Welcome to the sixth blog in our ‘Ask the Expert’ interview series, where we bring you industry experts to talk about outstanding practices in email marketing.
Des Brown is the GM of international digital business development at TouchBasePro, one of Africa’s leading email platforms and niche service agencies. He also runs Email Expert Africa, a resource center for content creators, marketers, and solopreneurs looking to launch successful email campaigns. Des has been producing TedX talks and keynote discussions for over 10 years and continues evangelizing effective email marketing practices.
In this Q&A blog, Des Brown talks about effective segmentation strategies and aligning the data collection and analysis processes with data privacy regulations.
1. Before we dive into the topic, please briefly introduce yourself and share your background and expertise in email marketing
Hi, I’m Des, and I’m the founder of Email Expert Africa as well as the GM of Business Development at TouchBasePro, one of Africa’s leading email platforms and niche email service agencies.
I’ve spent over 10 years in email so far. I was first introduced to the world of email in a business development role for a local classifieds company, selling advertising space in their 3rd-party newsletters. This branched out into fully-fledged email products for D2C and B2B brands.
The last 5+ years have been spent refining my email expertise with TouchBasePro, where I’m involved in team leadership, email strategy, consulting with businesses across multiple industries and regions, and implementing email services to help customers win at email.
I’ve recently launched Email Expert Africa, which is an email coaching and resource facilitation service designed to help content creators, solopreneurs, and smaller businesses get the most out of their email marketing.
2. Out of many email marketing strategies, segmentation is becoming a must-have. What is your take on that?
Email, like any other form of digital communication, begins with your audience. If you’re sending emails without understanding what your audience wants to hear, what appeals to them, and who they are, then your emails are likely going to fail.
This is where email segmentation becomes critical to email success. By being able to segment your audience, you can understand who you’re speaking to, what they enjoy (or don’t enjoy) from your emails, and what to do to get them to take action. It’s really that simple.
3. What are some common segmentation strategies or criteria marketers can use to segment their email lists effectively? Can you share any email campaign examples that showed amazing results due to effective segmentation?
Email segmentation and the way you approach it would be unique to every business or offer. Broadly, segmentation begins with known data and is later improved by learned data. What does this mean?
Known data is what you’re collecting directly from your audience when they sign up. Their details, what they’ve signed up for, and where they first entered your database are starting points.
Learned data is where you can shine! Learning what your subscribers are engaging with, what actions they’re taking, and where in the customer lifecycle they fit allows you to further personalize your email content, frequency, and offer to improve your results.
One of my favorite examples of email personalization is the easyJet 20th-year birthday celebration campaign. They used dynamic content, links, and images to tell a personal story for each easyJet customer.
Each customer received a unique email with personalized content that highlighted everywhere they’d traveled with easyJet in the past 20 years. I mention this campaign and showcase an example in a blog I recently wrote here.
4. What role do data collection and analysis play in successful segmentation for personalized email marketing? What kind of data should be collected? What are a few ways to collect this data?
Effective data collection and analysis is pretty straightforward: Create more targeted and personalized email campaigns which are more likely to be opened, read and acted on.
Based on my experience, here are some of the common types of data collected for email segmentation:
- Demographics: Age, gender preferences, location data, and income levels are used to create segments based on shared interests or needs. For example, you could create segments for young professionals interested in fashion or a segment for retirees interested in travel. This will vary based on what demographic data is collected.
- Interests: This is learned data about the interests of your audience. These could be examples like topics for email that have been selected, social media platforms used, and content preferences shared. This information is then used to create segments based on such shared interests. Think of people who sign-up for specific types of content, come from specific channels, or select to hear about specific types of news or products.
- Behavior: This includes information such as past purchases, website visits, and email engagement habits. This information is then used to create segments based on these behaviors or actions. These could include, for example, segments based on subscribers who have purchased certain products from your store or a segment for people who have not opened your emails in the past 30 days. The possibilities here are pretty much endless.
In terms of data collection, again, this would need to suit the business needs and capabilities, as there are several ways to collect data for email segmentation. Here are a few of the most common methods:
- Web forms: When people sign up for your email list, you can collect demographic, interest, and behavior data by asking them to fill out a web form and by analyzing what they do and look at on your website.
- Preference centers: Encouraging your subscribers to update their preferences within your emails is a great way to do this too. You’ll quickly learn what your audience wants to hear via email, and it is a de facto ‘survey’ without the commitment a real survey often requires.
- Analytics: This is often the most underutilized way to collect data. By analyzing what folks click on, what time of day they read your content, what devices they’re using, and where they’re going after leaving your emails (UTM tracking), you can learn so much about your subscribers. Stats aren’t merely an indicator of success but also a critical learning tool for email database segmentation.
There are various ways to collect subscriber data, but having a solid foundation and using what you have is a good starting point.
5. How can marketers ensure that their segmentation efforts align with legal and ethical considerations, such as data privacy regulations? Do you have any practical recommendations or actionable insights?
Most global data privacy regulations follow very similar standards. To ensure that marketers, especially in the email space, align with these regulations, these steps can help:
- Get consent: Before collecting any data from potential subscribers, always get their consent. Don’t have pre-filled checkboxes to add people to your email list or add them without them expressly giving permission.
- Use data only for its intended purpose: Once data is collected, it should only be used for the purpose for which it was collected. For example, if you collect email addresses for a competition, make sure that people opt-in additionally to your email database.
