Email Marketing Segmentation: The Basics

The Email Marketers
December 6, 2021

Email Marketing Segmentation: The Basics

Alrighty! Roll up your sleeves because this topic is a foundational part of email marketing. Ready to lay your foundation? You bet you are!

Segmentation may sound distressingly like math, and make you think of certain types of insects (or is that just me....?), but it's truly one of the strongest weapons in the email marketing arsenal. Smart marketers know that email marketing segmentation is one of their best friends.

In the blog post below, we'll go out what the difference between segmentation and personalization, we'll break down segmentation, offer tips for how to approach segmentation, and give thoughts on best practices.

And we'll leave you with some food for thought at the end, so make sure to read all the way to the bottom :)

Segmentation And Personalization: no, not the same!

So, segmentation is just a way of saying personalization, right? Kinda like putting a first name in your subject lines and sending out a welcome email to new subscribers.

Sorry, but no. A common misconception is that segmentation and personalization are one and the same. But, though they have distinct similarities, these email marketing tools aren't the same.

The deal is: segmentation aligns with personalized content, but it is a different species of email marketing beast. In order to know how to tame this beast and make it work for you, you have to make sure you understand what email personalization is.


Personalization is content created for a specific individual (think a subject line with the customer's name) and segmentation targets a group with similar characteristics.

Now, personalization is marketing gold because it puts that email marketing touch that enables email marketing campaigns to make REAL connections with their email subscribers and customers.

A good email should feel almost like a conversation between friends and allow you to build trust and rapport and turn brand new subscribers into loyal customers. With personalization, communication to you gets much closer to that "friend" feeling and helps build a loyal customer and subscriber base.

Different But Similar

Although segmentation and email personalization are not identical, the amazing thing is, the more refined your segmentation gets, the more it actually FEELS like personalization. And segmentation is very much data-driven, so you can continue to tweak and refine so that it really makes the customer feel like you know their preferences and habits!

This blog post will go over the details of how to use email marketing segmentation in your email marketing strategy so that your email marketing campaign can go from mediocre to impressive.

So Exactly What IS Email Marketing Segmentation?

Basically, segmentation allows you to group customers and send targeted emails to email subscribers so that they only see content and promotions that interest them, upping the probability they will want to engage with your email.

In short, email marketing segmentation allows you to send the right message to your target audience. Psssst...this KEY to successful email marketing!!!

Segmentation allows you to categorize customers into groups based on their shared characteristics. There are a number of ways to go about segmentation and create email segments, for example:

  • demographic data
  • geographic data
  • subscriber behavior
  • psychographics

Let's break those down a bit more.

The Segmentation Break Down

Although there is any number of ways you might decide to group your customers, in general, email segments usually fall into these 3 categories:

Demographic Segmentation

The most basic form of segmentation is to group email contacts based on their quantifiable characteristics. This is demographic segmentation.

Quantifiable characteristics, ie demographic data,  include age, gender, education, income, family status, or profession.

Which characteristic you will use for your demographic data depends on what your product is. Is it something that tends to appeal to a certain gender, such as clothing for males? Or is it something that will appeal to certain levels of education, such as a college planner?

Tailor this segmentation to your product's specific email marketing needs.

Geographic Segmentation

This form of segmentation breaks customers into segments based on geographic location, such as region, city, county, or country.

This is a fairly general form of grouping. But, don't write it off! It can work very well, depending on the email marketing campaigns in use. For example, you can promote local events to your subscribers based in those cities. Even though it might not seem like the most interesting thing about your subscribers, you can actually get really creative with your thinking around geography. For example, winter is a very different season in different parts of the world. So if you want to run a promotional email campaign on winter gear during November, consider sending lighter clothing to California subscribers while your New York subscribers get full winter gear. Or change the messaging for the California audience so it's all about gearing up for a ski trip.

