Developing An Email Marketing Strategy

email list segmentation

Last updated: April 18, 2019
Originally published: March 18, 2010

Read time: 6 minutes, 24 seconds

Email marketing is one of the pillars of a successful online marketing plan. But, like any plan, it should be well thought out, with clear goals, a strategy, and specific tactics.

The benefits of a well-designed email marketing strategy include:

  • a higher open rate
  • more clicks
  • fewer opt-outs
  • better conversion rates

In this article we are going to cover;

  1. Defining your audience
  2. List management
  3. Developing your content
  4. Establishing a schedule
  5. More information

Define Your Audience

Defining your audience is simple in theory; the reality is often more difficult. The goal is to define your audience segments.

Start with the broadest category and look at how you might break that down. Think about how you might talk to the individuals within that category differently.

For example, let’s say you are an electrician. You do both commercial and residential work. Right away, you can segment your list into two groups; commerical and residential.

It is entirely likely that you can further segment your list by other criteria. You may be able to group commercial clients by Retail, Office or Multi-unit Residential for example.

Your residential customers can be broken into segments by town or type of property.

Give Your Audience Options

Give your readers a way to self-select into groups or segments. This will require that you build out your email list in a thoughtful way using some of the techniques discussed in the List Management section below.

The benefit is your readers are more likely to remain on your list if you give them more than all-or-nothing options.

What options might you give them?

  • Frequency; weekly, monthly, only important notices
  • Interests; articles, specials, related news

Use The Data You Have

Email Service Providers (ESPs), such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, InfusionSoft, all track your email campaigns. Subscriber activity you can use to customize your campaigns include:

  • Readers who have clicked – or not clicked – on recent campaigns
  • Readers who have – or haven’t – opened recent campaigns
  • Readers who were not sent a recent campaign
  • Readers who replied to a campaign

List Management

With a clearer picture of your list segmention strategy the next step is developing a plan to manage your list.

The mechanics of how this will work will depend upon the ESP you have but the general idea will be the same.

Opt-in Form

Setting up an opt-in form on your website is a great way to gain new subscribers. At a minimum, it will allow you to collect an email address and perhaps a name.

Beyond that you can custom the form to collect a variety of other information including preferences and interests discussed above.

The opt-in form allows you to have the following fields:

Visible and required. These field must be filled in before the subscriber can be added to your email list. An email address is always required. You may choose to make other fields required as well, for example, a first name, industry, number of employees, etc.

You may choose to have groups and segments visible to provide readers the ability to select the types of communications they receive from you. This would also give them the ability to update their preferences rather than opt-out if and when their preferences change.

Visible and optional. These fields are not required but the subscriber may choose to provide the information allowing you to give them more customized information.

If you make joining a group optional, have a plan for those who opt not to join a group.

Hidden fields and Tags. These don’t appear as options on the opt-in form. As such, they can’t be required. They can, however, be updated or added on the backend and used to identify things such as whether the subscriber is a client, whether they are a high priority or low priority target.

Optimal Number Of Fields

The optimal number of fields will vary. Aim for the sweet spot between getting the bare minimum (email address) and asking so many questions that people give up and don’t subscribe.

Pro Tip: test different configurations to see what works best.

Develop Your Content

First and foremost you need to have really good content. If the body of your email doesn’t provide value to your readers they won’t read it or worse they will unsubscribe or mark it as spam. (We’re going to set aside unsubscribes by unqualified prospects for the time being. That’s for another article.)

What Do You Have To Say?

Ask yourself “What can I provide, in terms of information or product/service offerings, to this audience?” “What do I want to happen when they read the email?”

If you are a retailer or online store, then by all means, send coupons and offers. That is very likely going to be a welcome addition in your subscriber’s inbox.

If you are a service agency, share information not just about the industry but how your readers might be effected by upcoming changes in the industry.

Nonprofits can share stories about impacts they’ve made, new programs or donor spotlights.

Talk Directly To Your Readers

With the broad strokes of your content complete, you can customize the message for each segment of your audience. For example, a nonprofit sharing a Success Story can send donors a “Thank you for your support. Here’s how you’ve made a difference.” While volunteers get a “Thank you for volunteering. We couldn’t have done this without you.” message.

It’s the same story, but crafted for each audience segment.

Mix It Up

It can be overwhelming to try to come up with original content consistently and frequently. Mixing it up makes it easier for you to communicate regularly with your subscribers and keeps it interesting to them.

What’s more, you don’t need to recreate the wheel with every campaign. For example, if you read a good article, write up a summary and add your own comments and interpretation. Be sure to credit the original source, of course.

Other examples include;

  • answering frequently asked questions
  • recycling your older, but still relevant, older articles (update them first if they need to be dusted off)
  • sharing recent project notes to talk about how you’ve solved problems for clients

Set Your Schedule

Decide On Frequency

The optimal frequency with which you send emails will vary depending upon your organization, and your content.

A weekly newsletter with useful information, targeted by segment provides value to readers but might exceed your bandwidth. As a result, your campaigns run the risk of being sent inconsistently.

On the other hand, you may have too much information to go out only once a month. As a result, your emails go out with information overload.

In this case a twice-monthly schedule might be a good fit. This schedule provides a bit of breathing room in between campaigns but avoids having to send everything in one message.

Make A Plan

The old adage “a failure to plan is a plan to fail” certainly applies here.

Avoid this pitfall by putting together a game plan for the coming three to six months. Your plan should include:

  • article topics and/or product specials
  • who will be responsible for developing the content
  • segmentation customization
  • send dates

Putting your plan in writing – and adding it to your calendar – helps to ensure that weeks and months don’t slip by without you communicating with your readers.

Test, Test, Test

When and how often your readers are most engaged will vary. Paying attention to trends and mixing it up will allow you to fine tune your efforts.

Try sending an extra email one month and see what happens to your open rate. Instead of sending on a Monday try sending on Sunday afternoon and compare your results.

Now you’ve got an email marketing strategy!

Want More Information?

Here are some other articles to help you create an effective email marketing strategy.

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