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Segment, target and personalize your E-mails

SUMMARY: If you have more information than name and e-mail address on your constituents and e-mail subscribers, why not use it? Perhaps this is your missing ingredient.

Online segmentation and content targeting provide a methodology for interactive marketers to deliver experiences that are more relevant to groups of constituents and, in so doing, improve their church experience. You can segment a given market in many ways.

A church that desires to use the segmentation approach should evaluate the potential bases for segmentation and select the one most appropriate for its purposes.

What are some bases to segment the population?
It’s easiest to begin with geographical segmentation. By putting the church on a map and drawing circles with a one-mile, three-mile or five-mile radius, you can estimate how many people live within that driving time and assess the market potential for a local church. While applying it for electronic marketing, churches can identify a particular ZIP code in their target market.

However, a person’s wants and needs often are associated with demographic variables such as age, sex, family size, income, occupation, lifestyle or religion. Not all programs a church offers are meant for all of its constituents. Under these circumstances, you can employ demographic segmentation. A church could obtain such information from census data or, perhaps, from local newspaper offices which collect such information for advertising purposes. The General Board of Global Ministries also offers a free, two-page demographic picture of your community ( For more tips on where to find demographic information, read the last article of this issue titled “Know Your Target Audience and Where to Find Them.”

Segmenting e-mail recipients based upon actions they have taken in the past (behavioral segmentation) is probably the dream of many e-mail marketers. This approach may portend the single-greatest opportunity for dramatic improvement in results.

Examples of behavioral segmentation include sending e-mails to recipients who have or have not opened an e-mail, who have clicked on a specific link, who have visited specific sections of your Web site, or downloaded program PDFs (portable document formats) or resources from your Web site.

Daunting as it sounds, it’s not difficult to implement. Consider starting with a simple program such as sending a follow-up e-mail to recipients who did not open your most recent e-mail or who clicked on a specific link.

You also can develop a short form to identify interest areas of your constituents. Circulate the form and ask people to complete it after the sermons and use that data to create segments with very clearly defined needs.

Now that you’ve segmented your list, what next?
Segmentation merely reveals the market-segment opportunities facing the church; you must select a strategy that will match the church’s offerings to the needs of the chosen target market(s).

It’s best to communicate information about specific church programs to appropriate segments. Targeting information is more likely to improve response rate. E-mails based on constituents’ expressed preferences or needs are, by definition, more relevant and, therefore, more likely to be read and to get a response. For example, communicating about children’s programs with constituents who have children is obviously relevant, and communicating about a sermon to be delivered in Spanish to English-speaking population may yield no results.

Again, while you may want to create just one segment for singles, it is important to realize the singles segment is very complex because it represents numerous age groups and lifestyles: teenagers who have left home, single parents in their 20s, divorced parents in their 30s with or without their children, the never-married of various ages, older adults, and widows and widowers. Each group represents a unique set of needs and should be targeted accordingly.

Finally, after you collect information about your constituents’ interests, you can use this data to dynamically deliver only relevant content to them (if you use advanced e-mail software or an e-mail service provider) or to create separate relevant e-mails in Outlook and deliver them individually.

Use your constituent data to personalize e-mails.
Studies have shown that the greater number of personalization elements to an e-mail, the higher the response rate. At minimum, of course, personalization means addressing a recipient by his or her first name. Ultimately, however, true personalization means delivering e-mails tailored to each constituent’s profiles and preferences.

Personalizing e-mails will depend upon the software you use to create and deliver your e-mails. Most e-mail software and e-mail service providers have this feature built into their systems. However, if you still use Outlook for mass e-mails, you can buy an external tool such as Easy Mail Merge for Microsoft Outlook®, giving you the power to personalize e-mail messages and deliver individual e-mails quickly to your contacts.

Also provide a preference center in each e-mail. Give constituents the tools they need to manage their subscriptions, contact you, update their preferences and get more information—right in the e-mail. It’s best to include this information in a clearly marked section, usually at the end of each e-mail.