This is a transcript from episode 63 of the OMGrowth podcast
I’m Lanie Lamarre and I’m a big fan of what I call “party water”. That’s bubbly water with fun flavors like mango and peach and pineapple – you know, party flavors! – and for the quantity that I drink, I’m certifiably a party water animal.
Now, depending on the type of business you run, that could be useful information for you to know if I were your client. I mean, for most of you listening, it’s probably a terrible example but I promise you I have more examples that are much better-suited for today’s episode…
Because we’ll be talking about email tagging and segmentation, some best practices and all of the superpowers it can give you like improved deliverability and better affiliate sales, and who doesn’t want more of that?
WHAT IS EMAIL SEGMENTATION?
You have an overall email list but in order to begin sending hyper-targeted emails to the “right people” who will be most open and receptive to receiving what you’re sharing in those emails, you want to adopt a practice that is referred to as “email segmentation”. This happens when you divide that overall contacts into smaller, more defined groups, or segments.
“But Lanie!”, you may say. “I only talk about one thing. All of my subscribers share the exact same, single interest.” Cool beans! That simplifies things… but you still want to segment your audience based on where they are in their interactions with you.
For instance, if they already bought the offer you’re going to remind your list about next week, you either:
a) don’t want to send those promotional emails to that segment of your audience who already purchased it; or
b) you want to send a modified version that reminds your buyers of the great features their past purchase that they can revisit and continue benefiting from.
See what I mean about meting people where they are in their interactions with you? Basically it’s the same message – “hey! look at my offer!” – but it’s shared in different ways that are an appropriate reflection of how they’ve interacted with you and your offers so far.
Tagging and segmenting is like a muscle; the more you use it, the more uses you’ll find for it and the stronger your game will be from putting it to use.
What is the difference between “segments” and “tags”?
This is one of those “similar but different” concepts where both terms serve the same purpose – in this case, to identify a specific quality or aspect of a person – but each is used in a different way.
When you segment a list, you’re taking your overall contacts to create “micro-lists” based on something that defines them. Think of it as the citizenship they have in your world, and they can be citizens of several segments as they may be citizens of just one.
Meanwhile, when you tag a person on your list, you’re creating reference points for their preferences and behaviors.
I’m a big fan of examples to paint a picture so let’s use one and say you run a group program. You have one email list with 2 segments: one segment made up of your overall list and another segment for the people who are paid members of your program.
Having these two segments allows you to use your “paid members” segment to communicate program-related information to the people who are already a part of your membership while you can take your “overall list” segment to exclude anyone who is in the “paid members” segment when you’re sending promotions that encourage people to join the program.
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As for tagging, you’ll tag people based on interests, preferences and behaviors. What does that look like?
Let’s push this example further and say you’re running a promotion to your membership. You now want to follow-up with those who showed interest in joining your membership but have yet to follow-through; you can tag the people who clicked a link in your promotional emails to visit your sales page as having shown interest in the program.
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Furthermore, if you have the different types of people in your audience – say you help fitness professionals – you could tag your audience based on whether they identify as fitness competitors, personal trainers or brand models/ambassadors. This will allow you to hyper-customize your messages and promotions to these 3 different interest groups you serve, and adapt your message to the specific incentives you can offer each interest group has to join.
Think of your segments as the overarching lists such as the contacts you promote to, your buyers and then your affiliates, while your tags are more interest- and behavior-based tools to help you define and identify aspects of your subscribers that will better equip you to serve them.
Let’s turn this example into a case study of someone who uses your segments to demonstrate their communication preferences.
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Someone subscribes to your list, which populates them into your “overall promo” segment. They take a quiz that identifies them as a “brand ambassador”, which is an identifier you tag them with.
They go on to visit your sales page and they attend a few of your workshops, all of which are behaviors you also tagged them with.
Because you sent targeted emails to those who showed interest in the product, this person eventually did buy your product and you can then add them to your segment of buyers. In fact, they loved your product so much that they signed up to become an affiliate, which is another segment they’ve been added to.
Meanwhile, their brand ambassador status means they have an inbox so cluttered and busy, even the messiest teenager would be critical. Your subscriber decided to de-clutter their inbox and they’ve chosen to opt out of receiving further promotional emails from you, but they also want to keep receiving affiliate and product updates.
