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Each email address in your database represents a customer or subscriber who is just a little bit different from the next one.

Together though, every customer in your database shares enough characteristics with others – gender, location, purchase history, interests, etc. – that you can group them together based on one or more of those characteristics.

Then, you can target messages using those common characteristics to everyone in that group, making them more relevant than one-size-fits-all broadcast emails.

That’s the basic idea of segmentation, and it’s one that can pay off well for marketers. Study after study show that relevant messages lead to higher engagement and conversions, and lower attrition through unsubscribing or emotional disengagement.

If you aspire to be a First-Person Marketer, you’re probably using at least basic segmentation right now. You’ve introduced some innovations to your program, so you’re comfortable with complexity. Now it’s time to advance your segmentation program so that you can drive even more conversions.

3 strategies to raise your segmentation stakes

  1. Embrace your data.

Anything you’ve done regularly to make your messages more relevant depends on data. What are you looking at or analyzing in your CRM? Are you looking at third-party data? Data is one of your greatest allies as a First-Person Marketer.

If you don’t have the data you need, look for opportunities where you can acquire it. First, decide what data you need to implement a more sophisticated segmentation strategy. Do you need more preference data? More behavior data from their activities on your website and in other channels?

Then, figure out how to collect it. Ask your customers for more data through progressive profiling, surveys, quizzes and other sources. Ask your CRM or IT people for access to more customer data. (See No. 3 below.) Acquire it from reputable third-party data agencies.

If you want to learn more about embracing and expanding your use of data, these sources can help: Third Party Data is the New Bacon and 4 Questions to Making Sure Data Really Is Your New Bacon. (Sensing a theme here?)

  1. Expand your email platform.

Got a segmentation plan written down somewhere? If not, sketch out what you’re using now to divide up your database into groups with similar characters. Then, look for ways that you can push its boundaries.

After that, go into your email platform and see what else you could be doing with it. It probably has functions you’re not using now for one reason or another.

Don’t let your fear of unknown features on your email platform stop you. Ask your ESP for help. If you have a relationship manager, talk about what you could do. Send him or her your segmentation plan and ask, “What could I be doing differently using the platform?”

Many functions on the typical email platform aren’t being used, either because marketers don’t know they’re available or because they can’t figure out how to push the right buttons to make them work.

This is the time to reach out to your ESP and ask for help. Request a refresher course on the platform itself or on features you don’t use. You could get ideas for different approaches once you become familiar with the basic elements.

Tip: If you don’t have a direct contact at your ESP, there’s probably a user forum or FAQ that can walk you through the features. (If you don’t have someone you can reach directly by phone or email, it’s time to find a different ESP!)

  1. Tap your CRM and IT gurus.

Your CRM people hold the keys to your customer database. Ask for a data dictionary, which spells out every field in the database and, sometimes, its source. Ask for a walk-through of the customer data you could use in segmentation and targeting. Sit down with questions, too, and ask for explanations.

Most databases have more information than the average email person knows about or can access within the email platform. Ask, “What don’t I know about our data?” This can help you find new data, or new ways to think about your data, that you can use in your targeting.

There’s one other challenge in dealing with data and segmentation. You need access to it, and not all data is accessible to your email platform. You might need to work with your IT staff to make your various databases and platforms talk to each other to make segmentation happen automatically.

It’s worth the effort

Segmentation and targeting will help you build relevance with your customers and subscribers because you are sending messages that tell them, “You’re not just an email address in my database. I know something about you, and what I know is reflected in my emails.”

Launching a full-scale program of database segmentation and targeting is a daunting prospect, especially if you lack time, money and/or support within your company. But even one small step forward can get you started down the road. After enough steps, you’ll be able to take what you’ve learned and make a case for resources.

Every marketer who has taken my advice has come away with something new for segmentation. It’s well worth your time and it will deliver measurable rewards for your email program.

*This article was originally published on Business 2 Community.