Segmentation Screwups: How Do You Recover?

Email segmentation is a funny thing.

Used well, it’s one of those little extras that separates professional email marketing campaigns from disparate sequences of “spray and pray” messages. It gets more of the right message to the right people at the right time, and it amplifies your response.

Used poorly or mistakenly, however, it can amplify the wrong kind of response.

A pair of emails I received the other day demonstrate this and give us a chance to see how we can respond to our own segmentation mistakes.

Let’s have a look…

Borders “Store Closing” Email

Below is an email I received from Borders advertising 40% off due to a store closing:

(Click image to see full email)

This is a nice way to tell Sacramento area customers about a chance to pick up some books on the cheap. As a sender, you could reasonably expect an amplified response rate to this email, since you’re targeting people near that store who have likely shopped there before.

Thing is, I don’t live in Sacramento. Or California. Or West of the Mississippi. Borders sent the email to all subscribers.

From a technical standpoint, this email is just a segmentation “whoops.” Borders meant to send it only to subscribers in the Sacramento area. It’s embarrassing and they probably lost some subscribers (in this case, the mis-segmentation likely amplified their unsubscribes and complaint rate).

Next Up: The “Correction” Email

A couple hours later, this email shows up:

(Click image to see full email)

This “correction” email makes sure I know that I can’t take 40% off any products unless I go to the Sacramento store.

From a technical standpoint, Borders “corrected” their mistake. Might have lost a few more subscribers who didn’t see the first email, but so it goes. There was nothing else they could have done, right?


The “Technical Whoops” From the Subscriber’s View

Like any other “whoops” you might make, a poor segmentation can negatively affect customers’ perception of your business. It can dissolve the relationship you’ve worked to build with them.

Mistakes – or rather, your response to them – can also strengthen that relationship. And this is the real lesson from Borders’ example.

Borders saw their mistake and immediately went into “damage control” mode. Evidently they feared customers were going to show up to all Borders stores and demand 40% off, which confused store employees were unlikely to honor.

In doing that, they missed a HUGE marketing opportunity.

See, as a subscriber, the “whoops” email pointed out that someone else was getting a better deal than me.

And all the correction email did was re-emphasize that comparatively, I was getting a raw deal (Borders even included the body of the original email in the correction – really driving the point home).

While leaving well enough alone may not have been the best option, I’m fairly certain it was a better one than inciting subscriber jealousy. (After all, aren’t subscribers likely to take a cue from man’s best friend and resent the unfairness?)

Would it really have been so hard to give all subscribers a coupon for 40% off of one item?

It’s not like they haven’t done it before – here’s an email they sent me about a week before the store closing one:

(Click image to see full email)

Talk about a great opportunity to present an offer with legitimate urgency: “We screwed up, here’s a coupon for just as much off as the Sacramento folks got – but it’s only good until the Sacramento store closes on January 3rd!”

Lessons: What To Do When Segmentation Goes Wrong

  1. Decide Whether To Do Anything.

    Yes, mis-segmentation is bad. But does sending a “correction” email make it better? If not, does any email make it better?

    If not, you may be better off not sending one at all, and just moving on.

  2. Fess Up.

    If subscribers are aware that something’s amiss (even if they’re not quite sure what), own up to what happened.

    Remember, you’re trying to build a relationship with subscribers. You need their trust. Honesty goes a long way toward getting it.

  3. Make Lemonade.

    Look for opportunities to turn your mistake into everyone’s gain.