Commentary

Content Segments: Full-Course Meals Or Bite-Sized Treats?

Last week I wrote about how email is such a tiny slice of the cross-channel marketing pie, and that it's up to those of us working in the kitchen to cook something up to get a bigger cut. In the coming weeks, I'll explore strategies and tactics we can use to simultaneously improve program performance, delight recipients, and raise the channel's profile.

 

Let's start baking with the low-hanging fruit: segmentation. The industry has been talking up the benefits of segmentation for the past few years; it is a key driver to relevance and engagement ad nauseam... And yet very few email senders are consistently practicing segmentation. How come we aren't all jumping on the segmentation bandwagon, headed straight to email marketing Elysium?

Three or four years ago, executing a segmentation strategy required lots of effort and resources for an uncertain outcome. But we're no longer held back by technological constraints or ROI concerns. Today, any ESP worth its salt provides healthy support for segmented content, and we know, based on both anecdotal evidence and published case studies, that well-executed segmentation strategies perform.

The biggest obstacle remaining is within our own minds; it's the way we think about segmentation. We think implementing a segmentation strategy will require a seismic process shift, and many of us are so bogged down running our batch-and-blast programs that we shudder to think of adding another ball into the juggle.

Here's the fear: "If we are currently sending one or two batch-and-blast emails each week -- sans segmentation -- if we attempt to split our list, we'll create magnitudes more mail -- and more work -- overloading our resources, and quite possibly losing our minds."

This is the wrong way to think about rolling out a segmentation strategy. When done in small, manageable stages, it should make your life easier, not harder. Let's make a subtle mental shift and look at segmentation as a tactical tool to aid our current programs instead of a traumatic tactical upheaval. It's the old "walk before you run" analogy.

Here's a relatively simple and straightforward recipe you can try for gradually rolling segmentation into your email program:

- Keep sending the same number of emails you're sending today. Instead of sending multiple segmented emails, include one or more areas of segmented content within your current mass mails. Think of them as mini-segments: bite-sized treats that pack a punch.

- Try adding a side rail or a submessage space to your templates specifically to accommodate segmented content. This will allow you to continue to blast mass-appeal primary messages while including customized content at the same time.

- Choose easy categories to segment on. While it certainly doesn't hurt, you don't need a huge data warehouse to send segmented content. Use your email platform's database to collect and segment on whatever data you can, like zip code or gender.

- Build on your successes. Think of these mini-segments as training wheels; you'll build your confidence after a few executions, and your organization's confidence after a few performance reports. You'll be riding a big-kid bike in no time, and will naturally start looking for new segmentation opportunities.

I appreciate a well-merchandised batch-and-blast email campaign when I see one, but even more so, I am always truly delighted to receive a message that is obviously customized, featuring content I'm interested in based on my location, previous purchases or stated preferences. Let's strive to create that spark of delight when recipients open our messages.

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