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Email Marketing 2014: Targeting Individuals Instead of Segments


Companies and brands are no newbies with segment-based email marketing. For years already, we've received email marketing based on where we live or what we do for living. The difficulty with segments is, however, that the more segments there are the harder and more complicated it all gets.

Many of us have already come across the term Marketing Automation (and some of us are already using it). What marketing automation really means is that advanced technology now enables us to target people at an individual level instead of targeting them as a group. Not everyone has the chance to use marketing automations. Even without them, there are many things we could do to move towards targeting individuals. 

Targeting segments

In segment-based email marketing, the following technical innovations (among other things) have helped marketers understand their audience and improve their content.

A/B Testing helps us evaluate and test the choices we make. We all know it's one thing to get to someone's mailbox and another thing to have your email opened and read. A/B testing has allowed companies to test and refine their headings and content inside specific subscriber groups to achieve optimal results.

Landing Sites gave marketers an easy way to modify and adapt their content for different channels of traffic. With A/B testing, marketers were able to test their landing pages on different groups thus creating pages that generate results.

Mobile generation created a snowball effect both in technology and approach. Mobile optimized web pages and responsive newsletters enable companies to approach segments with different browsing preferences (desktop users, smartphone users..) Moreover, digital marketing tools enable companies to see exactly which groups of people use a certain device and target them with device-specific technology or content.

Quick tip: If nothing else, check your newsletter with a mobile device and see where your recipients are directed to. Small changes could make a big difference in how people perceive your letters.

Targeting individuals

Instead of targeting segments, companies are now increasingly targeting individuals. Below a few examples of this technology-enabled change as well as a few quick tips to improve things without investing on marketing automations.

Timing and frequency

Timing newsletters based on individual reading preferences or past behaviour (Single-Customer-View, SCV) or asking recipients about the preferred frequency of newsletters. Often people might prefer adjusting the amount of received emails instead of unsubscribing.

Quick tip: While waiting for an automated SCV with timing preferences, ask your subscribers how often they want to receive your newsletter and act accordingly.


Tailored content according to individual preferences (automatically generated emails with content based on past behaviour, reminder of an abandoned shopping cart..).

Quick tip: Personalize your newsletter with the account manager's name  (+ "Dear John...")


Directing people to the right service channel (technical support, additional sales, self service) based on page views or other digital prints.

Quick tip: Display customer care info in your newsletters. How often do your customers call sales people since they've lost technical support's contact details?

Past behaviour 

Creating communication based on past behaviour. Specific automated messages or message chains for customer relationship management (purchase history, reader preferences, themes of interest).

Quick tip: Latest updates on your current product/frequent flyer miles etc.

Purchase window

Determining the right purchase window with pre-determined triggers. An example based on a time trigger: the buyer of a vacuum cleaner will need new dust bags in 3 months from the purchase. An automated marketing message with a killer offer is sent to the buyer at an adequate time.


Sharing and conversation is made easier throughout different communication channels. Companies increasingly provide content and opportunities for conversation through the end device or channel preferred by an individual. In the future it won't matter if you change your end device or content channel in between different encounters. Instead newsletters will display products you browsed through in the online store etc.

Listening and micro signals

A variety of micro signals are gathered from different sources (online store browsing behaviour, email clicks, shares on social media..) and combined. Then further transformed into automated, individually targeted communication.

Email marketing in 2014 (and beyond)

In the future marketing and IT will approach each other even more. The development is already ongoing and affects the daily job of marketing professionals. Companies and brands will learn to know their customers as individuals like Facebook or Google already does. Consequently, marketing will become more inspiring and wanted. Moreover, marketing that is unwanted will become even easier to shut down. The choice will be at the customer's end.

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