Had you not segmented this person, they may have unsubscribed entirely from your email list. This could get messy when they tried to access their purchase again but couldn’t after unsubscribing, and it could cost you some word-of-mouth sales your affiliate program may have otherwise continued sharing with them.
Had you not tagged this person, you may not have known enough about this person to craft the hyper-targeted message for brand ambassadors who already showed interest in the product that resulted in the sale of your product, and the subsequent affiliate sales they brought to you as well.
Establishing a strategic approach to the way you segment and tag your subscribers will consume some of your time, energy and brain space, but the above example should demonstrate the value in doing so for both your subscribers as well as your own bottom line.
SEGMENTATION AND TAGGING STRATEGIES
I’ve already alluded to some of the ways in which you will segment your list so let’s start with those:
As a baseline, you want to create a segment for the buyers of each of your offers and there are a few reasons for this.
The first reason is that if someone decides they want to unsubscribe from your marketing materials but they want to continue receiving updates on a product they bought from you, creating this type of segmentation will empower them to do that.
You may grumble about not being able to pitch new offers to them, but this would be a short-sighted view. Someone who wants to continue receiving product updates is clearly happy with the product they purchased. They may not want to hear about your offers anymore but they still want in on what you’ve brought to their table and that has value. After all, these are the types of people you can count on for word-of-mouth; the opportunity to reach out to them to let them know you’ve updated something they already got value from is also an opportunity to be front-of-mind for a moment, which is all-the-more reason to keep engaging with your buyers after the purchase and to avoid investing your entire email marketing efforts on just sales and pitches.
Another reason you want to segment your buyers is for a reason that was touched on already: when you’re promoting an offer they’ve already bought, you don’t want to pitch this segment with something they have already paid you for. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t also email these subscribers during this time.
The difference is that while you’re sending emails that pitch your product to non-buyers, it’s a great opportunity to switch that messaging out for the people who already purchased your offer and let them know this is a great time to join your affiliate program to make sales during this promotional period, or to remind them of updates or changes you’ve made to the product that they may want to revisit and continue receiving value from.
And finally, by segmenting your buyers, it is easier for you to personalize upsell and downsell messages based on where they’ve already invested. For instance, if you’re promoting a new offer, you may write a more targeted email that speaks directly to those who have some experience with your products versus what you will write to those who have never bought anything from you.
You want your people to feel seen. You want your people to feel like you’re connected and meeting them where they are rather than just selling them what you want them to buy. You want your people to feel like they’re valued and they aren’t “just another email address” you market to.
The simplest way to achieve this is to put some time, effort and intention behind “seeing” and segmenting your buyers intentionally and appropriately.
Affiliates are people who have raised their hand and said “I’ll vouch for you and your offers!”. The idea is that if they direct buyers towards your offers like air traffic control, you can thank them by paying out a commission or affiliate payment every time they do so.
It’s a good idea to either tag or better yet, segment these subscribers from your email list because the communication you share with them will be very different from your “regular” emails. In fact, you may have people segmented as affiliates on your list who are not and don’t want to be subscribed to your promotions and offers, and you want to accommodate that. After all, it would be a shame to discourage someone from giving you “online street cred” when they spread the word about you, just because they aren’t interested in receiving your promotional emails.
In any case, you will be sending emails to this group about your promotions but the messaging of the emails you send to this segment will be very different from the ones you send the rest of your list. First of all, you will typically be letting this segment know of promotions ahead of time so they can prepare to promote them before your main email list even knows about it. You’ll likely also be sharing folders of done-for-you promotional materials like social media graphics and swipe copy that will help your affiliates sell your offers and these are materials you wouldn’t share with your main email list.
That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a segment of your list that is separate and dedicated to your affiliate subscribers as the way you communicate with them is also separate and dedicated.
I used the earlier example of a business serving fitness professionals with multiple sub-categories for the people it serves, including fitness competitors, personal trainers and brand models/ambassadors.
With some of the first few emails you send, you may ask your new subscribers to self-identify and tag them accordingly. This allows you to not only create more targeted communications but it also provides you with deeper insights as to what your audience consists of, which may influence how you choose to market yourself with paid advertisements, social media messaging and even your offers.
