It’s no secret that the way small businesses think about marketing has changed a lot in recent years.

With the introduction of online marketing tools like social media and email marketing, business owners are now building valuable online communities and connecting with their target audience in more ways than ever before.

But it’s not just businesses that have undergone serious changes as a result of the changes that have taken place in the online marketing landscape.

Consumers have changed as well. With access to more information and more ways to connect with their favorite businesses and organizations online—consumers have come to expect more from the marketing messages they receive.

That may explain why today, 56% of consumers credit irrelevant content as one of the main reasons they choose to disengage from a brand online. Consumers want information that’s relevant to them as an individual, not just as a member of a broader populace.

They also expect businesses to understand their individual needs and preferences as a consumer. For 69% of your target audience, the frequency of your messages will determine whether or not they maintain their relationship with your business online.

Consumers have raised their expectations, and businesses now need to adapt.

All contacts on your email list are not the same

If you’ve been using email marketing for your small business, you already know how valuable your email contacts can be.

Your contacts are the lifeblood of your email marketing efforts. As your contact list grows, so too does the likelihood of your target audience receiving your message. With each new contact, your reach is extended—allowing you to drive better results from email and more opportunities for your business overall.

But these contacts are not just names and email address in a  database. When you grow your list you’re expanding to reach more people. Each of these people comes with their own interests, needs, problems, and expectations.

Some people may be lifelong customers, others may be completely new to your business.

Based on their familiarity with you and your business, some may be ready to buy while others need more information about the type of products you sell or services you have to offer. For those who are interested in making a purchase or signing up for a service, some may prefer to shop online while others may be more comfortable coming to the store to communicate face-to-face.

All of these differences are what make your contacts unique. And as your list grows and you expand to reach a wider audience, these differences will play an increasingly important role in whether or not your open and click-through rates remain consistent, and more importantly—whether or not your emails continue to generate results for your business.

The advantage of email marketing

Unlike with sites like Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks, with email marketing you have much more control over the how content is delivered to your target audience.

That’s because with email marketing you have owned contacts, rather than rented connections. As you collect contact information from your target audience, you will be able to learn more about the interests, needs, and expectations that make each contact unique.

With that information, you will be able to make better decisions about the type of content you create, the frequency in which you send, and the way you measure success for particular members of your target audience.

This process is known as segmentation and its one of the biggest advantages email marketing has over any other online marketing outlet.

Here are a few examples of how different industries may segment their list:

  • A nursery emails its residential customers about new spring plantings, and its commercial customers about availability of bulk mulch.
  • A cosmetics boutique emails one discount coupon to customers who buy makeup, and another to those who buy skin-care products.
  • A financial services firm emails tax prep customers a timely IRS filing reminder, and another to financial planning clients about rebalancing their portfolios.
  • A liquor store sends a promotional email about an in-store wine tasting to wine aficionados, while beer lovers receive a different email promoting 12-pack specials during football season.

How email list segmentation works

As you can see, there are a number of ways you can use segmentation to your advantage. But if you’re thinking about segmenting your growing list of contacts, it’s not always easy to know where to start.

Simply understanding that your contacts have unique needs and interests won’t automatically segment your list into their appropriate groups. Nor will it create the content on your behalf.

But there are steps you can take today, that will put you in a better position to segment your contacts for your next email and beyond.

1. Segment at the point of signup

While it won’t necessarily help with making segmentation decisions for the people who are already on your list, there are changes you can make to your signup process that make segmenting new contacts stress-free moving forward.

Think about the type of content that may be relevant to your particular audience. If you have a retail store or restaurant that attracts a majority of your visitors during a particular season, for example it may be helpful to ask people for their city and state at the point of sign up.

If a contact is local, you will be able to send targeted messages to help drive them into your place of business throughout the year. But if a contact lives somewhere outside of your community, it’s likely you’ll want to change your messaging to help them stay connected during your slower seasons until they are back in town.

You could also take this opportunity to ask new signups about the frequency or type of content they are most interested in receiving from your business. With Constant Contact, these new contacts can be segmented into individual lists automatically—saving you time and energy down the road.

Just keep in mind that requiring too much too early could also have an adverse effect, as people may not be willing to offer up too much information at the start. Instead, only make the most relevant info required and give interested contacts the option to fill out more.

2. Send a follow up survey

If you already have a list of contacts and aren’t sure how to segment an email list, you can use a follow-up survey to ask readers what type of content they want to receive.

Once again, it’s important that you have a clear plan ahead of time about the type of content that will be most relevant for your particular audience. Keep it short and to the point and most importantly—make sure to put their feedback into action, so contacts understand their input is being listened to.

3. Track your clicks

By keeping track of how your contacts interact with your emails, you can learn more about who these people are, what problems they’re facing, and how you can better position your business to address their needs.

Based on the type of links you include in each of your emails, tracking your click-through reports will help you see the content, products, and services your contacts are most interest in. With Constant Contact, you can automatically generate separate lists based on who is clicking each of your links.

From there, you can make smarter decisions about what content to provide and which contacts to provide it to.

4. Make your own segmentation decisions

It’s important to keep in mind that segmenting your contacts isn’t just about providing a better experience for your contacts, it’s about providing more opportunities for your business as well.

As a business owner, you already know a lot about the people who walk through your door, visit your website, or call to place an order.

You may already have  list of people who are your best customers—the people who are most likely to open your emails, read your content, and take the next step to help grow your business.

With segmentation, you can reward these customers for their loyalty by putting them on an exclusive list. Planning a sale or event? Rolling out a new line of products or services? Let them know first by scheduling a special email a few days before notifying your entire list.

You can also create a list of people who have become less engaged as well, and look for opportunities to bring them back to your business.

Remember: just like contacts have different needs and interests, they will also vary in the type of value they have for your business. Identifying what that value is, will help make your own decisions about how you segment your contacts.

Resources to help segment your email contacts

Understanding that all of your contacts are not the same, is an important next step in the email marketing process.

You’ve put in the work to build a valuable list of email contacts, great! Now it’s time to get more from those contacts and generate the type of results you’ve always wanted from your email marketing.

And don’t worry—we’ve put together a list of resources to help you get started!