By James Glover
Every retailer knows that customer segmentation makes campaigns more effective. When you classify customers according to their interests and desires, it’s much easier to deliver content that speaks to them personally, creating a connection that builds long-term loyalty.
On paper, segmentation looks like a straightforward way to turn subscribers into delighted customers. But segmentation does have its limits. When you’re dealing with one-time purchasers, market segments don’t tell you what customers will purchase next. They don’t make accurate predictions and can’t tell you why customers purchase certain items together.
To understand those aspects of your customers’ preferences, you’ve got to look beyond segmentation, and implement advanced techniques.
The Sweater Experiment
Imagine you’re a clothing retailer and want to promote two new red sweaters this season – a men’s and a women’s. You’ve got an email list of 25,000 men and 25,000 women. Do you segment your next email campaign? If so, how?
At first glance, the answer might seem obvious: If you don’t segment your list, and instead send a promo for the women’s sweater to all 50,000 subscribers, hypothetically you might only get about 50 percent opens, 50 percent clicks, and 50 percent purchases. If you send a promo for the women’s sweater only to female subscribers, on the other hand, you’ll get a significant boost: a potential 100 percent opens, clicks, and purchases.
While this might look like a major improvement, it comes with risks. Some of your male subscribers might’ve been interested in buying the women’s sweater for their girlfriends and sisters, but you’ve missed your chance to sell to them. And what about your female subscribers who already bought that sweater? You sent an unengaging email to them, when you could’ve shown a new item they might actually have been interested in.
For all these reasons, segmentation alone isn’t enough for effective email personalization.
Stepping Beyond Segmentation
As our sweater scenario demonstrates, the core limitation of segmentation is that its improvements are often just smoke and mirrors. A metric like a “50 percent lift in clicks” sounds concrete and comforting – but it doesn’t tell you anything about missed opportunities for even more lucrative cross-sells and upsells, or about which products your customers might want to buy next.
Segmentation has its advantages, of course. It’s helpful for personalizing emails, which protects your emails from getting sent to spam. Email content aligned with each subscriber’s interests also helps safeguard against unsubscribes, reducing subscriber churn.
But to really connect with your customers, you’ve got to look beyond segments. Even within a given customer segment, each customer is on their own personal journey, interacting with your brand across a unique sequence of touchpoints — email included. That means to really connect with your customers where they are, you’ve got to start mapping those journeys and addressing each stage with tailored content.
When you understand where each customer is on their individual journey, and which products will meet them where they are, you’ll be able to predict what a customer wants even before they know it themselves. And by guiding customers through a personalized series of product discoveries, you can lead them to new areas of interest that can significantly raise your margins, while driving stronger customer loyalty.