Keep in mind that time zone differences can also play a part in the timing of when you send your campaigns. Your Australian subscribers aren't going to feel particularly understood if they get an email that mentions it's Monday when it's already Tuesday in their part of the world.

Please note that due to iOS 15 demographic data isn't reliable for Apple users who have opted out of sharing their data.

Behavioral Segmentation / Purchase History

Segmenting customers according to how they interact with the brand and the products you offer is behavioral segmentation.

To find behavior and start segmenting based on behavior, you will have to use tracking tools.

For example, you can categorize your customers based on their spending habits, browsing habits, past purchases and purchase history, and customer loyalty.

Customers' website usage metrics (such as page views, time on your site, sessions, and cart value), can provide you with valuable behavioral data.

A customer's place within your sales funnel will also help you decide what kind of targeted email they might receive, perhaps it's a welcome email, or a follow-up email after purchase to determine buyer satisfaction level or offer a special promotion to incentivize another purchase.

You can also track email engagement and use customer engagement as a metric when you create these email segments. For example, how frequently customers open and respond to your messages, or who's unsubscribing, and who's clicking on links in your emails.

One of the classic uses for email engagement data is the re-engagement email. You can segment your subscribers who haven't interacted with your email in over 60 days, and send them a campaign checking to see if they're still interested in receiving your emails. If not, they can unsubscribe and help keep your subscriber list clean. You could even throw in an engagement incentive like a discount or a giveaway to turn a prospect who's about to unsubscribe into a happy, engaged customer.

Psychographic Segmentation

Psychographics are usually described as personalities and interests. Think lifestyle, hobbies, beliefs, goals, or values.

Sounds a little nebulous, right? Like, how the heck are you supposed to know this about your existing customers, much less your new customers? Well, there are a couple of strategies you might use.

First, you can add checkboxes to your signup form. For example, asking customers to indicate their interests or preferences will supply this information. Taking occasional surveys is also helpful.

Psychographic segmentation can tip a good email marketing campaign into a great one. It's one of the most powerful segmentation tools and ensures extremely targeted emails.

Using psychographic segmentation, customers are much more likely to jump on discounts and promotions when they receive an email message tailored to their specific interests.

We have also found that welcome flows segmented based on the pain point the customer indicated they are trying to solve with the product convert significantly higher.

How to Reverse Engineer a Segment

If you're still not sure which kind of segmentation will best fit your company you might try reverse engineering a segment. If that sounds overwhelming, don't worry, it's actually not. Check out the step by step below:

  • Start with what action you want your subscribers to take. For example, you might want your subscribers to buy your newest product.  
  • Then, identify the subscribers most likely to perform that action. For our example, that might be subscribers who have already purchased products from you. To refine further, you might identify those subscribers who have purchased SIMILAR products to the one you now want to promote.
  • Now you have a segment. In our example, the segment is based on the subscriber behavior of having bought a similar product.
  • Next, determine what that segment cares most about. This will be highly dependent on your brand and the type of subscribers your brand attracts.  For instance, say your online store or website sells clean beauty products at prices lower than department stores. You might surmise that your customer base cares about PRICING and SAVING.
  • With that in mind, you can now craft a targeted email campaign based on what your new segment cares about. Using our example, your email might offer special discount codes or other exclusive savings such as free shipping.  

Now That You Grasp This Email Marketing Tool, It's Time To Build Your List

Let this section serve as a quick reminder: in order to launch an email marketing campaign, you need subscribers on your list. Somebody has to go into those creative segments you just made!

A few tips for getting active subscribers include using a signup form on your website, asking for emails when customers make purchases, offering discounts or promotions when potential customers subscribe or using lead magnets, which we will examine below.

Oh, and here is a general housekeeping tip: some email list clean-up might be in order before you get to work using email segmentation strategies.

Make sure you purge inactive users and inactive subscribers from your email list. You want all the hard work you're about to do to land with engaged subscribers and active subscribers.

