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Email marketing is easy to get wrong and difficult to do well, yet many firms fail to use the data they’ve captured to target their messages more effectively.

This means that they are effectively choosing to work blind and use guesswork to increase their open and click-through rate, when they could be working with real facts and figures about their recipients instead.

It's hard to understand why this is. Any data you collect during a purchase cycle is useful if you then plan to contact your clients in the future.

Even if you're not inviting them to give you details about themselves, you can often tell their interests from their purchases.

Someone buying a family holiday to Florida is less likely to care about your discounted 18-30 ‘Crazy Times' package to Excess Island.

And someone who's bought a new boiler is less likely to care about – well – buying a new boiler.

There's a certain amount you can learn simply from looking at the purchases your clients have already made and applying some common sense.

Here are three key rules for making the most of your email data.

Bigger distribution is not better

Some businesses work on the principle that they have 1.5 million email addresses, so they should use them.

This is the antithesis of best practice and means your emails are more likely to become caught in spam filters. Eventually, that means that your emails won't even reach the customers that do want to receive your messages.

So, segment your customers into groups, even if one of those groups is ‘customers I know nothing about who need generic content' and discard ‘cold' customers who never open your emails.

You may want to attempt a re-engagement programme with them but, if that doesn't work, then drop them. They are not worth the cost to your campaign.

Then you can target different segments of customers accordingly, giving you a higher open rate and a better chance of steering clear of spam filters. Segmentation increases relevancy and relevancy boosts value.

Segment into groups that make sense for your sector

There are many, many different ways you can segment your customers; age, frequency of purchase, whether they have a family, whether they're students or professionals, how often they use your services, and more.

I can't tell you how to segment your clients effectively because it depends so greatly on the business that you're in. So let's look at a couple of specific examples to give an idea of the kind of segments different companies might use.

Starting out with a simple example: consider a baby and child product retailer. It can tell the age of the customer's family by the products they buy and then target those different customers with very different messages.

For example, someone shopping for ‘newborn' clothes is likely to be interested in young baby products and is perhaps setting up their nursery.

So, you could send that group emails marketing nursery furniture, prams and other newborn paraphernalia. You can even target them with ‘Baby's first Christmas'-type messages, so they can see it's relevant to them.

Whereas, people buying clothes and toys for toddlers are more likely to respond to ‘Entertain the brood this Halloween' and ‘Clothes that stay clean'-style content. Targeting like this will boost your open rate and click-through.

The second example I want to consider is an outdoors shop, selling tents, flasks and hiking clothing.

This kind of retailer will want to break down their clients into groups like ‘family, family breaks', ‘family, adventurous', ‘single, adventurous', ‘couple, adventurous' and so on.

It can then target these customers with different marketing messages and even different images within the emails, in order to reinforce the relevance once it's been opened.

A family who likes family breaks is likely to buy bog-standard tents, suitable for a campsite in south Wales. They'll tend to care less about the weight of their camping gear and more about the ease of use.

Whereas, a couple who routinely buy adventurous kit, like approach shoes; lightweight, windproof tents; first aid kits; and solar shower bags will need to be targeted with very different products and messages.

Treat regular big spenders well

There's one group that every online retailer needs to single out for special attention, and that's big spenders and frequent customers.

You need to reward these loyal customers and give them special deals and privileges, so that they know that you value them and the loyalty is returned.

Not only can this boost sales even further, but it lessens the likelihood of these customers being poached by another company that is prepared to go above and beyond to secure their business.

How to begin collecting data

Don't demand too much too early on, you could frighten your new customer off. I have abandoned purchases in the past because I kept being pestered for information about myself.

If your customer has agreed to let you send them messages then don't abuse that, read up on best practice for email marketing and only send valuable content.

As your customer begins to trust you not to fill their inbox with spam and to respect their data, you can start requesting more details.

Customer surveys with prize draws for participation, monitoring any further purchases they make, these are ways to gradually build up a picture of the client you're dealing with.

This then becomes a virtuous circle, as your targeted emails encourage even greater loyalty from your customer and boost their spend on your website. Everyone is happy – which is a difficult thing to achieve with email marketing.

Further segmentation

Segmenting your customers does take time, but you'll soon see an increased open and click-through rate, so the value of the work will become even more important.

If you want to further enhance your campaign, have a read of Chris Lake's article ‘How to segment customers into ‘1% clubs' to boost satisfaction', there are some good ideas for more advanced segmentation.

Kevin Gibbons

Published 26 October, 2010 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Sundeep Jagatia

Kevin,

A very good article which highlights quality over quantity of data. Email marketers must understand the importance of revelancy, segmenting, targeting and customer engagement to be successful.

about 6 years ago

Jay Chambers

Jay Chambers, Owner at Jaymail Email Marketing

Some good points here, I like the idea of a 'big spenders' segment! Jay

about 6 years ago

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