Does your organization publish a blog, or maintain a Twitter account? If it does, then you already understand Self-Segmentation. You already know that you can’t send your blog only to the people who you think are interested, or Tweet for a limited audience. Instead, you put your content out there and allow people to find it. The more targeted and appealing your content is, the larger and more engaged your audience will be. You don’t need to segment your audience: they Self-Segment, simply by electing to interact with the narrow content you publish.
Email, on the other hand, is normally managed in the opposite way. Instead of starting with content that an audience discovers, email programs typically begin with growing a subscription list and then aiming content at that list. The advantage here is that we email marketers can choose how to target different segments of our lists, based on known attributes of our subscribers.
Except when we can’t. Inherent in any segmentation and targeting program are assumptions. If we’re promoting this year’s Annual Meeting, we’ll target last year’s attendees because we assume they might be interested again. For a webinar on “Operational Efficiency” we might target attendees of last quarter’s webinar on “Time-Management Strategies,” since someone interested in time management might also want to learn about efficiency. But what if last year’s Annual Meeting attendee has new responsibilities, making the Annual Meeting content less relevant? Or if the time-management webinar registrant is in the marketing department, with little need for operations content? In the absence of perfect information, we have to rely on assumptions.
Unless we can rely on something else, which is where Self-Segmentation comes in.
Preferences centers relieve us of the burden of decision-making. By allowing your subscribers to opt into narrow channels of content, you don’t need to decide (often a euphemism for “assume”) who should get this email about the Marketing Conference, or who might be interested in learning about this new piece of legislation which may impact your industry. And because everyone who self-selects has asked for this targeted content – and knows they are empowered to change their preferences themselves at any time – the risk of over-mailing is significantly diminished.
But perhaps the greater benefit is on the quality of your content. Instead of softening the edges so that the content appeals to a broader audience, you can get all sharp and narrow, like a ninja shuriken, and penetrate inbox clutter. The narrower your audience, the more relevant you can be to them. Greater relevancy means deeper engagement, improved metrics and increased ROI – all that stuff we got into email marketing for in the first place.
None of this is new, and preferences centers have been around since nearly the dawn of the email industry. But the past years have witnessed a dramatic shift in the consumer landscape, putting more control into the hands of your subscribers. They decide which blogs to read, which Twitter accounts to follow, how much they want to pay for a hotel room, how much they’re willing to bid for a baseball card, and who they want to be their Facebook friend. They want – and are now accustomed – to control the content they consume. More than ever, now is the time to implement a preferences center. Your subscribers are beginning to expect it.
Here’s how to start:
- Take a look at all the types of email communications you send currently. You may have more different types than you realize, each with different content.
- Categorize them into “content channels”. Think of each channel as something to subscribe to.
- Determine how frequently you send to each content channel. Add this frequency to your preferences center so people will know how many messages they’ll be receiving.
- Write a short description of each content channel, designed to let your subscribers know what they can expect.
Voila – you now have an initial mock-up of your preferences center. You’re not finished yet, but the greater part of the effort is organizing your content channels and starting to think about how this new taxonomy can impact your content strategy. This upfront organization – and your ongoing discipline – can lift your relevance and returns for years to come.