Getting started on email campaign segmentation

Several years ago, when I first started to organise and manage email marketing campaigns to members of the union I worked for, I was a bit stumped. I was using an email marketing service (Mailchimp) which gave me a wide variety of segmentation options, to allow me to target the emails I was sending.

Unfortunately, coming up with a plan for effectively segmenting email lists isn’t easy, especially if your email campaigning history has been to send the same email to all your members.

Over the last four years, I’ve learned a bit, and I thought I’d share some of that.

Firstly, I learned that simple segments are the best place to start. Broadly speaking, it helps to think of your membership list as lots of little membership lists that are lumped together.

Your membership database probably has all kinds of information about your members — their date of birth, job title, pay range, work and home address, etc, it is easy to get overly complicated.

When I started segmenting, I started with the easy stuff. The basic separation was already done for me. Most members at the union I worked at were located at one of the major universities, and were already categorised into academic and non-academic staff.

Most unions will know the different categories of members they have — whether its major work sites, or category of work (e.g. industry or role) — this will make segmentation very easy.

When you’re sending an email to, for example, just non-academic members at Swinburne, you’re segmenting your list. There’s no point in sending information that is of no interest to members at Swinburne to, say, members at Deakin University. That’s a no-brainer.

Starting with this single segmentation helps in three ways:

1. You can cope with unforeseen challenges

There will always be growing pains when you start taking your email campaigning seriously. Using simple segments means you can try your online/email strategy in a controlled environment (you do have an online strategy, don’t you?).

With a simple segment, you can start the process of making customised email templates, and learn from them, before investing in more comprehensive email designs for all your email campaigns.

Finally, there will always be some errors in your data — members who get emails who asked not to, wrongly spelled names, out of date work details and so on. Starting simply means you can learn and easily correct your mistakes.

2. You can adjust your strategy as you learn

I learned a lot from my early email campaigns, and subsequent plans were substantially changed as a result. We found that open and click throughs dropped off substantially when members were emailed more than once per week. Our e-newsletter open and click through rates increased substantially when emails were regular and frequent (e.g. once a fortnight or once a week, compared to irregularly or monthly). Members were more willing to reply to the sender of the email (that is, engage with us) when they were personally addressed — e.g. “Dear John” rather than “Dear member”.

3. You can see the results

One of the reasons why you must invest in a professional email marketing service is because of the analytics and metrics. Without those, you can never know if you’re just wasting your time with your emails. I was able to use the proven results from one segment of members receiving a particularly formatted e-newsletter sent on a regular fortnightly basis to convince other parts of the union to adopt this approach. Without the results of opens and clicks, it would have been almost impossible to change our approach.


It becomes a bit more difficult when your secretary or campaign director wants to send an email to the entire membership. How do you segment the secretary’s statement or message, especially when it appears to have relevance to all members?

Again, if you’re just starting out with email campaigning, take it one segment at a time. Keep it simple.

If you have five divisions or branches in your union, don’t try to write five versions of the email. Write two, and send a generic email to four and a customised email to the last one. Track the results and see if there is a difference between them (look at the ratios though, not the raw numbers). Services like Mailchimp let you experiment not only with subject lines and who the email is from, so those are easy tests you can use on your segments. Finally, use those results to apply to subsequent campaigns.

[box border=”full”]Do you have any advice for unions on email campaigning, or a personal story? Leave a comment.[/box]

2 responses to “Getting started on email campaign segmentation”

  1. Stephen Day Avatar

    Hi Alex, have you got any thoughts on using multiple lists with your email campaign management programme? We are using Mailchimp too at NZTEU both for our newsletters to all members and for more segmented emails to specific worksites or groups of members. I use the same list for both tasks – but I wonder about people unsubscribing from receiving our regular newsletter thus also removing themselves from the same list I use to send segmented emails. Better to use one list or multiple lists? Aside from this downside I tend to opt for a single list because the time and cost involved in maintaining several lists would probably outweigh the benefits.

    1. Alex Avatar

      Hi Stephen,

      I’d suggest asking an organiser or your phone bank to call the member and ask why they’ve unsubscribed. Ultimately it will likely boil down to the member not being interested in any email from the union. And don’t worry — you can still hard-copy mail them.

      I’d suggest using one list. If you’re using MailChimp, you can create groups for different member cohorts.


%d bloggers like this: