The Best Ways to Segment Your Email Lists – @stephanhov
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Marketers are always looking for advice on their email campaigns. How often should they send out emails, how can they improve open and click through rates? Segmenting is an often overlooked and misunderstood tactic, but a very important one.
Too often marketers are concerned more with quantity over quality when it comes to their email lists. But realizing that your audience is made up of different types of consumers in various stages of the sales cycle and making sure you’re emailing them content based on their needs is the key. Learning to effectively segment your audience while keeping that in mind can help you both improve your reputation and yield better results.
Stephan Hovnanian is an email marketer and web strategist who works with B2B brands helping them revitalize their email marketing efforts by revive and stimulate their relationships with their audiences.
Rich: Stephan Hovnanian is the owner of Shovi Websites, an email marketing and web strategy company located outside Boston. Stephan works with B2B brands who are transitioning into customer-centric marketing strategies by revitalizing the relationships they have with their audiences, and empowering them to allow marketing to touch all areas of the customer journey. Stephan, welcome to the show.
Stephan: Thanks, Rich, I’m really excited to be here.
Rich: So right before we got on we were talking about stadiums and how there’s no more smoking at stadiums, and you were mentioning how your grandma used to go to the Eagle’s stadium. So you grew up outside of Philadelphia?
Stephan: Yeah, I’m originally from South Jersey.
Rich: And now you’re living outside of Boston so I have to ask, with the Super Bowl just a couple weeks away, where do your loyalties lie?
Stephan: Well, I just like to see good football, and the Eagles haven’t played that in a while.
Rich: Ok, we’ll leave it at that then. So that’s not why I wanted you to come on the show today, I wanted to talk to you about email marketing.
Almost every SEO, social media and content marketer that comes on this show talks about the importance of building their list, which is code for email marketing. Why do you feel email marketing is so critical to a business’s success?
Stephan: And again just to preface this with I’m coming from a B2B perspective, there’s so many more people that are still reliant on email for the most important communication that’s going on in their day. We have tons of different messaging options out there, way more than we did 5, 6, 7 years ago. But as far as email goes in that inbox, it’s almost to the point where people said this is where the most important relationships are going to exist. So for a business, you want to be in that camp.
The other component to it is where email marketing has become so data rich – there are so many different insights you can get from the platforms out there and the marketing technology – that today you can really create a better experience and a more personalized experience for people in their inbox, and that’s what they want as opposed to just getting batch and blasts that thousands and thousands of other people are getting.
Rich: Alright, so email – as you mentioned – is data rich and it also tends to be the tool that a lot of business people use. So coming from a B2B background like you do, that makes a lot of sense. And also some of the personalization features all make email marketing a great choice for businesses.
And I might just throw in that one of the other features that I like about email marketing is it’s something that you own. Unlike Facebook or Twitter or any of these other platforms that can continually change the rules, you don’t have as much control as you do with your own email list. Would you agree with that?
Stephan: Oh, 100%. And there’s another thing that you can even piggyback on top of that is it’s sticky. It’s a lot stickier than social media and even other venues like publishing platforms or anything like that, because if there’s something I don’t want to get to yet, I can keep it in my inbox and I can keep it there forever if I want. So really good messages and important things that you want to send to people, they’ll keep them and file them. It’s harder to get that in that kind of accessibility on other platforms out there.
Rich: I agree. I mean, back in the day on Twitter you’d hit the “favorite” button because that was basically bookmarking it. Now it’s kind of like a “like” on Facebook, it’s become something different.
For example the Moz email newsletter that comes out every week, I keep that in my inbox until the next one arrives because they’re just such rich content there that they’re delivering to me.
Stephan: Yeah, exactly.
Rich: So from a publisher standpoint, or as businesses, we are publishers and media empires. We’re always interested in reaching a greater subscriber base, what are some of the ways that you’ve seen work to build your list?
