Now that your general e-mail marketing strategy is in place, it's time to think about targeting your audience segments. We've discussed knowing your customers' interests to drive repeat sales. Let's take that a step further and look at reaching the various categories of customers who buy your products or engage your services. Not all customers are alike. What appeals to one may not interest another. It's important that you connect your customers' different interests and needs to your message. It's about relevance. Relevant e-mails are opened, irrelevant e-mails are unopened or deleted, resulting in a lost connection and a lost sale.

Segment Your E-Mail Audience
Every small business can segment their customer base at some basic level. Think about what makes sense for your business. When you approach new customers, what are the qualifying questions you ask them? For retailers, it may be as simple as which consumer buys what product line. For B2B, it may be more about where that potential business customer goes to get its services. Segments are the things you keep track of when you're qualifying leads and identifying prospects. It's up to you to identify them. Trust your instincts, then divide your list into two major groups.

Segments should be based on your overall e-mail marketing plans and what you want to communicate about your business. Examples:

  • A nursery e-mails its residential customers about new spring plantings, and its commercial customers about availability of bulk mulch.
  • A cosmetics boutique e-mails one discount coupon to customers who buy makeup, and another to those who buy skin-care products.
  • A financial services firm e-mails tax prep customers a timely IRS filing reminder, and another to financial planning clients about rebalancing their portfolios.
  • A liquor store sends a promotional e-mail about an in-store wine tasting to wine aficionados, while beer lovers receive a different e-mail promoting 12-pack specials during football season.
  • A sporting goods shop sends separate e-mailings to ski bums vs. tennis buffs.

Each segment gets notified of new products, specials and offers based on past buying patterns and what they've clicked on in your previous e-newsletters. The wine lover might get turned off by the beer promotion, and vice versa. But tap the right customer's passion and need at the right time--with a targeted subject line and targeted content--and you're much more likely to create a sale.

Tip: Recency, frequency and monetary value are three key ways to segment your customer base. VIPs are a wonderful first audience segment. Try e-mailing your very best customers your earliest product announcements or best deals. Then measure the results. If the message clicked, you've got a winner. A "preferred customers" list is a first step in simple audience segmenting.

Data Helps Divide the Groups
The great thing about e-mail marketing is you can use e-mail itself to segment your audience. Suppose you didn't ask customers their areas of interest when they signed up for your e-mail list. Don't worry; you don't need to go to them one-by-one to figure out who likes what. Make sure your first couple e-newsletter mailings have something for everyone, then look at your reporting data to see who clicks on which article or offer.

By looking for patterns, you can begin to create one or two audience segments. Once you identify one or more segments, send a test targeted e-mail to each with different subject lines and content directing readers to targeted content. E-mails that are targeted to each audience's interest are more likely to get better open and click-through rates. A sporting goods shop that puts "Ski Blow-Out Sale" in the subject can see a dramatic difference in click-through rates when e-marketing directly to its skiers--more so than a general "End-of-Season Sale" e-mail. It's about driving that audience segment into the part of your world that most interests them. It's a win-win.

Creating different e-mail messages for different groups is a bit more work on your part, but a good template-based e-mail marketing tool makes it easy to do. Keep it simple, keying in on one or two key criteria. It's worth the extra effort when an e-mail message hits your customer's sweet spot. Your general e-newsletter may appeal to most customers, but mailings that reach out to your audience segments can build even deeper relationships, and drive higher sales.