Not all customers are alike, and what appeals to one may not interest another. Therefore, it is important that you connect the message you are sending to your customers' differing interests.

Email messages that are segmented, targeted, and relevant to the recipient are much more likely to be opened and acted upon.

Every small business can segment its customer base at some basic level. The following are some examples:

A sporting goods store emails information to its customers who have purchased bikes to inform them of new arrivals, while sending an "end of the ski season" blowout special to customers who have purchased ski equipment.

A garden center sends out a "Planting for Spring" promotion to gardening customers and a "Flowers for all Occasions" promotion to cut-flower and bouquet buyers.

A landscaping company sends out a promotion to past customers about keeping up their landscaping activities as well as its new services, while sending out a different appeal to prospects and builders.

A pub/restaurant sends out an email about an upcoming food pairing/tasting event to wine enthusiasts and an email about seasonal brews and pitcher specials for beer lovers.

Otherwise, the wine lover might get turned off by the beer promotion, and vice versa... but tap the right customer's passion and need at the right time—with a targeted subject line and content—and you're much more likely to create a sale.

Segmentation—Getting Started

Creating different email messages for different groups is a bit more work, but it's worth the extra effort when an email message hits your customer's sweet spot.

Your general e-newsletter may appeal to most customers, but mailings that reach out to your audience segments can build even deeper relationships, and drive more sales.

Consider these simple tips to be more successful with your segmentation:

1. Start with the first touch point

The best time to collect information for segmenting purposes is right when your prospect or customer joins your email list. You can easily create segmented lists by offering options with checkboxes on your sign-up form.

2. Ask for personal information

Ask for information such as location and personal preference to determine what's relevant to the person signing up. For example, a retailer might ask whether someone prefers to shop online or in the store. That way, the retailer can create two separate lists and send email coupons that contain an online promotion to one list and an in-store promotion to the other list.

3. Use online surveys

In your email newsletters, include a link to a short survey and ask for noncritical information that helps you add your people to the appropriate segmented lists. Once you have the survey results, you can create new lists or add to existing ones based on how respondents answered questions.

4. Use tracking reports

If you are using a professional email service that provides campaign-tracking reports, let the links that people click on help you understand them better. Your tracking reports make it easy for you to add anyone who clicks on a link to an existing list or a new list.

* * *

Remember that there is a real person on the other end of each email address. Every time you create an email, ask yourself whether your email content is addressing the specific needs of your audience, or whether you're only addressing the needs of your business. Segmenting your list will set you up to do both effectively.

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Michael Clark is regional development director at Constant Contact (