33 Ways to Personalize Your Emails at Scale

Are you preaching to your email choir?

Let me explain. While the phrase “preaching to the choir” usually suggests a waste of time trying to convince people who are already on your side — when it comes to marketing, most people have the opposite problem. They’re trying to broadcast their message to anyone and everyone — and that’s a waste of time and goodwill.

One of the most counterintuitive laws of persuasion is that the more you try to appeal to everybody, the more you end up connecting with nobody. Aiming for the indiscriminate masses dilutes your message. Writer Chris Guillebeau puts it well:

Too many marketers are like panhandlers. “Hey man, spare some change? Check out this great offer I’ve got . . . it’s just what you need, you’ll love it, really.”

Segmentation is the not-so-secret key to email marketing success, because it’s all about preaching to your choir. Segmentation is when you group people based on certain shared characteristics in order to customize your message to strike a chord. It’s a way to personalize your communication that’s still scalable.

Using segmentation to communicate with instead of communicate at your audience simply works to improve metrics across the board. Your opens, clicks, and conversions go up while unsubscribe and spam rates go down. Because you’re sending better targeted emails, you also end up sending less email. That means happier subscribers, better deliverability, and increased revenue.

How to Segment Your Email Recipients

The segmentation possibilities are many and range from simple to sophisticated. It all comes down to your email goals, data associated with recipients’ email addresses, and the creativity and hypotheses you have about that data.

At your disposal, you’ll have:

  • information captured through sign-up forms
  • details that users provide for a profile or settings
  • data gathered by your site, app, and/or email marketing tool
  • your observations, inferences, and theories based on this data

Here are some broader categories of data that are commonly used, mixed, and matched to create segments:

1. Basic biographical details

Basic biographical and demographic details include location, age, gender, job title or role, industry, education or income level, marital status, and language. While some tools can automatically track certain details like location, this type of data usually relies on people to proactively providing it at some point.

2. Interests and preferences

Grouping by interest, tastes, and preferences are a great way to better connect with readers. For segmentation purposes, consider interest in terms of:

  • content: type of topics and media, format, delivery method
  • product: categories, genres, grade, and any other way you classify your product/offering
  • persona: attitudes, goals, needs, and persuasion preferences that make people tick

Again, collecting this data requires a combination of automatic tracking (of details like user behavior, preferred device, or referral source), self-segmentation by people providing details (like topic preferences), and analysis (creating and understanding personas).

3. Lifecycle stage

Grouping people based on your funnel and their customer lifecycle stage is one of the most effective ways to segment. A person’s level of interaction with your business directly affects the relevance of your message.

If you’re a segmentation newbie, Diana Smith’s 3-step framework of “discover, engage, and convert” is a great place to begin thinking about funnel stages. You’d want to segment newer users, for example, to teach them about how to get started with a key feature.

3-step funnel from Segment's Diana Smith

You can also dig deeper and segment based on the pirate metrics funnel, mapping segments to stages of acquisition, activation, retention, referral, and revenue.

The approximate way to segment people based on lifecycle stage is to base groupings on sign-up or account creation date — and that’s the idea behind many automated drip campaigns. Even more effective, though, is to go beyond time elapsed since signup by incorporating behavioral data.

4. Behavior

Your message is the most relevant when it responds directly to individual activity. Real-time behavioral data provides for the most effective segmentation. Today’s segmentation is a far cry from static lists that require constant updating, syncing, and spreadsheets. Real-time, fluid groupings ensure your messages accurately flow along with your users’ experience, and your recipients are always up to date.

Well-known examples of behavioral data-driven segmentation come from the e-commerce world, with segments based on purchase history and events like abandoned shopping carts. But there are many different types of behavioral data, based on everything from pageviews, events and app actions, and email activity.

Here’s one example of a segment we use at Customer.io to trigger a behavioral email campaign to new users. It’s composed of anyone who hasn’t yet integrated with our app — a key activation task.

Customer.io activation email segment example

Using this segment ensures we’re only reaching out to people who haven’t completed the integration yet.

33 Segmentation Recipes

The point of segmentation is to make your user data useful, actionable, and helpful, considering your business goals and your users’ needs. It’s all about understanding the state of the relationship (are people happy/active, blah/inactive, upset?) and how to make them happier (what do people want/need/like?). Segment with purpose and deliberation.

Since segmentation is tied so closely to your goals and the needs of your base (customers, audience, choir) — effective segmentation is very case-by-case. Nevertheless, we thought we’d help kick off your brainstorming with a few segmentation ideas.

First, a review — segments involve characteristics based on one or a combination of: attribute; action/event; frequency; and/or time. Don’t be afraid to mix and match to create segments such as:

  • subscriber for x months and opened 5 emails with the past 60 days
  • logged in in the past 30 days and hasn’t received an email from us within the past 3 days
  • recently downgraded + wasn’t sent a promotion in the 7 days

Or think about overarching segments that combine subgroups. Here’s how we currently segment our “best customers”:

customer.io best customers segmenation example

Now, without further ado, here’s a list of 33 ideas to get your segmentation started!

  • has logged in within the past # days
  • performed key activation action
  • installed app or extension
  • did X task # times
  • used X feature Y+ times in the past # days
  • purchased # times in the past # days
  • attended # events + lives in X location
  • used / didn’t use promotion/coupon
  • is a VIP
  • clicked on CTA
  • invited or referred someone
  • call /demo requested
  • nearing a quota / limit
  • opened # newsletters
  • put in a support request
  • has not completed key task X
  • hasn’t logged in in # days
  • didn’t complete signup or purchase
  • hasn’t upgraded
  • hasn’t viewed upgrade page
  • downgraded
  • has not received email from us in the past # days
  • type of user / plan level (e.g., new, trial, freemium, customer, power user)
  • plan / subscription set to expire or renew
  • plan or purchase price > $
  • trial users who never subscribed or upgraded
  • customer in danger of churning
  • role (e.g., team administrator, manager, contributor, editor, coach)
  • language is X
  • is a user / customer in common with integration/promotion partner
  • hasn’t put down a credit card
  • blog reader
  • referred from X promotion or source (e.g., came in from a twitter ad, a specific landing page, Product Hunt, etc.)

Have any creative segmentation suggestions? Share with us in the comments!