Segmenting your list, like your social life

“Segmentation” is a fancy word for something we all do instinctively, every day of the week. It’s mentally adding a category to a person, so you can see where they sit in your web of personal relationships. Do you remember walking into school each morning and seeing who was about? (If you are on the school run, this is still a reality!). As a child, you would quickly sort your peers according to the play value. It might be 

“friends I love to play with”, 

“children I sometimes play with”, 

“kids I have to be nice to because mum says so” and 

“kids to be avoided at all costs.”

These categories were fluid and the “friend” today could quickly be “avoid” tomorrow, ensuring we could navigate the school playground. Given how complex an environment it is (up to 100 kids at a time, with varying backgrounds, attitudes and attainment), I think those labels did a pretty good job. As adults, we get to choose how and when we socialise, but as kids, we are thrown into the deep end.  

So, how does this help your email marketing? For a start, schoolyard segmentation simplifies it. If you can explain your category structure to a five-year-old, you are doing well. It becomes robust, easy, pleasurable – and ensures you focus on the end goal, instead of managing your list. 

Let’s apply our thinking to a typical list of a new business coach (let’s call her Kelly). 

Kelly has seen some spectacular list growth, thanks to her recent webinars and she is booked to speak at a major event in the next month. She has been sending out a regular newsletter and she now wants to make things more personal. 

  1. Keep it simple and decide on the end goal

If you don’t have a cash-flow, you don’t have a business. Kelly is selling coaching packages, so her aim is to know who is aware and interested in her services and who needs more information. This corresponds to the classic 5 stages of customer awareness. You can’t assume, just because someone is on your email list, that they know everything about your business. Most of the time, they signed up “for that interesting report” or “free quiz”. 

So, Kelly wants to know where people are in relation to her business. Who is a friend and who should she avoid?

What do you already know?

Kelly can tell, simply by looking at her newsletter open rates who is engaged and aware and who is not. Going back to those five stages, she could easily do the following:

1.Unaware. These people will not have signed up to the email list, so we don’t have to be concerned with this stage. 

2. Problem aware. This is where people start to come to Kelly’s website or pop up on social. Great, (they are the shy kids in the corner), but they are not ready to interact yet.

3. Solution aware. This is typically the stage where people sign up to an email list. They have a problem and think you may know the answer. They will typically download your lead magnet (that free report, post or video) and go through your welcome sequence. Kelly tags these people “New Kids

4. Product aware. This stage is for readers who have been engaged with the list for some time (they’ve been consistently opening emails) or taking action (they signed up to the five-day challenge or that free webinar). In other words, they are consuming information and they know about Kelly’s packages. She tags these people “Kids I could play with”. 

5. Most aware. These are her paying customers. They are the people that make the business worthwhile, rave about Kelly’s services and come back for more. They are tagged as “Friends”.

The power of doing things this way is that it’s easy to automate. So, when a newcomer enters Kelly welcome sequence, they are tagged “New Kids”. When they finish, but don’t open any more emails after five attempts (for example), they can be tagged “Forgotten”, or “Try again,” and sent a quick “how are you” email. The “Kids I could play with” are another group that benefits from automation. If they are showing increased interest, it could trigger a dedicated email about Kelly’s offer and how it can help them. 

Finally, there’s a sixth category that rarely gets mentioned in customer awareness. It’s the “kids to be wary of” category. Not everyone is a good fit for your business, especially if it’s service-based. They may not have the right attitude, or the necessary knowledge, to benefit from you. There’s also a danger that if you offer subscription-based courses (or monthly invoicing) that they ghost you without paying in full. Kelly has worked with these clients in the past and they have drained her energy and time. Whilst these are few and far between, they get flagged to avoid that situation happening again. 

Let’s go back to Kelly’s speaking engagement. It’s a live, face-to-face event. Using her powerful new categories, she starts by sending out a VIP email to her customers, offering them a free ticket. After all, they like and support her. Who doesn’t want their friends in the audience? 

Next, she targets “Kids I could play with”. She splits this category into people who live close to the venue and those who do not. The first group get the invitation and a ticket link, the second group get the invitation and the option of a recording if they can’t attend in person. She also schedules a follow-up reminder for anyone who opens but does not book.

Finally, Kelly makes sure to mention the event in her newsletter, so the rest of the audience is covered. She knows from past experience there will be some interest but they are not usually ready to 

In summary

  • Keep your segmentation simple enough to explain to a five-year-old
  • Use categories that make sense to you; no one else needs to see them
  • Always keep the end goal in sight; to get them working with you
  • Don’t let analysis paralysis slip you up. It’s better to have three categories you can use instantly than six you never touch.
  • Let your software do the work. Most email systems (Hubspot, MailChimp Klaviyo, etc), allow you to create dynamic segments. This is a fancy way of saying you set up a list of rules (e.g. everyone who has joined up in the last 4 weeks for “New Kids”) and the system will automatically select everyone who meets that rule. So, your categories never go out of date. 

What happens if my segmentation is a mess?

Start over. If it’s a complete mess, it was not working for you. A quick list-clean and a simple quiz to work out where people stand on your customer journey will work wonders.

Good luck and get in touch if you have questions. 

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