Email Segmentation Tools

Unlike non-segmented campaigns, segmented campaigns cannot be done manually. It's way too overwhelming. Gone are the days of sending off emails one by one!

This is actually one of the reasons segmentation is such a gift for marketing professionals--by grouping customers and subscribers and sending targeted emails en masse, tons of time is saved. Increasingly it's pretty much the ONLY way to run a successful marketing campaign.

You will need an email marketing platform from where to launch your targeted emails, an email service provider, and a way to generate lead magnets so that you can segment subscribers and get them into relevant segments automatically.

More on email service providers and lead magnets below! Stay with us :) But our favorite by far is and always will be Klaviyo.

Create an Email Segmentation Strategy And A Targeted Email Campaign

So, as you can see, there are lots of options when you want to segment your email list and create strong campaigns.

As you make decisions about how to create segments and assess your email marketing tools, we suggest you do the following:

Refine Your Criteria

Decide what criteria will put a subscriber into a segment. Sometimes that will be simple--if you are grouping based on location, you might just grab a zip code in the contact info and segment based on that.

But to measure more subjective attributes like a customer's sense of loyalty, you'll have to come up with your own standards.

Remember, this is a place where you can put your own spin in! You decide what's important in your segmentation strategy. This will vary from business to business and help you create your own unique segments.

Get The Data

Once you have a sense of how you will segment your email subscribers, then it's time to collect the data. You might use surveys to ask for feedback, or you might set up tracking on your website.

Of course, one of the best measures as to how your email marketing efforts are going is the dollars and cents. Is your ROI increasing? If so, chances are your segments are hitting their mark.

Set Up Your Email Service Provider

Decide which email service provider is the best fit for you. Your email service provider will be able to automatically add to your segments and from there make sure your email campaigns are hitting the target audience.

There are many types of email service providers: free, paid, and business providers. Most businesses, as they grow, will likely choose hosted email services, which are paid.

When it comes to technical aspects like allowing you to send mail from your domain, allowing you to filter for spam, keeping files, or even providing an entire suite of productivity tools like calendars or contact management, your email host will take care of the majority of the work.

Microsoft and Google offer hosted email for businesses, and there are many other great options on the market. Although you can use a free email service provider, a hosted email service is built to scale with your business and can handle extensive email marketing campaigns.

Once you have your preferred provider, you can start to plan your email marketing campaigns.

Lead Magnets

A lead magnet is a free resource that attracts potential customers in your niche. Visitors are more likely to sign up for your email list and eventually become paying customers if you use lead magnets.

Using a lead magnet, you can get your visitors to give you their email address in exchange for something of value. An ebook or newsletter or another "freebie" could be the content.

The other handy thing about this tool is that it can do some marketing for you! A potential customer can learn more about your product or service by reading this content, which is both informative and enticing.

It could also be a free product sample or a trial subscription or a demo of some kind. Bottom line is, this the lead magnet tool gets emails for you and builds your email list. As your email list grows, so does the potential for your email marketing campaigns.

Lead magnets will help you build your email marketing list and perhaps get some basic data that will be helpful for segmentation.

Best Practices When You Segment Your Email List

Yay! You're getting the hang of segmentation and strategies, sending more targeted campaigns, and it's making a difference in your marketing emails and marketing campaigns.

You're seeing that segmentation enables you to send more relevant subject lines, allows for greater email personalization, and is getting new subscribers into the loyal customers category.

Most importantly, the right message for the right person is hitting now that you send targeted campaigns.

But you want to keep this trend in your email campaigns in a healthy place. As all good digital marketers know, this is when you develop your best practices in your segmentation strategies.

Stay simple.

Find segments that work for you and your email campaigns and stick with those.

Yes, there will be times when you want to experiment (especially when you see a bunch of inactive users) but creating a million segments will only overcomplicate your email campaigns.

It's the old SSS when it comes to email marketing: stay simple, stupid. Or as we prefer: in all things email marketing, stay simple, sweetheart.