Stephan: There’s a couple organic ways that I like to use. First things first is you should always have a way for somebody to join your list, you don’t want to make it difficult for people – speaking a little bit more toward the solopreneur blogging audience right now – but having a dedicated subscription page where the main purpose is to get them to opt into your list. That kind of tool gives you so much power and ability to promote your list as an asset and to welcome people into your email community that way.
Once you create that dedicated page, treat it as a landing page, so have some social proof, try and set some expectations and things of that nature. Once you’ve created that, you have a couple different options on how to promote it. One great idea that I got from a guy called Christopher Penn – I’m sure you know him, he’s been around forever – and in his emails he used to have a link to join his email list. It seems completely counterintuitive, but if I forwarded it to a friend to check out and that person wanted to get their own copy, then they have a link that they can go to to be able to sign up for themselves.
The other thing you can do is throw out teasers on social media and say, “Hey, I’ve got a big blog post coming up, I’m throwing it out to my subscribers first, you can get on the email list here.” So if you have something exclusive about your emails that you can tease out on social media, that’s another way that you can direct people to joining your list, and having that page is just a real easy way to do it. Plus you can link drop it in comments and in conversations
Rich: That makes a lot of sense. Now when you get new clients into Shovi, do they ever say things like, “I bought a list” or “I’m thinking of buying a list”? What do you say when people talk to you about buying a list.
Stephan: Well, just, you get what you pay for. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, you just have to do it responsibly, and there’s a couple of best practices. If you buy a list, rent a list or acquire names that you didn’t get organically, put them into a separate list in your system and sort of work them into the main list. Create and do some sort of invitations and onboarding, and once they’re warmed up you can feel more comfortable adding them into the main list because you’re kind of built up that relationship that people who joined with you organically are going to have now.
So definitely set them up on their own list and don’t be afraid to throw people out that haven’t been responsive. That’s a really important thing and I know so many people who are focused on quantity because it makes them feel like they’re achieving something, but there’s nothing wrong with dumping 10%-30% of your list of those who have never really opened anything and just seems disinterested.
Rich: That’s something I struggle with because, yes, it will increase your open rate but then you’re losing these people who maybe just for whatever reason you haven’t said anything that they’ve been compelled to open. Why would you just dump 10%-30% of your prospective audience?
Stephan: Well they’re not really prospective if they’ve never opened anything.
Stephan: And I would say you would dump them after a couple attempts to get them to re-engage. I would say once a quarter – a minimum of once a year – but 1, 2, 3, 4 times a year have that worked into your campaign strategies, some kind of a re-engagement or reactivation scheme. It would be a way to go back to some of the people that you’ve kind of lost touch with and they haven’t been as engaged, try to reel them back in.
And you would do that through a variety of different options like changing up the timing or the cadence of your emails, your subject lines, things like that. Just try and really shock the system and see if you can offer them something completely different. For me, I actually amassed a lost of my list related to Google+ because I dove into that platform and gained a lot of influence with it and I grew my list a lot with people that were interested in my Google+ related stuff. As I transitioned out of that, I have to get those people engaged in the things that I’m interested in talking about and make sure that I can help them. If I can’t help them, it’s ok to say, “bye”.
Rich: I hear what you’re saying. I guess there’s that challenge of wanting to say, “I have a list of 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 and you should join, too”, as that social proof. But I do hear what you’re saying.
Do you know, is it through the email service providers that we find out if somebody hasn’t opened an email for a while or do you have a custom solution that you’re currently using?
Stephan: Well, most email service providers – anybody that will let you create a segment – there has to be some criteria for that segment, so you can typically go back on however many months you want or you may have to do a campaign. Your criteria might have to be that they haven’t opened this email and this email and this email, and just go back. I use a system called Active Campaign and what they have in there is the ability to tag people. It also has a more advanced plan which has lead scoring in it as well.
So one of the things that I actually do is give people points when they open, click or reply to emails. So I can very easily go back and look up the segment of our list that has 15 points, because that would signify that they haven’t opened anything in let’s say, 6 months. I can take that whole group of people and move them into some sort of re-engagement strategy. But you could also do that just by going one by one over the list form the last 6 months and see who matches up with that and move forward with those guys.
