What’s the Difference Between Email Segmentation and Email Personalization?


In an era when relevancy and high-quality content are dominating factors for successful people-based marketing, content marketing teams are constantly challenged with creating individually personalized content experiences across channels. But with all the content marketing channels out there begging to be capitalized on by marketers, how do you choose the ones to invest in? Do you go with the coolest, hippest tools like SnapChat and Instagram, or do you focus your efforts on the tried and true channels consumers engage with?

You may be tempted to spend your precious marketing dollars on trendy apps, but it’s important to recognize that email marketing continues to be a dominating, and successful, channel for content marketing.

While a recent study from McKinsey reports that as many as 40% of emails are never read, those that are opened are said to produce a huge return on investment—every dollar spent on email marketing generates a $38 return and delivers a 3X increase in purchases compared to spend on social. This is why email is still a critical component of every content marketing strategy today.

But what’s the secret to wildly successful email marketing in 2017? That’s where personalization comes in. Personalized emails have a 30% higher click-through rate than non-personalized emails, but many content marketers confuse personalization with segmentation. While both are intended to provide more relevant content to email recipients to increase engagement, there are important differences that impact results, process and your marketing technology stack. Let’s breakdown the differences:

Email segmentation is the practice of sending messages to specific groups within your subscriber lists. Segmentation helps you target your content, offers and messaging to smaller groups of people based on characteristics like geography, age, industry, gender, education level, purchase history and more. While segmentation helps you increase the relevancy of your emails and improve general email engagement, the downside is that this level of personalization is limited in order to ensure your content appeals to the entire segment of contacts.

This approach can be effective for top- and middle-funnel conversions but less so for bottom-funnel customer acquisition, as these are the touchpoints where consumers are learning more about your products and services. These prospects may have different levels of awareness about your brand; therefore, they need an experience that’s more closely tailored to their awareness level in order to nurture them.

Segmentation can also be very resource intensive.  Creating and maintaining multiple segments coupled with manually selecting content for each segment can swamp an email team.

Email personalization, on the other hand, is the process of recognizing and acting on the unique characteristics of each individual subscriber and sending individually selected content for each person based on their content consumption history across channels, rather than forcing them into a segment.

This level of 1:1 personalization requires machine learning to predictively personalize content based on user behavior, context and lookalike analysis—delivering personalized content experiences that are individually relevant to each person. Machine learning algorithms dynamically generate pieces content for individual members of your audience. These personalized content experiences repeatedly engage them through email and other channels to build a deeper relationship with your brand.

Research shows us that content marketers can no longer afford to solely rely on email segmentation to reach and engage target consumers. 42% of consumers are less interested in a brand’s products and services if the content the brand provides is not personally relevant, and 78% say that personally relevant content increases their purchase intent for a brand’s products and services. Our experience with clients shows that campaigns including 1:1 personalized content generate anywhere from 20% to 180% more engagement than campaigns using segmentation alone.

The only way to attract a customer’s attention today is by producing high-quality content that is relevant and personalized to the reader.

Download our guide: How to Master Individualization to Delight Your Customers for best practices for delivering 1:1 personalized content experiences across every channel.


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