How you go about segmentation will dictate and constrain how you are able to approach personalization.
If you take some time to think about how you might want to personalize in the future, or what options you may want down the line, you can flip that script, and segment for ease of personalization later.
Let’s take a look at your options for segmentation, and how they might play out or create issues over time.
Some popular options:
- forms: we do this by default. You create a form, you attach an email sequence to it, the data of what form a user signed up on is tracked, and as users submit form data, a list is created
- tags: this is a great way to enrich contextual data for your subscribers. If a user signs up on a post in a certain category, like “seo,” you can dynamically tag them with that category. Later you know that they are interested in your SEO content.
- custom fields: you add an additional field to your form, it could be a dropdown or radio select from a list of options, it could be a multi-select field with checkboxes. typically not an open ended text field because that would be hard to segment with.
Segmentation Drama Llama
Brennan Dunn has been beating a drum that you should almost never use tags in your email software. In fact, I’ve heard or read him saying that like fourteen hundred times in the past few months all across his social profiles.
If you’re new to or interested in funnel-driven segmentation, it’s about 15 minutes and worth a watch/listen because it does do a nice job of explaining the pitfalls of misusing tags.
But I’d argue it also exaggerates the issue by framing it through the lens of how he approaches segmentation for personalization, which is just one way in a sea of options.
Here’s the short version:
The case for custom fields over email tags
The idea is that people often misuse tags when they should be putting people into distinct buckets.
Using tags for stage/status indicators or either/or categorization is going to lead to problems in the long term. You can’t tag someone as male and female. Or as a millennial and a baby boomer. Or as a beginner and an expert.
He uses a (bad) welcome email example that allows users to self-identify by clicking a link, that then adds a tag to that user. In the example the email says something like:
Thanks for joining my email list, please click whichever link best represents where you are:
> i want to start a business
> i want to scale a business
> i want to optimize a successful business
The idea is that once they click a link, that they are now labeled and therefore segmented as something like beginner, intermediate, or expert. In this case they are labeled as new, growing, or refining (a business).
Now as the audience-builder, you can drop them into email sequences with the most relevant content.
This is fine if you:
- have three buckets of email drip sequences (are willing to do 3x work)
- simply want to only send whatever emails you’ve written to whoever they apply to (prefer advanced users to not see beginner content)
- are willing to write conditional logic emails, that is if (beginner) else if (intermediate) else (expert)
Dunn explains that using tags for this approach can create issues as someone could click two links and be tagged as both “new” and “intermediate” and then start to receive too many emails being in both sequences or unexpected issues could come up when you try to write conditional statements for email templates like:
if PERSON is "New" write: "Hey Noob" if PERSON is "Expert" write: "Sup Chief" >> RESULT for NEW: Hey Noob >> RESULT for EXPERT: Sup Cheif >> RESULT for multiple tags: Hey Noob Sub Chief
In my mind though, if you do conditional logic emails for personalization this way, it’s wonky, and subject to issues irrespective of the tags vs custom fields debate, like coming off the wrong way.
Imagine you’re at a cocktail party. Three different groups of people ask you what you do. Based on your knowledge of having asked them what they do first, you tailor your response.
It may work out well this time, or it may end up getting weird and hard to maintain over time, littered with all sorts of faux pas type pitfalls.
I mean, really, which feels more authentic?