Rich: It’s interesting – that numbers thing – it almost sounds like you do some sort of gamification. Like you send out some sort of blast that says, “Hey, you have 99 points. Once you get to 100 you unlock this ebook. You get more points by opening emails, clicking on links.” So you give them an incentive. One of the things that I saw recently was Trip Advisor said, “You’re only one review away from getting this badge.” And suddenly I wanted to go and review something. So I wonder if you could almost use something like that and find these people that are almost active but not really all that active and use it as an incentive to pull them back in.
Stephan: Yeah, there’s definitely ways to do that. Again, lead scoring, too, is one of those things that’s been around for a long time with sales automating systems. I look at it like I’m applying it to engagement, just regular email engagement, because this is my email list that I’m trying to nurture a community not necessarily move people through a funnel.
One of the things you can do is if I find that I’ve got a group of people that are maybe just under the threshold of becoming an insider or a VIP, I could send them an email qualifying just to see who takes the bait. The tricky part with this kind of stuff is just to think it all through. There’s usually a few steps involved and then you have triggers and automated sequences. You’ll have your link in your email, you’ll have how you segment the email, and then you’ll also have the part where people go. So they click on a link and they’re expecting to go somewhere even though your system probably says, “oh, they clicked on the links and now I’m going to do this.”
It all happens in the backend, yet I’m clicking a link in an email as a user and I want to go somewhere. So you have to create that page, so there’s a few things to think through. It isn’t something you can whip up off the cuff, but it’s worth it. It’s one of those things that’s kind of scalable and replicable, so you can use it again and again and again.
Rich: Alright. Now we’ve been talking about segmentation, and I know it’s important, and yet at the same time it seems like a lot of work especially for a small business. What is the argument you can give me to make me less lazy and really start segmenting my list?
Stephan: Well, if you pick the right segments then you’ll get really great results, and different kinds of results. A couple of segments that I like to talk about – you have these really highly engaged people – if you can find a way to define those highly engaged people, you can give them other jobs when you send them emails. So instead of having them click on your latest blog post – which honestly they’re going to do anyway – you can give them a click to tweet link or even some graphics. You send them a special email and ask them to help you get the word out about this. Their job now is kind of being a brand ambassador for you now. It’s a great segment to have as part of your overall strategy.
A couple other segmentation ideas that are easy to set up are the engagement one and anything local, it depends on your business. If you do anything local or you have a personal brand segment, people who are interested in things that you’re doing like your Twitter chats and your podcasts. Maybe it’s not subject matter, maybe it’s just that they really like me. Again, that’s another place where you can get people to help advocate for you and just grow your audience for more reach.
Obviously there’s stuff like local segmentation and also the type of content that they came in on. So if you acquired an email from a webinar, those people will probably be more predisposed to webinars. So that’s a segment where if you’re doing another webinar or a Google Hangout or something that’s similar concept, you could send those people those emails and they’ll be more likely to respond to it.
So again overall what ends up happening is the type of message that those people are all getting in their inbox is a lot more relevant to them and it’s something that they can act on a lot easier. So now that helps you because you’re now getting bigger reach, you’re getting more click throughs and things like that.
Rich: I definitely like that, and I like the segmentation ideas. You talked about the brand advocates and the net promoters, and I can definitely see that if you find a group of people who are actively opening your stuff to be able to create a group around that. And local does make sense because often I’m trying to promote local workshops that I’m doing and not everybody on my flyte new media or Agents Of Change lists is interested in that, so that always becomes a tricky thing as well.
Any other segmentation ideas that you’ve seen that you think will work for a small business? Originally when I was thinking of segmentations I used to think of are you interested in search engine optimization or social media, but I always thought that those were kind of B.S. because most of my people would be interested in both. So is that really any sort of segmentation at all. The location definitely makes more sense in finding people who are more or less active does make a lot of sense as well.
