person or the same type of person. In today’s competitive fundraising environments, it is all the more important to treat each donor as if  they are the most important person to your organization (because they are). Non-targeted “blast” messages assume that each person has the same interests and relationship with your organization.

Basic Rules of Segmentation

Using segmentation can drastically improve your response rates, increase the value of your communications for the recipient, help reduce unsubscribes, and prevent list fatigue. Most segmentation efforts are based upon three key factors:

  • Demographics and Lifestyle – these are observable and traceable metrics such as location, age, region, marital status, etc.
  • Preference and Opinion – this is something that you can survey or poll your donors on, and collecting this information via an online portal is a great idea.
  • Behavior – again, this is observable and traceable, and is based upon prior actions and not intentions or preferences.

Past behavior is the best metric or predictor for future actions and behavior, so you should be tracking this in your database system of choice. Also note that segmenting is an ongoing process. You may start out with rather large segments initially, but you should refine and shrink your segments over time. Like a fine wine, this process will become better over time, so the sooner you start, the better! And of course, the better you know your audience, the more targeted and relevant your messages will be.

Build your segments based upon who and what you know about them already – don’t over-complicate things. You should group your supporters based upon common characteristics that you already know. Try starting out with your best segment and build from there to include categories such as new donor/prospect, current donor, major donor, and lapsed donor. Make the message personal by greeting the reader by name – this helps to gain their trust. Try referencing past interactions or observed behavior whenever possible. You might try mentioning the last gift a person made or perhaps the name of an event the person recently attended.

Lastly, when in doubt, segment your e-mail list like you would for direct mail. E-mail will allow you to try similar segments as you might use for a direct mail program, and allows you to test new segments at a low cost.

E-mail Schedules & Strategies

The common uses for email are to inform, educate, entertain, or enable. That being said, there are three primary types of email:

  • Acquisition – this is also referred to as a promotional e-mail, and is designed to encourage the recipient to take some form of action such as registering for an event or making a donation.
  • Retention – the goal of this type of communication is to enhance an already existing relationship and to encourage ongoing loyalty. This type of communication must provide the most value such as a regularly sent eNewsletter.
  • Acknowledgment – this type of e-mail is sent to confirm or acknowledge an action or transaction such as a thank you letter or receipt for a donation or event registration.

First, Create a Plan

Think about how email marketing fits in with your overall goals. Does it support ongoing initiatives or is it a separate program altogether? You will also want to ensure that online communications are coordinated with offline communications such as direct mail efforts. Donors that we communicate with through multiple channels, especially channels that deliver a consistent message, have been found to be much better long term supporters. You will also want to decide in advance how you will measure the overall results of your efforts. This could be as simple as a ten percent increase in giving or doubling your event attendance.

You should also determine your high-level goals for email communications. Start out with a baseline for your current e-mail metrics, even if they aren’t so good. It’s also a good idea for someone to “own” the process and your email campaigns and for that person to have an idea as to how to measure the success of those efforts.

Next, Determine Who to Contact

Here, you will want to consider the timing and focus of all the current communication channels and efforts (i.e. direct mail, e-mail, telemarketing, etc.) to ensure you are not inadvertently causing donor fatigue and inundating your donors with communications. Also use message testing to identify the best time to send messages. This could encompass the season, time/day, and frequency. If you are just getting started in such efforts, don’t worry…the trends will expose themselves over time. Importantly, keep a shared calendar (Gantt charts make the best) of planned offline and online communications. This will drastically assist with the planning process.

Additional Tips

Do the prep work and homework – in other words, know your audience and where they come from. Keep in mind these are people and not email addresses. Also, know your internal resources and their capacity, capabilities, and ownership for design and content. Establish an ideal tone for your messages and provide content that is appropriate for each segment’s level of engagement, interest, and knowledge. Lastly, if you are just getting started, start off small and get used to the mechanics of what you are doing first. The very first message shouldn’t necessarily be an “ask.” Warm your audience up first with a newsletter or general info communication. Some other great ideas are to send out a survey, a thank you or acknowledgment, an event invitation, or just general information.

I hope that helps you better understand how to do email segmentation. I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, and ideas in the comments!


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