Another strategy to interact and get subscribers to self-identify is with a quiz. A quiz can be used as a lead magnet that encourages people to sign up to your email list, but it can also help you hone in on those interests and characteristics you want to tag and target.
While industry or job title is one area where your people can self-identify, other aspects you can consider tagging are their goals, their values, their location, their lifestyle, their opinions, or their gender, just to name a few.
Keep in mind that these are just examples and you don’t want to be collecting personal information you don’t need and would not use.
For instance, if your offers aren’t geo-centric, then you don’t want to be collecting information about their location when you’re never going to actually use it. However, if you run a t-shirt shop with multiple locations that each has its own events and promotions, it would be relevant for you to collect this person’s location to better keep them informed of the events happening at their local shop.
You can also tag people based on how they’re engaging with your communications and offers. For instance, you’ll tag people based on which opt-ins or lead magnets they’ve signed up to join on your email list and you may tag specific links they clicked-through in your emails and/or pages they visited.
How your subscribers are engaging with your brand and its content can be valuable information. How? Because you can use that information to:
- Determine the conversion rates for different types of subscribers and hone in on how and why specific types of subscribers convert to sales better than others;
- Assess the popularity of specific offers – both paid and free – as well as the subsequent engagement levels you expect based on a subscriber’s interests, attendance or engagement;
- Follow up with subscribers who didn’t buy your offer, but engaged with/showed interest in your promotional materials; and
- Identify trends in the way you’re currently promoting that you can parlay into future marketing campaigns to see better results with your next efforts.
It’s a good idea, whenever possible, to tag how people came onto your list. You can and should expect to see wildly varying engagement levels based on how people found you and joined your email list.
For instance, a joint venture where someone else vouched for your expertise will attract a different type of subscriber than your paid ad campaigns would.
Likewise, people who opted into your list to download a PDF will typically exhibit different behaviors than the people who opted-in to a workshop where you dropped all the knowledge bombs.
This use of tags can be useful when you’re trying to identify trends in interests and behaviors from people who have already bought from you. This way, you can easily identify those free offers you want to put in front of people you’re trying to warm up prior to launching and you can identify which opt-ins aren’t supporting your business the way you want them to when it comes to engagement or unsubscribe rates.
ENGAGEMENT LEVEL TAGS
Another thing worth tracking is HOW engaged a subscriber is. If someone isn’t reading or engaging with your emails, that’s a problem and it’s one you want to address.
You don’t want people ignoring your emails and you certainly don’t want to be paying for the “privilege” to do so. Because here’s the fact of it: the more subscribers you have on your email list, the higher the service fees are from your email marketing service. That’s just one of the many reasons why you don’t want to carry people through as subscribers if they’re just deleting and/or ignoring your emails.
Another key reason you don’t want to keep unengaged subscribers on your email list is because it can impact the deliverability of your emails. We’ll talk about this more in my book Email Marketing Optimization but when your deliverability rates are impacted, it means that the people who actually want to receive your emails either a) won’t receive them at all or b) you’ll end up in their spam folder instead of their inbox.
That’s why you keep tabs on the engagement level of your subscribers and once they reach a certain point of disengagement, you can then take action to either re-engage them or unsubscribe them for your email list since you’ve confirmed that they aren’t interested in your communications any longer. We’ll also explore re-engagement sequences and how they work in Email Marketing Optimization but before you can re-engage your subscribers, you’ll have to prioritize keeping tabs on their engagement levels in the first place.
For most online businesses, your buyers and your affiliates in addition to your promotional contact list will be what make up your segments, and anything that has to do with characteristics, behaviors and interests will be a tag.
However, what I’ve share with your today are just suggestions; there are no “rules” about any of this. Remember that you’re the boss, apple sauce. This means you know your business better than anyone, you get to make the decisions as to how you feel your subscribers are best identified and how your business model best operates and should be defined.
And at the core of just about everything I’ve been saying for the last few months applies to day’s talk, too: thinking and acting like a real, feeling human being will take you further than any strategy or tactic du jour, so if you are questioning your tagging and segmentation, ask yourself “what do I want to see in my inbox, what do I NOT want to see, and what makes ME feel most seen?”
Everyone wants to be seen, and your people want to feel seen by you. That’s why they gave you their email address. The least you can do is meet them where they are and your tags and segments should be tools that you use to identify where that is.