Without segmentation, email marketing just ticks people off.

email list segmentationWhen it comes to buying gifts for my wife, I’m pretty useless.

So I fall back on jewelry almost every time.

And I often buy her jewelry at a particular online store. I like their stuff, and so does she.

After over 5 years buying from them, I would consider myself a fairly valuable customer.

Which is how they fooled me, just for a moment, when they sent me an email recently.

Here’s the subject line:

RE: HUGE Discounts for VIP

Finally, after all these years, recognition that I’m a VIP!

In the body of the copy, they wrote:


This is Mimi from Xxxxx. I am very pleased to inform you that you could get Huge Discounts this weekend with the VIP Coupon issued to you this morning !

Below are your VIP Coupon details:
Code: VIP48HOUR9827
Activate it Now >

FYI, we have added lots of new stunning pieces this morning, and each piece is one of a kind. You may start shopping for the new pieces at this page.

Warmest regards,


Customer Service Manager

Let’s look at all the ways they got it wrong here.

First, the “RE:” in the subject line.

Really? They’re not replying to one of my emails. They know it and I know it. And they are only the 10,000th company to try this trick. As a result, it tells me the whole email is going to be BS.

Simple rule… Never type RE: in a subject line. The RE: is added automatically when you reply to an email. It’s a simple email convention that has been around from the start. When we look at our inbox, RE: shows us ongoing email conversations and threads. Its absence tells us the email is something new.

When you mess with that automated email convention, you are playing a trick on the recipients.

I have clients who insist on using the “RE:” trick.

“But Nick”, they say. “We have tested it and we get a much higher open rate this way. The proof is in the numbers!”

I believe them. But there’s a downside. And the downside is that every time I see this trick being used in my inbox, my respect for and trust in that company takes a hit. A company I once respected goes into my memory’s “idiot marketer” bucket.

And don’t think it’s just me who reacts that way. Your customers aren’t stupid. They recognize the tricks you play.

Yes, you’ll get a higher open rate on that email. But you also take a hit on your reputation. Is it worth the trade off? I don’t think so. Why spend so much money on earning a customer’s trust if you’re then going to start eroding it, one email at a time?

Now for the salutation and opening paragraph:


This is Mimi from Xxxxx. I am very pleased to inform you that you could get Huge Discounts this weekend with the VIP Coupon issued to you this morning!

“Hi?” Really? I have spent all that money with you over the last 5 years, and you don’t even know my name?

And the opening paragraph just confirms that this is a bulk email, probably going out to every customer on their list. Just more BS.

Now we come to the wonders of segmentation.

If they segmented their email list, they really could treat me like a VIP.

For example, if they decided to write an email only to customers who have been buying from them for 5 years or more, they could have written something more like this.

Hi Nick,

Wow… I just printed out a list of our most valuable customers, and there you were! You’ve been buying from us for over 5 years now, and we really, really appreciate it!

I’m not kidding when I say that, because there are a zillion jewelry stores online, and I know you could shop at any one of them.

We want to thank you for sticking with us!

Use the code below – and please don’t give it to anyone else – this is for our most valued customers only – and we’ll give you a 75% discount on any item in the store.


With a 75% discount they not going to make any money, but they’re not going to lose any either. Because the margins on jewelry are huge.

But they will make me love them. And they will have secured me as a customer for the next 5 years.

I guess there are two takeaways here.

First, don’t be an idiot email marketer. Your customers aren’t stupid and they’ll punish you for treating them as if they were.

Second, segment your list so you can write to separate groups of customers with different, personalized messages and separate offers.

Email has the potential to be the most personal and valuable marketing channel in your arsenal.

But it won’t work for you if you don’t MAKE it personal through segmentation, and show respect for your readers.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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1 thought on “Without segmentation, email marketing just ticks people off.”

  1. Hi Nick,
    Thanks very much for sharing this lesson. I love the idea of opening a personal relationship with your clients, customers, or prospects when you can. I am in the process of writing prospecting/referral request letters.

    I have the recipients segmented into industry/niche. And, within each segment, I segment again, to people I know and those I don’t.

    I try to personalize each letter, somehow. If I know the person at all, I will write about how I know them. If I don’t know the person, I introduce myself.

    I too have the same reaction to letters that try to fool me into reading them or even advertising that lures me in by tricking me to click on it. That gets my goat.

    Recently on the sidebar on Facebook, there have been ads that imply that the celebrity pictured has passed away. When you click on the photo, it takes you to an advertorial on a steroid-like supplement.

    You learn quickly not to click on them. So, where did that get the advertiser?




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