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  • Writer's pictureColby Horton

How to Drive Engagement with Data-Driven Email Campaigns

Data is the force that has truly driven today’s email effectiveness. And guess what? This positions associations at the forefront of creating some of the most effective emails.

If you can believe it, the first email was sent in 1971. It was sent from Ray Tomlinson to himself, most likely saying “QWERTYIOP” or “something similar,” he said. Who knew that something so trivial would revolutionize the way we communicate. And it seems that since that simple email was sent, communication visionaries have predicted the death of the medium. Heck, in 2009 – 38 years after the first email was sent – the Wall Street Journal put its epitaph in print: “Email has had a good run as king of communications. But its reign is over.” This spawned the mantra “Email is dead.”

Associations and businesses alike would agree that this statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. Now, I would definitely agree that the email of 2009 is certainly dead. But email’s evolution has proven it to be even more powerful today than ever before, with a user base in the billions and an impeccable ROI unlike any other marketing channel. In fact, a recent survey by Spike shows that 77% of U.S. workers prefer email for communication purposes.

So why the resurgence? It’s all about the data. Data is the force that has truly driven today’s email effectiveness. And guess what? This positions associations at the forefront of creating some of the most effective emails. You see, an association’s biggest asset is its first-party member data. Using this data to its fullest extent can create a powerful and engaging communication experience that the largest Fortune 500 companies would pay big bucks for. Here are a few data-driven email strategies to help further market your association to your members and professional community.

Segment Your Subscribers

In today’s email world, personalization is a must. And let’s not forget, your members expect it. This is where list segmentation becomes extremely valuable.

As an association, you are already familiar with list segmentation. Think of all the questions you ask on your membership application: geographical location, years in the industry, company revenue, number of employees, etc. Perhaps you have different industry divisions you serve. All of these questions is your first step to segmenting your subscriber list.

Now take your segmentation one step further, segmenting your members based on past behavior.

1. Tradeshow/Event Registration – Which members are currently registered for your next tradeshow or webinar? Which members took advantage of early-bird registration last year? Now provide content based on that data “flag.” Nothing turns off a subscriber more than receiving notification about an upcoming event that they already registered for. Instead, provide those subscribers with additional information about the event, or perhaps the location of that event (Top 10 Fun Things to Do in Vegas During Conference Downtime).

2. Past Education Sessions Attended – What past education sessions did a particular subscriber participate in? Do they tend to register for sessions taught by the same instructor? Capitalize on those preferences. (Hi [membername]! We know how much you love [instructorname] and we’re excited to announce that she’ll be conducting a session in your area soon! Register here).

3. Industry Interests – Are there sub-sections of your association that your members belong to (i.e. industry sectors or young professionals)? Deliver content based on those interests. It’ll up your engagement levels while keeping your content relevant, ultimately promising subscribers will continue opening future emails.

And remember, personalization using your segmented data doesn’t have to be only textual in nature. What if you had a different masthead for your newsletter based on the industry segment your member designated? Or perhaps a separate display ad that appears for those that registered for your tradeshow vs. those that haven’t registered yet?

Further Engage Current Subscribers

Associations spend a lot of time (and money!) recruiting new members. However, it’s proven that acquiring new members can be as much as five times more expensive than retaining current members. But don’t forget, engaging with your current members increases ROI significantly. So when it comes to email, focus on your current subscriber base. See who’s opening your emails; who’s clicking on links within the email; and who’s converting or purchasing.

For those engaging with your emails, consider sending an offer or an “exclusive” piece of content. Knowing how interested someone is in your association and the content you produce is an important part of data-driven email campaigns. Take the time to nurture and provide further value to those that engage consistently.

A/B Test

It goes without saying: A/B testing is important for any marketing campaign, including email. This is the best way to determine what works, and what doesn’t work. As a quick primer, A/B testing, also known as split testing, means sending two variations of the same email to two small subgroups of subscribers. The goal is to determine which email variant is the most effective before you send it to your entire list. Perhaps you test two different subject lines; or maybe you use two different lead stories in a newsletter to see which one gets the most clicks.

In my previous life, I worked with an association that forced detailed A/B testing on an email newsletter. We spent several hours a week formulating and executing a plan, then followed up with tangible analytical results. But, the association never made changes. They were afraid to “pick a winner” to send to the entire email list. It was a cycle that continued each week. Eventually, engagement rates went down; unsubscribes skyrocketed; and the frustration levels got intense. The lesson? If you’re going to take the time and effort to A/B test your email campaigns, you MUST believe the data and make subsequent changes.


An effective email campaign leverages a large array of data points – data points that come from segmentation, engagement levels and A/B testing. Utilizing such strategies will increase your member engagement and produce better email campaigns.

Ready to get started with data-driven email newsletters? Contact us today and we’ll get you up and running in no time!



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