Get a feel for YOUR audience and active subscribers.

This will help you create evermore relevant segments and get your email campaigns to translate into higher ROI. Do the research and create buyer personas.

Don't overstay your welcome.

In other words, be careful you aren't asking subscribers for too much information in your signup forms. These are very useful for collecting contact data, but an overlong form might actually put off potential subscribers and customers.

Make combinations!

Create better email campaigns by segmenting based on multiple criteria.

You might segment according to women within a geographic region, with the same purchase history; rather than just women or just a geographic location or particular purchase history. As you narrow segmentation, the feeling of personalized content grows.

Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

Hey, you didn't embark on this exciting email strategy just to stay "good enough!" Nope, you want to keep improving and refining.

Keep an eye on the results of your segmented campaigns as they are in process. You'll learn what works for different audiences and use that knowledge to improve your future content.

Do It Yourself?

Email marketing is only the first step. And yes, it's a necessary one--email marketing still has some of the best ROI of ALL marketing tools. But in order to get those high ROIs, email campaigns must be targeted.

Segmentation of active subscribers is perhaps the best way to achieve targeting. It's an amazing and relatively simple digital marketing tool that's accessible to small business owners, mid-size businesses, or larger businesses--anyone in the business industry with a subscriber-based email list can do it!

Segmentation will include basics such as a relevant email subject line, the marketing funnel, welcome emails, and the like, plus dive into more specific characteristics such as purchase history and even personality. It makes the buying process SUPER smooth for a subscribers based business.

Segmentation is definitely something a business can do on its own using email service platforms and other available tools. You've probably already played around with the perfect subject line for customers, and might have marketing flows in place.

BUT to get into the real nitty-gritty of targeted emails and really utilize email marketing tools for the best darn email campaign possible and get a rock-solid marketing strategy in place, you might want to consider outsourcing to experts.

Outsourcing Your Segmenting

Now, as we mentioned, segmentation IS something a company could feasibly handle on its own--say you have great copywriters who are super whizzes with subject lines or dedicated designers who've made your website look extra fantastic. Heck, you might even have an in-house marketing team. But, even with all those elements in place, there are a few reasons you might want to outsource your segmentation.

Firstly, segmentation is REALLY important. With the right segmentation as part of a detailed email marketing strategy, customer engagement and sales skyrocket. Put plainly, segmentation equals money, so getting it right can make a big difference in your profits.

But getting it right can be tricky. Segmentation is more than just compelling content and great design. It takes technical expertise and industry expertise. A smart marketer has to know HOW to perform segmentation and WHAT kind of segmentation works best for each industry. Segmentation in the auto industry is a whole different beast from segmentation in the childcare industry, for example.

Acquiring segmentation expertise, as within any field, takes time. Your company or even your marketing department may currently be experts in segmentation, and the time it will take them to acquire those skills will equal lost profits.

Furthermore, segmentation is not a one-and-done deal. It requires tracking, tweaking, and updating. Again, this equals time and expertise, two assets your company may not currently have.

At this point, you will need to take an honest assessment of your company's capabilities, when it comes to segmentation. If you feel you do NOT have the expertise to begin successful segmentation, now it's time to reach out to an email marketing agency or even freelancers who DO have the skillset to segment for you.

Believe us, if you outsource, it will be worth the investment. The ROI as a result of segmentation can be fantastic. Think of it this way, if you were a hairstylist, you would want a blowdryer, right? After all, having a blowdryer would add to your overall profits. Would you expect yourself to design your blowdryer?  No, you would probably outsource the blowdryer. But, it would be an investment that would pay itself off pretty quickly and one that is actually rather essential. And so is segmentation.

At the end of the day, it will depend on your particular company, of course, but many will find it easier to outsource segmentation. Luckily, there are many email marketing agencies and marketing freelancers that do this stuff on the daily, have years of experience, and a proven track record.