Personalization and segmentation

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Personalization has been a top priority of marketing professionals as email marketing has evolved; 94 percent say it’s something important on which they’re planning to focus. And the proof of why it’s such a big priority is in the statistics:

  • Emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened.
  • 88 percent of marketers say personalization has given them a measurable lift in results.
  • Personalized emails have 41 percent higher unique click rates.
  • And personalized emails generate six times higher transaction rates and more revenue per email.

Segmentation is personalization at scale. Rather than addressing each user individually, you’re addressing different sections of users based on a commonality (location, age, gender, purchase history, etc.) Segmentation has also repeatedly proven to be far more effective than sending out generic emails:

  • Segmented emails bring in 760 percent more revenue than non-segmented campaigns.
  • In large scale tests, segmented campaigns outperform non-segmented campaigns by every metric: More opens, unique opens, and clicks; fewer bounces, abuse reports, and unsubscribes. 
  • Click-through rates are 101 percent higher for segmented campaigns.

Personalization and segmentation tie into all three elements of “anticipated, personal, relevant” that we discussed in the previous lesson on email content. When you employ personalization and segmentation measures, you’re sending more targeted emails that people want to get, personalized to them either individually or as part of a small group, relevant to their specific needs.

In this lesson, we’ll cover how to collect the information you need to personalize and segment your emails. We’ll also cover some strategies for how to maximize the effectiveness of your personalization and segmentation.

Collecting info for personalization and segmentation

In order to send personalized or segmented emails, you first need to collect that information. When you’re getting it from customers, it’s easy—they have to enter things like their address to complete a purchase, plus you can learn quite a bit about their demographic info based on the products they purchase.

When someone’s just signing up for your email list from a form on your website, however, it’s trickier. You want to get more information from them, but also want to make the sign-up process as easy and frictionless as possible. That’s why most sites will just ask for an email address—not, say, an email address, birthday, first name, and product preference.

Offer an incentive

If you want to squeeze out a little more info during the subscription process, which can pay off in your personalization and segmentation efforts down the road, the best tactic is to offer a good reason why you need that extra info.

Recall from our lesson on list building incentives, often the correct incentive can lead to data collection that feels organic and necessary. If you’re running a contest, it seems perfectly natural to ask for a little more information—you need to know where to send their prize, after all. If you’re offering a high-quality free download, like an eBook or course, it makes sense that you’d ask for a little more info in exchange for such a generous giveaway. 

When you frame your email list as a VIP club, then you can ask for more info as you’re setting up different expectations around your email list. You need their birthday to send “special birthday offers” and their favorite products to get their opinions on what to make next.

Collecting info for segmentation.

And if you give away a free physical product for subscribing, you can get maximum info—you need to know where to ship it. 

Test to see how much info you can collect

You can test your subscription form to see how much additional friction causes sign-ups to drop. Instead of just asking for someone’s email address, ask for their email address and, say, first name. Monitor your sign-up rate to see if adding that extra step caused a noticeable drop in subscribers. If it did, go back to collecting only the email address.

If it didn’t, try adding a third request. Go for something that’s relevant to your business, like gender if you’re selling both men’s and women’s clothes, or favorite team if you’re selling NBA-licensed bobbleheads. Again, monitor to see if subscribe rates go down. You’ll know when you hit the place where you’re asking for too much but, in the meantime, ask for as much as you can get away with.

In this example, Penzeys Spices asks for a ZIP code in addition to an email; we can assume they find their segmentation works best with geographical offers and they weren’t seeing a big drop in subscriber numbers by asking for a second piece of information.

Asking for just a little info for segmentation.

How to personalize and segment your emails

Just because you know all this information about someone, it doesn’t mean you should include all of it in every email. You need to personalize judiciously—as too much can come off as disingenuous, creepy, or both.

Don’t always personalize with a name

If you get an email from a brand with the subject “Jen, we know you’ll love this” and you think, “How would they know I’ll love this, all I did was visit their site and put my name and email in a form?”—that’s bad personalization. Using someone’s name can catch their eye, but it can also come off as insincere or invasive.

One study even found 95 percent of customers responded negatively when a marketing email used their name, and the main reason was “given the high level of cyber security concerns about phishing, identity theft, and credit card fraud, many consumers would be wary of emails… with personal greetings.” And that was a study in 2012—all these years later, as we’ve all become even more aware of how our personal info is harvested and exploited online, it’s easy to imagine those concerns are even more profound.

Personalization can be far more subtle than just putting someone’s name in the subject line and calling the email “personalized.” That holds especially true when everyone on your list gets the exact same email—and the only personalization is adding a name. Personalization isn’t about showing off that you know a customer’s name or other info, it’s about tailoring the content, offers, and value proposition to their needs.

Personalizing without a name.

Personalize based on a customer’s history

It’s smart to play off a customer’s history, as it allows you to personalize emails to that customer with relevant information and offers. And with advanced automation rules, you can set up the templates for these personalized emails once and have them go out to individual customers automatically.