- Give customers control over their data: This means allowing customers to opt out of email lists, delete their data, and request that their data be updated or corrected.
- Protect data security: Take measures possible to protect the security of customer data. Use strong passwords, encrypt data, and implement security measures to prevent unauthorized access to data.
Here are a few additional recommendations to help adhere to data privacy requirements:
- Use data responsibly: Always use data responsibly, as it benefits both your subscriber and you. This means avoiding practices that could be seen as deceptive or manipulative (those pre-filled checkboxes I spoke about earlier are an example of deceptive practices).
- Be mindful of privacy concerns: Always prioritize and address subscriber data privacy concerns. This could include providing clear and concise privacy policies, giving customers control over their data, and protecting data security. Nothing too complicated, but always good in the eyes of most laws.
- Stay up-to-date on regulations: Data privacy regulations often change or are updated frequently. Keeping tabs on this not only prepares an email marketer to adapt their strategy to align to such changes but also shows regulatory authorities that you are taking data privacy seriously.
6. What metrics or KPIs should marketers track to measure the success and effectiveness of the segmentation in an email campaign?
The overall determinant of email success is if your emails lead to a positive ROI. All other measures are important but really secondary. These are the basic metrics I’d recommend monitoring to determine if your segmentation efforts are successful:
- Open rate: Higher email open rates indicate that your email subject lines are effective and that your target audience is interested in the content of your email. The aim is to maintain this over time.
- Click-through rate: High click-through rates indicate that content is relevant and engaging. Generally, clicks are higher if the content in your email resonates with the segment of subscribers you’ve sent such an email.
- Conversion rate: This is the percentage of people who take a desired action, such as making a purchase or clicking on an article, after receiving your email. A high conversion rate indicates that your email campaign is effective at driving results.
- Segmentation ROI: This metric can seem complicated, but it is actually quite simple. Essentially, take the amount of revenue generated from a segmented email campaign and divide it by the cost of sending the campaign. A high segmentation ROI indicates that your email segmentation efforts are profitable. Try this across multiple segments to determine which are making you the most money.
Again, success means something different to every email sender. Find what you want to measure and determine if you’re getting the right results.
7. What are some potential challenges or pitfalls marketers should be aware of? How can they avoid these mistakes while implementing segmentation in email marketing?
Getting segmentation wrong is something many email marketers face. I’d recommend avoiding these mistakes and pitfalls:
- Not having enough data: Data collection is not simply a one-time thing. To segment your email list effectively, you need to have enough data about your audience. If you don’t have enough data, you won’t be able to create meaningful segments. Always be collecting.
- Creating too many segments: It’s tempting to create as many segments as possible, but this can actually be counterproductive. Make sure you create broad database segments and more refined niche segments based on your strategy. There is no need for ‘in-case’ segments either. Only create segments you’ll use and keep those simple to understand.
- Not testing your segmentation strategy: It’s critical to test different segmentation strategies to see what works best for your emails. A/B split testing is a great starting point to try. Only by finding what works can you improve, and how will you know what has worked if you aren’t testing?
- Not personalizing your emails: The goal of segmentation is to send personalized emails to your subscribers. If you’re collecting data and not personalizing your content or email frequency, your efforts are meaningless.
- Collecting unusable data: Think about the data you’re collecting and whether it is fit for purpose. It’s often both a waste and a risk to collect data you won’t use to effectively segment your audience. Think of simple things like someone’s surname, phone number, or identity number. When are these ever used in emails, and if data is breached, how much of a personal identifier are they to your subscribers? Avoid unusable data.
8. In your experience, what are some emerging trends or strategies in email segmentation?
Email segmentation is becoming more and more exciting! Here are a few trends I’m seeing gain traction in the email world, driving greater results and engagement for email senders:
- A drive to acquire zero-party data: With the demise of 3rd-party cookie data on the horizon and due to increasingly strict data privacy regulations, email has become a massive focus for marketers due to the ability to segment and ‘own’ their relationship with subscribers.
- AI-powered segmentation: AI is being used to segment email lists based on a variety of factors, such as purchase history, website behavior, and social media activity. This is speeding up the time to create segments and helping marketers with valuable data insights when segmenting their audiences.
- Personalization at scale: With the help of AI and other technologies, marketers are now personalizing email campaigns at scale. This includes AI prompts for effective segmented content and AI-generated images that are personalized to audience segments and interests.
- Lifecycle segmentation: Lifecycle segmentation involves segmenting email lists based on where subscribers are in their customer journey. With the rise of eCommerce, this has almost become a necessity. These are usually criteria based on new, existing, or lapsed customers and sending emails related to their current lifecycle stages.
- Use of dynamic content: Through the use of email content that adapts to the unique interests of the reader, marketers are scaling their email creation efforts. Emails adapting to the readers and segments that receive them are going to continue to grow and become commonplace for marketers instead of the painstakingly created multiple iterations of the same email.
Through segmentation, you can better understand your audience’s needs and interests to craft relevant and compelling offers, promotions, and recommendations that drive higher click-through rates, and ultimately, sales. Additionally, segmentation enables you to test and optimize your email marketing strategies more effectively. You can analyze the performance of different segments separately, identify patterns, and refine your approach.
At Netcore, we’re constantly improving our AI-powered segmentation, studying trends and forecasts, optimizing processes at different levels, and bringing innovations to meet the highest goals in email ecosystems. Connect with us to understand how you can benefit from our expertise and experience. We send over 20 billion emails a month on behalf of 6500+ businesses across 40 countries.