Most people talk about different things with different people. With one friend, the conversation might usually focus on relationships; with another, talk turns more naturally to movies, books, sports, or politics.

You would be unlikely to appeal to your relationship-discussing friend if you were to engage in a monologue about your opinion of our current political leaders. However, if you started in with that same screed to your politics-loving friend, he or she would greet it with a smile that says "let the games begin!"

The same theory applies to communicating with your customers and prospects. "One of the most important things to keep in mind when developing your campaign is relevance," says Yael Penn, Principal of Imagine Creative Marketing.

"If you send a message recipients are interested in receiving, you will get their attention and your campaign will be a success," Penn says. "However, if your message is not relevant to their interests or current needs, they will most likely ignore it or, even worse, unsubscribe from your database, and you'll never be able to communicate with them again!"

Segmenting Your Database

So now you may be thinking, "Not all of the people in my database have the same interests, what should I do?" Before you send out a campaign, you should segment your database into several groups of people who share specific traits—age, gender, hobbies, job function, purchase history, etc.

Take whatever information you already have about the people in your database and put it to good use. This exercise will also give you some insight into the type of information you will want to gather to better segment your database in the future.

Then, once you're satisfied with the way you've segmented your database, you can create a message that will be relevant to each of those groups. "A lot of people make the mistake of creating email campaigns that appeal to themselves rather than their target audience," says Penn. "The more you know about your customers, the more you can customize the message, look, and feel to better speak to the people you are marketing to."

Enhancing Your Existing Database

When you went through the exercise of segmenting your database for the first time, you probably thought about what type of information would be helpful to have to better communicate with your customers and prospects. Make a list of the most important things (e.g., age, gender, magazines subscriptions, job function, industry, geography, etc.) and incorporate these questions into all of you opt-in forms and order forms. The fields should be the same across the board.

That way, you consistently collect the relevant information from all new customers and prospects. If you are able to create drop down menus for these fields to standardize the way information is fed into your database, even better.

Once you've incorporated everything into your opt-in and purchase forms, you might want to send out a survey to your existing database to gather this missing information. An enticing premium will increase your response rate. But remember, the premium should be enticing to your target audience, not just you.

In addition, keep good records of what people are buying, when, and for how much. These sorts of buying patterns, combined with demographic data, will also prove very valuable for future marketing campaigns. Communicating with your database on a regular basis

This is where the demographic information and the buying records are going to come in handy. Let's say you sell gloves, hats, and scarves. Some of your customers have purchased red women's gloves but not the matching red hat and a red scarf. So you might send them an email with information on a special for the red hat and red scarf. However, you will probably want to send a different email to the women who purchased the grey gloves, and a different email with an offer for men's accessories to the men in your database.

"You should customize your permission-based email marketing efforts to appeal to specifics," says Dan Forootan, president of the StreamSend Email Marketing Service. "By doing this you can greatly increase both your sales and revenue."

"Its important to communicate with your customers and prospects on a regular basis," adds Penn. "But you need to have a good reason for communicating with them, one that brings value in some way." If you're opt-out rate is high, it's a good indication that it's time to rethink your messaging as well as how frequently you are communicating with your database.

Tracking Your Campaigns

Tracking the results of your campaigns will enable you to determine what's working and what's not. One easy way to do this is to incorporate a field in all your forms called "offer code." Assign a specific code to each email campaign you send out and be sure to give people an incentive to use the offer code when responding.

After each campaign expires, you should analyze the results, including how many people you sent the email to, how many emails were delivered, how many people clicked through, and how many people opted out (most email marketing systems will give you these stats). In addition, if you look at the number of people who responded using the campaign offer code, you will be able to calculate the campaign response rate.

Last But Not Least!

As you are gathering more and more information about your customers, you can use this information to "paint a picture" of your ideal customer. They are the people who bring you the most profits—and you definitely want more customers like them!

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Neil Anuskiewicz is director of business development for the StreamSend Email Marketing service, which also offers a private-label email marketing reseller program.