Stephan: Well your idea makes sense in the context of let’s say a value nurturing program. So if people who come to you with a social media need initially, if you know that those guys aren’t ready for SEO or you know there’s a progression, what you can do now is say that these people started out with information on social media – maybe you have an opt in, checklist or a freebie that they signed up for – and you move them through that. What you can do is track and see how engaged they’ve been with the series of emails you sent since you delivered that .pdf.
If you see that they’re kind of moving through the continuum well, then you can start to introduce that level for them, and then you can move people along. I’ve actually had that challenge because eh things that I work on for myself are probably a lot more advanced than some of the people who are just coming into my list or just being introduced to me. So the reasons that a lot of people get introduced to you could be because maybe it’s a guest post on a blog that didn’t have all the high end detail stuff that you did. So now they’re not ready for you to all of a sudden jump into this masters level class when you send out an email or an article. We have this value nurturing this, and that’s a great way to create segmentation that you know when it’s appropriate to introduce a little bit more advanced stuff or maybe a particular kind of product or service or whatever.
Rich: That definitely makes sense. Let’s say I’ve got a mature list, I’ve been building it for years and never really segmented it. Do you have any ideas on how do I get people to segment themselves now, or do I not ask them to and I just do things like segment them if they click on certain links?
Stephan: That’s what I do. I like that approach. You can do a couple things. There’s things like if you create a preference set up for yourself, again you have to lay this all out so tell me what you want. You know, give them some options. They would click to an update profile page where you maybe have a couple of different lists or maybe some frequency things, and it gives them a chance to tailor their own experience with you.
On the flipside of that, you have to be prepared to deliver on all those things. It’s one thing for somebody to just come up with a bunch of preferences and then you just keep sending them the same thing. That kind of defeats the purpose.
What I’ve done in the past – and this can also be an introductory step toward a more expanded preference center – is to do what you said, Rich. Is to say people who are clicking on my “How To” tips are sort of at an entry level, so I also segment by competency level. It’s kind of tied into the same stuff I was talking about. It’s a lot harder to get people to really just tell you what they want, so sometimes doing it for them and making best guesses is a great way to do it.
Rich: As I’m listening to you – and you sound really hands on when it comes to your email list, segmenting it and behind the scenes – how much time would you say you’re putting into managing your email to get the most out of it, specifically your email marketing?
Stephan: Well probably more than I should, but I’m playing with things. I’m a tinkerer.
Rich: You’re taking one for the team, is what you’re saying. So we can all learn from you.
Stephan: That’s the goal. I think it comes down to planning, and if you set all this stuff up you don’t have to spend a lot of time. It’s a lot like social media or any kind of marketing campaign, you’ve got to spend a lot of time planning them out and when the time comes to putting things into place you can automate the whole thing. You could set up a whole bunch of scheduling, that’s a great attribute of email marketing. You can just be there to respond and to watch what’s going on for the reports and all.
So what I haven’t planned or come up with a gameplan that says this is what I’m trying to accomplish and here’s what I need to do so that I can say I was successful. There’s a couple other steps, too – you just keep working backwards, basically – then I find myself spending a lot more time. So that planning thing is super helpful. And working backwards is also really helpful, too. Start with your goal and then determine what success would look like within that goal and from there you can kind of go backwards further to see what you need to put into place in order to meet that goal. And then from there, how do I get the data or not.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense. A lot of information and now I can really start segmenting my own list and maybe kick a bunch of people off all at the same time. So thanks for that Stephan.
Where can we find out more about you and Shovi online?
Stephan: Well shovi.com is my site. I have a lot more of that case study type blogs. @stephanhov is where you can catch me on Twitter and LinkedIn. Just look me out, I’m always me. Just look me up online.
Rich: Awesome. And I will of course include all the links that Stephan shared with us today. And I also want to thank you for sharing your knowledge. This has been great and I am definitely going to work on segmentation after this.
Stephan: Awesome, let me know how it works out.
Rich: Will do, thanks again.
- Learn more about Stephan and how he helps businesses with content and email marketing.
- Follow Stephan on Twitter for tips on email conversion, marketing and strategy optimization.
- Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, and the founder of the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference, both in Portland, Maine.