Tim Priebe

Is an email segment or an email list the right choice?

Segment vs ListHaving different email newsletter lists makes sense in some circumstances, but you may be better off with an email segment instead. How can you tell?

What’s the difference?

We’re big MailChimp fans at T&S, so we tend to use the same language they use. As they define it in the MailChimp glossary, a list is “a collection of subscribers who have opted-in to receive correspondence from you or your organization.”

A segment, however is a subset of that list. MailChimp defines it as, “a section of your list that includes only those subscribers who share common field information.”

When would an email segment be a good idea?

If you’re in retail, for example, you could change the colors of products in your newsletters based on demographic information. That would use a segmented list—the same email newsletter list, but segmented into different sub-lists.

Let’s say your audience is essentially made up of similar people with slightly different interests or preferences, and you could just change 10% to target certain groups within your target audience. You’re probably better off just segmenting the list instead of sending out completely different newsletters to those groups. There’s no need to create unnecessary work for yourself!

You may also want to have one list, but allow the subscribers to control what type of information they want from you. Maybe some just want to know when you publish new blog articles. Others may also want to know about new services you offer. Still others may want to know about local classes you’re putting on. Each of those could be a segment in one list. However, if you’re using MailChimp, a Group might be a better option.

But sometimes an organization will find that it’s more appropriate to send a completely different newsletter to different groups of people. In that case, having separate lists for each group is more efficient.

When would an email list be a good idea?

It’s a good idea to have multiple email newsletter lists in situations like these:

  • You have very different product lines and different target markets for each
  • You want to have a free and a premium (paid) newsletter
  • You want to create a newsletter with a strategic partner that will have different subscribers than your main newsletter

If you can think of different groups of people who are connected with your business or nonprofit in different ways for different reasons, there’s an opportunity to split up your newsletter lists.

What’s the point?

You shouldn’t split up your email newsletter lists into multiple lists just because you can. But if you have groups you could split your list into, think about their motivations for engaging with your organization.

There are probably large groups of people whose motivations don’t overlap much at all!

If you have a professional services business, for example, you probably work with clients, prospects, and strategic partners. They may have overlapping interests, but it’s likely that your prospects aren’t interested in exactly the same things from you that your strategic partners are interested in.

Or if you’re a nonprofit, you probably have donors, clients, potential volunteers (including potential board members). Those are three distinct audiences who probably connect with your organization for different reasons, and if you have the resources, it would make sense to target your communications with them along their interests.

Of course, if you have multiple newsletters, people can subscribe to multiple lists if they want to. But sending different newsletters to different lists is a way to reach the people on your lists in ways that make sense for them.

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