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The average employee receives 120 emails per day. For advocacy professionals, this poses a critical dilemma: how do you get in front of advocates without becoming background noise? Crafting advocacy messages that engage and activate your audience is the ultimate challenge. One way to transform the effectiveness of your email campaigns is through engagement-based email segmentation.

What is Engagement-Based Email Segmentation?

Segmentation allows for personalisation at scale: the more data you collect, the more you can micro-target your advocates. Engagement-based email segmentation means splitting your list into various categories based on how engaged list members are, as opposed to what they engage with.

Objective Versus Engagement-Based Segmentation

Segmenting lists by topic and relevance is critical for advocacy professionals, but so is separating your contacts by engagement rate. “I tend to think of it from two angles,” says Paul Ellender Jr, senior product manager at VoterVoice. “Ask people what they care about when they opt-in, and then track their engagement over time to see what they actually do.”

 “A successful campaign is a little like fishing,” explains Adam Campbell, senior client success manager at VoterVoice. “It’s critical that you don’t scare the fish.” In the advocacy world, this means not asking too much of unengaged contacts (the flipside is asking too little of highly engaged contacts and leaving bigger, better results on the table).

“For unengaged members, you should start with the lightest lift possible,” says Campbell. This often looks like simply clicking a button (signing a petition, sending a form letter), and these actions are often the least effective in the bigger picture. The best strategy, according to Campbell, is to “turn up the screws ever so slightly” — making simple asks of those who are less engaged, and bigger demands of those who have already demonstrated a willingness to take action. 

Getting a contact from unengaged to highly engaged may take years, but in advocacy, slow and steady wins the race.

VoterVoice makes this easy by automatically segments users into three different groups based on how many times they have taken action on your behalf.

How a Farm Bureau Achieved 50% Participation Rates

“In my ~15 years experience,” says Ellender Jr, “organizations that spend the additional effort to personalize almost always get better results in terms of action rates. Those actions are also from people who are more likely to have a deeper connection to their issue, so they’re more likely to take additional actions as well, like calling their legislator or even visiting the office for a fly-in.”

One of our VoterVoice customers, a farm bureau, saw participation rates well over 10X the industry average in a recent campaign. “That’s because they use a lot of objective segmentation,” says Campbell. “They record what crops farmers had, how much acreage, how much acreage was devoted to particular crops, the fertilizers they use, irrigation systems they have, tractor types — they were seriously micro-targeting.” 

With all this data at their disposal, the organization send legislation-related emails only to highly relevant list members. “They had over a 50 percent participation rate,” says Campbell. “A 5 percent participation rate is almost fictional, so 50 percent is pie in the sky for almost every association. It’s phenomenal.”

4 Steps for Implementing Engagement-Based Segmentation

1. Identify Key Engagement Metrics

Splitting your list by engagement requires that you first define various levels of engagement that make sense for your list. Potential engagement metrics to consider include open rates, click-through rates, and response rates.

2. Segment by Metric

Depending on how you define engagement, you can now split your list into multiple levels: 

  • Highly engaged contacts — for example, those with a high response rate
  • Moderately engaged contacts — for example, those with higher click-through rates but low response rates
  • Inactive or low-engagement contacts — those with low open rates

It’s also important to regularly ‘clean’ your list of zero-engagement contacts (or bounces). This will help show spam filters that your emails are relevant and well-received, helping you avoid landing in spam folders.

3. Personalize Your Messages

Choose the right content

Create targeted content for each segment you’ve identified. Start with general messaging: for example, if you are launching a campaign about legislation that will affect radiologists, ensure your main segment is highly relevant (i.e. radiologists). 

You may also create messages for semi-relevant contacts (for example, other doctors and health professionals). If this is the case, you’ll need to address your audiences differently: for radiologists, you’ll be speaking about how the legislation affects them. For other types of health professionals, you might craft a message that asks advocates to ‘help out their fellow professionals in radiology’.

Select the right call to action

Within these segments, you’ll want to customize messages and calls to action further depending on engagement rate. For example, someone who has only ever opened one email from you may be a good candidate for a low-lift ask such as signing a petition. Meanwhile, someone who opens every email and has participated before might be asked to go further, such as writing a personalized letter to an elected official.

Customize language and tone

For each version you create, pay close attention to your language and tone, and invest disproportionate time and energy in crafting subject lines that will resonate with each group. 

“The audience will determine what kind of language to use,” explains Lauren Schwartz, senior digital advocacy specialist at Real Strategies. “For example, for a woman’s right to abortion, we can use much more forceful, insider language with women aged 30-50. These are women who know their rights, who know what’s at stake, and know how it will affect them. We can make the hard ask without having to educate them first.”

As your list gets broader (for example, younger or older women who may not understand how the issue affects them), your language should change. “With this audience, you can use medium-style language and allow that first educational email to be more of a ‘learn the latest and take action’, followed by direct calls for action,” says Schwartz. With more tangential audiences (in this case, this may be a male audience), “we want to speak to them, but make it simple enough for the least-informed voter to understand and find resonance with,” says Schwartz. These audiences will be the least likely to act on particular campaigns, but it can still be worth reaching out.

4. Measure Your Success

“Ideally, the organization should have some goals set first,” says Ellender. “Are you looking to grow your supporter list or increase the rates of action on campaigns? Most campaigns that do well pick a small number of key metrics they’ll track to monitor engagement.” He suggests monitoring list growth, action rate per segment, total actions, and opt-out rates as a starting point.

There are two ways to measure success: externally, and internally. VoterVoice’s insights reporting automatically includes industry-specific benchmarks, particularly for your campaigns. You’ll see at a glance how campaign metrics compare to industry-specific averages for other email or text messages with the same purpose. “You should also be looking at organizational benchmarks,” says Campbell. “Not just comparing yourself to others, but comparing yourself to where you were last year.” Any improvement is progress, and in the advocacy world, progress can take time.

Additionally, each campaign provides new list data around engagement and interest, allowing you to update your lists accordingly.

Segmentation Gives Advocacy Teams Personalization at Scale

Ultimately, the better you get at segmentation, the more powerful your advocacy campaigns will become. The best advocacy teams know that granular targeting is the best lever they can pull to see higher engagement and participation rates from their campaigns. And with the right tools, segmentation becomes a natural part of the campaign process.

The most trusted and secure advocacy tool on the market, VoterVoice helps you influence the policy that matters. More than 2,000 organizations use VoterVoice to connect directly with lawmakers and advocates.

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