Why segmentation isn't always the answer

I originally wrote this in 2017 on another site I ran, before I let it die. Oops. I was recently able to recover this article so I'm posting it again for posterity's sake.

I noticed something strange recently, Marketing Land, the well-known sister-site to SEO Land by Third Door Media started cutting down on the number of segmented and specialised newsletters they send.

Over the years, there’ve been a lot of articles written on the need to segment your audiences for your email marketing campaigns, and for the most part, those articles are true.

At its most basic level, list segmentation allows you to send the right content to the right person, ensuring they stay engaged and interested with your brand. This helps boost your key email engagement metrics (opens, clicks, conversions) alongside harder to measure metrics like your deliverability, and even the recipients brand experience.

Unfortunately, there are some enormous potential downsides that don’t get discussed often enough.

Segmentation takes time, and inevitably that costs money. Not only do you need to request specific data extracts from your database (or your BI team), manipulate your data, work with multiple lists, etc, but you need the time to build out all the different variants and permutations of your email. If you need to A/B test, suddenly your audiences might become too small to give you statistically significant results, particularly if, and you should be doing this, you test for conversions.

Now I know what you’re thinking, your ESP probably handles a lot of that hard work for you, particularly when it comes to generating the user lists you need, but increased sophistication tends to come with added costs and added staff, which can further impact those costs. Another downside to increased segmentation is that we no longer allow our audience to evolve in their interests. We’ve all heard about the social media “echo chamber”, with feeds being tailored by AI algorithms to deliver things we’ve expressed an interest in, but ultimately that just means that our audiences stagnate. They never have the opportunity to discover new concepts or products, they don’t have the opportunity to grow.

Are you measuring the associated monetary costs of segmentation (both long and short term) against the perceived benefits? Do you know what the impact on your total macro conversion volumes are by running a segmented campaign? Are you really making use of all those bells and whistles your ESP salespeople told you you absolutely had to have? I’m willing to bet that the answer to those questions is a resounding no.

Ultimately, as marketers we often find ourselves taking the path of least resistance and relying on established conventions to make our decisions for us. If the industry thought leaders are telling us to do something, it must be true!

We should all take a moment to think about what value we’re really creating for the business and for the people we’re sending emails to. Maybe a simple mass email is just what you need.