Email is one of the easiest, most affordable, and most effective marketing tools out there. Nonetheless, launching an email-marketing program can seem a daunting challenge, especially for time-strapped entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

You're so busy running your business, how can you find the time to figure out what to say and how to say it? The key is to just get started and improve as you go, so I've put together some tips for finding the right tone and content to help you hit the ground running. That's Step 1.

Step 2 for email-marketing success involves targeting. Building your own opt-in email-marketing list is an accomplishment, but don't stop there. Once you start reaching out to your list subscribers with great content, you can then improve the targeting and relevance of your email-marketing campaigns by using segmentation.

Segmentation means dividing up your general email list into smaller sublists, or segments, by grouping people with similar interests, preferences, or purchasing behavior. That simple step will ultimately result in higher open and click-through rates.

In fact, open rates for segmented emails are 20% higher in the first 30 days compared with un-segmented emails (MarketingSherpa 2008). In addition to building a stronger connection between you and your customers, it will also foster a long-lasting, profitable relationship.

But before you can get started with segmentation, you must first figure out what to say in your emails, so let's begin with the following four points.

What to Say

1. Be casual

  • Avoid being too formal; keep the tone of your emails casual.
  • Your subscribers will feel more connected with your brand if you treat them as equals. Keep your messages conversational rather than sounding like a textbook.
  • Imagine you are talking to a friend. Using this tone in your emails will help your subscribers trust you more and will set the stage for building a relationship with them.

2. Get personal

  • Be clear who the email is from by personalizing the From section of your emails.
  • Let your customers get to know you as an individual. Include a personal message that tells them a little bit about you. Don't write your life story, but include a couple of lines to show that you're human, just like them.
  • Try including personal stories that link you and your products or services— illustrating the link between what you provide and how it is useful in real life.

3. Get your emails opened with the right subject line

  • To avoid getting lumped in with all the junk email, create subject lines that are short, sweet, and relevant.
  • Put yourself in your customers' shoes and ask yourself, Why should I open this email? Give them the reason in your subject line.
  • People generally look for reasons to just delete emails. Don't give them one! If you're having a sale, include that in your subject line. If you're offering a fun or interesting tip, include that. While staying relevant, always remember to avoid spammy words, such as "free."

4. Spy on your competition

  • Don't literally spy on your competition, but it's OK to get inspiration from them, especially if you're having a tough time figuring out what to say.
  • Go to your competitors' websites or subscribe to their newsletters. Don't replicate what they do, but use the websites and newsletters as launching pads to come up with new ideas for your email campaign.
  • Try to think about what your competitors aren't providing that your subscribers would find interesting.


Now that you've nailed your tone and content, the following tips will guide you through kicking off your segmentation efforts.

1. Don't make a mountain out of a molehill

  • Segmenting might seem overwhelming, but once you start doing it regularly and become more familiar with email marketing, it will seem like second nature. Until then, start out simple and do what you can.
  • Send one general email to all your contacts. To kick off the segmentation, separate the email into different sections.
  • To make it easier for your customers to navigate through your email and find what they want, categorize the different products and services you offer.
  • As your campaign progresses, break down this one big email into multiple smaller emailing lists.

2. Get familiar

  • When segmenting your list, it's important to be familiar with who your audience is.
  • Offer a special deal to those subscribers who haven't yet bought anything. This will entice them to make their first purchase.
  • Look at those subscribers who are already customers. Ask whether they'd be interested in one of your service or product upgrades.

3. Take advantage of your resources

  • One of the most useful tools to use when segmenting your list is your metrics. Use that information to begin making different targeted lists.
  • Send an email to those who almost never open your emails and ask if they would like to keep their subscription. You might lose some subscribers, but if you focus on the quality of your list rather than on the quantity, you'll watch your profits grow.
  • Make another list out of those subscribers who usually open your emails. Treat this list with special attention and segment it even further. This will improve the relevance of your emails and your open rates.

4. Segment based on interests and spending

  • Sorting your list based on subscribers' interests and spending is one of the most effective segmentation tactics. Not only will your subscribers be getting emails pertaining to what they like, but they'll also be getting offers within their price range.
  • Separate your customers based on their interests and customize each email to fit those needs. With the right emails going to the right people, the result will be increased sales and a better relationship with your brand.
  • Make separate lists based on spending ranges. Make lists for low spenders, average spenders, and high spenders. Next, offer applicable discounts for each spending-level group.

* * *

The more you use email marketing, the easier it will become. You'll find what works and what doesn't work; but, until then, keep it simple and don't get overwhelmed.

Just keep reminding yourself of the two-step process—offer relevant content, and segment.

You'll be amazed when you see the great results your business will get. 

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Steve Adams is the vice-president of marketing for Protus (, a provider of communications tools, including the MyFax ( Internet fax service; my1voice (, a virtual phone service; and Campaigner (, an email-marketing solution. He can be reached at