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If you are currently managing email marketing efforts for your organization, you are undoubtedly engaging in email segmentation in some way. You might also be engaging in personalization. Yet there's some confusion around the distinction between segmentation and personalization. A good way to think of this is: Segmentation is a method of working with customer data that benefits the marketer, while personalization is all about benefiting the customer.

For instance, email segmentation allows marketers to break up a large customer list into groups with the same general interests. This could be interest in a specific product category, those located in a specific geography, or those that took a specific action in the past. Put differently, you can look at segmentation by behavioral, demographic, geographic or psychographic methods. Grouping in this manner helps marketers reach people who have a high likelihood of responding to a particular message or offer.

Personalization, on the other hand, takes segmentation much further by drilling down on specific behaviors and actions of an individual to provide them with the necessary information to move to the next step in their buyer’s journey. Thus, personalization benefits customers by giving them a specific offer, opportunity or piece of information based on their specific behavior or needs. In this article, I’m going to discuss when and how to use both email segmentation and personalization to get the most out of each approach.

Which Comes First: Segmentation or Personalization?

When you are doing both email segmentation and personalization, you should make sure to prioritize segmentation as the first step of narrowing your audience to the most likely to respond to your message. Segmentation allows this because its primary purpose is to create groups of customers who are known to share a common interest or common challenge. You can also think of segmentation as something that comes earlier in the marketing funnel because you simply know less about a customer at this stage, there is no history yet.

After segmentation comes personalization. Think of personalization as augmenting or adding to the benefits that segmentation brings. Since personalization is all about the customer, it should utilize more specific information about them and their intent. Think about the stage they are in the customer journey, the specific concerns they may have, and what actions did they take and on which platforms do they prefer to act (e.g. do they prefer using live chat versus phone support, or the mobile app versus your website). When personalization is done well, it feels natural to the customer, and the results are increased responses to the desired actions.

In this way, you can see the timing and sequencing of how email segmentation and personalization work together.

Related Article: 10 Common Email Marketing Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix

Make Your Personalization Meaningful

Some marketers may be reading this, thinking that they are engaging in email personalization because they insert each customer’s first name into the messages they send. While this is technically a form of personalization, simply showing someone their name doesn’t unlock the true benefits of personalization.

Marketers who understand personalization know its power comes when a brand demonstrates it really understands who a customer is and what they want. To do this well, make sure you are tracking and understanding where your customers are in the buyer’s journey, as well as their communication preferences. When you suggest content, products, offers or actions that an individual customer feels is tailored to them, you will get better response rates as well.

It’s not enough to just reiterate some pieces of information you have in your CRM about a customer. Make your personalization more meaningful by placing your customers at the correct place in their journey and offering them something beneficial based on their specific circumstances.

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Know How to Use Segmentation and Personalization Together

Savvy marketers shouldn’t look at this as a matter of whether or not to use segmentation or personalization. Instead, you should look at how to use them best together. Just like we saw earlier when talking about which comes first, personalization can supercharge your audience segmentation.

This means that segmentation can get us into a general audience group, while personalization can take things much further and appeal to their individual interests within a larger segment or category. Keep in mind that this also helps within your content creation process as well, because creating truly personalized content can take more effort than doing so for large segments.

Email segmentation and personalization aren’t mutually exclusive, and in fact, work best when used together strategically to define both broad categories of customers, and then more specifically tailoring messages and offers to an individual.

Although they each serve specific purposes, email segmentation and personalization work well together, and should be approached that way. Think of email segmentation as the first level of making sure the right overall message is reaching an audience, and personalization as a way to further tailor that message to a more precise individual need.