  • Celebrate a customer’s birthday and the anniversary of when they made their first purchase. Birthday emails can have up to 60 percent higher conversion rates.
  • Invite someone to a VIP club after they’ve made multiple sales.
  • Cross-sell to customers by recommending related products after a purchase. Only 39 percent of eCommerce retailers do that, but it can be a great way to turn a customer into an instant repeat customer.
  • Send user guides or advice on how to best use a product they purchased. These emails can even come in a drip series after a purchase is made.
  • Send review requests or emails just to check on whether a customer is satisfied with their purchase and if they have any customer support questions.
  • Send a special reward to your top spending customers.

Here’s a personalized set of cross-sells I got when I made a purchase at the hat store Lids. They see I’m in Los Angeles (thus the Lakers hat) and purchased a hat for the Cleveland Indians, a Midwest-based MLB team (thus the White Sox, Royals, and Pirates hats). Now… those cross-sells didn’t hit me quite right because my feelings toward all four teams ranges somewhere between indifference and strong dislike. But at least I see the logic behind the recommendations. 

An example of personalized recommendations.

And here’s an anniversary email of when I signed up for Upwork. The anniversary email is simple but acknowledges me as a customer and makes me feel like they’re paying attention to our specific relationship. And if I needed to hire a freelancer anytime after this email, it would be a no-brainer to go back to Upwork because now they’re top-of-mind again.

An anniversary email.

Personalize with triggered campaigns

We’ll cover triggered campaigns extensively in the lesson on automations but, in brief, every triggered campaign is personalized by definition. You send abandoned cart recovery emails when someone abandons a cart. You send replenishment reminders when someone’s supply of a product is running low. You send a re-engagement campaign when someone hasn’t made a purchase or engaged with your emails in a certain amount of time.

All of those emails, then, are personalized to the customer. And it’s why, generally, they’re so effective—the click-through rate on triggered emails checks in at 152 percent higher than other marketing emails. (Of course, there are different levels of personalization for triggered campaigns. You can personalize an abandoned cart campaign even more by including exact cart contents and related cross-sells, for example. But we’ll get to that.)

The main pillars of segmentation

Segmentation, again, is personalization at scale—rather than sending uniquely personalized emails to every customer, you’re sending relevant emails to targeted groups of customers all of whom have something in common.

There are four main pillars of segmentation. These are broad ways you can divide up your audience into different groups.

Geographics. This includes segmenting by country, city, language, climate, population, time, and date. Yes, those last two are segments—like, for instance, if you want your email to hit every subscriber’s inbox at 9:30 AM in their own time zone.

Demographics. This includes segmenting by age, gender, income, marital status, and occupation.

Psychographics. This includes segmenting by lifestyle, interests, opinions, personality, concerns, values, and attitudes. This information is tougher to come by—you could try to infer it from a person’s overall profile and purchase history, or get at it via a longer customer survey or customer interview.

Behavior. This includes purchase history, intent, buyer state, receptiveness to upsells and cross-sells, and receptiveness to different email frequencies. You may have to do some of your own data analysis to figure out some of these numbers, however, the ROI can really pay off.

Here’s a segmented email I got from the car sales platform Shift, sent out only to people on their list who live in Los Angeles. For all I know, the same exact “We lowered fees” email went out to people in other markets too—but by segmenting the list and adding the mention of “Los Angeles sellers,” the offer feels more personal, relevant, and exclusive for me.

Segmenting by geography.

Summary and implementation


You can drastically increase the effectiveness of your marketing emails with personalization and segmentation.

  • Personalization isn’t just adding a customer’s name to an email—in fact, that might be the worst form of personalization. Instead, it’s using your information about customers to make your emails more relevant to their needs, whether that comes in the form of a birthday or anniversary email, a cross-sell for related products to their purchase, or a VIP club invite based on sales history.
  • Segmentation is personalization at scale—grouping your customers through different criteria and sending emails relevant to those groups. The four main pillars of segmentation are geographics (city, language, climate); demographics (age, gender, occupation); psychographics (lifestyle, interests, values); and behavior (purchase history, buyer state, receptiveness to cross-sells).

In order to personalize and/or segment your emails, you need to have the correct data for your subscribers.

  • It’s easier to get information on customers; not only do you have geographic info for your customers, you also have their purchase history.
  • For subscribers, try pushing to get a little more information on your email signup form, like a few key pieces of extra info you can use to segment.
  • When you give away a better lead magnet, you can get away with pushing for more information.

But there’s more to personalization and segmentation than just showing off the info you know about a customer.

  • You don’t always need to personalize with a name—in fact, there’s a chance your customers will be turned off if you use their name.
  • Personalize using a customer’s history, milestone events, or emails targeted around the products they purchased.
  • Use the main pillars of segmentation to put your subscribers into “buckets” you can then use to send more targeted emails at scale.


Step 1: Figure out one or two ideal segments

  • Think about what segments would be most beneficial to you. (For example, if you sell supplements, perhaps it would be knowing if a subscriber is most interested in building muscle, losing weight, or general health and fitness.)
  • Try adding questions to your email signup form to get information for those key segments. If you don’t see a big drop in subscriber rates, you know you’re not asking for too much.

Step 2: Personalize and segment

  • Set up personalized automations that can go out for occasions like a birthday or based around a purchase.
  • Segment your emails to make them more relevant to large groups of subscribers, using the new information you’ve been collecting in your form, or geo-centric offers to current customers.