How to Customize Your Email Program With Engagement Metrics

Much to my surprise, an airline on which I’ve been increasingly flying sent me a small gift in the mail recently — a metal luggage tag enclosed in a well-designed direct mail piece. It was a simple but effective example of applying basic marketing segmentation. The airline noticed that my behavior had changed for the better and rewarded me for it.

The same approach can be used in email. One of the best opportunities for simple, effective segmentation in email marketing centers on overt behavior with your company, products or services — or lack thereof.

When you begin segmenting your email marketing programs, based on the following engagement metrics, start by identifying key groups that’ll likely gain the largest benefits from unique treatments. Typically, these are the “extreme” cases — either heavily active or quite inactive subscribers. I’d suggest the following groups:

  • newbies;
  • hyperactives; and
  • inactives.

Let’s look at each audience and some approaches to treating each uniquely.

Newbies. With this audience of new-to-file subscribers, you’re embarking on the honeymoon period. Rarely, if ever, will subscribers be as engaged with your program as at the beginning of the relationship. They’ve supplied their addresses, indicating they’re in the market and/or have enjoyed being customers.

If you don’t have a “welcome series” to introduce new email subscribers to your offerings, seriously consider one. This needs to be more than a single message with a “thanks for subscribing” note. Orient them to your product or service. Teach them. Guide them. Consider the following ideas:

  • send “tips and tricks” related content;
  • repackage popular “evergreen” content; and
  • study call-center data to design messaging to reduce call volume.

Such tactics can be hugely beneficial. A recent customer of ours, for example, created a customer-centric welcome series that reduced call-center inquiries by 40 percent. That translated into huge cost savings.

Hyperactives. This audience consists of your most responsive email subscribers. They can’t get enough of — or from — you. This is most likely a small portion of your overall file, but one that you should leverage.

Do you have something you can reward these customers with? Maybe a sneak peek at an upcoming sale? Let them know they’re appreciated. Additional ideas include the following:

  • leverage their excitement by encouraging viral behavior;
  • promote signing up to your Twitter feed;
  • ask them to become fans on your corporate Facebook page; and
  • request product ratings, reminding them if they haven’t done so yet.

Treat them like the most valuable players they are by creating alternative messaging just for them, associating special rewards with it.

Inactives. With email marketing programs, dormant subscribers are the elephants in the rooms. Inactives are probably your largest segment based on engagement.

Entirely suppressing this audience is risky. A common misconception is that inbox inactivity is indicative of the same behavior offline. If you can pair data in this capacity, evaluate the degree to which this inactive segment is buying via other channels.

Also, compare the incremental cost of mailing inactives to the revenue it’ll drive. Email is inexpensive to send, and often the revenue driven from this segment continues to justify sending it.

The following are some approaches to take to reactivate these subscribers:

  • rest the file a few months — we all need a vacation sometimes;
  • change your subject lines — invisibility through frequency is a common driver; and
  • conduct more analysis to understand them. This can inform ways to get fewer of these individuals in your inactives file in the future.

When subscribers start to behave differently, they need to be treated differently. My new airline noticed and did something about it. To the airline I shifted away from, what are you going to do now?

Clint Kaiser is director of strategic services at Merkle, a Columbia, Md.-based database marketing agency. Reach Clint at