How to create email blasts that aren’t spam: the secret’s in the audience segmentation

Profile photo of author Tiff Regaudie
Tiff Regaudie
21min read
Email marketing
August 3, 2023
Image shows several examples of personalized email blasts, with lavender font on a lemon-colored background reading, "How to create email blasts that aren't spam: the secret's in the audience segmentation"

It’s 2012, and Obama just struck email marketing gold with the year’s most successful subject line: “Hey.”

Your manager reads an article about it in the latest AdWeek and calls a team meeting to discuss how you can replicate the presidential campaign’s $690M email marketing success.

The team spends most of the meeting deconstructing the email’s copy and design. After an hour of brainstorming, you reach consensus on creative direction.

But you have one more question before you start. As most of your teammates rush out the door for lunch, you stop your manager and ask, “Oh, and who are we sending this to?”

“Everyone,” your manager says. “Just blast it to everyone on our list.”

And, because it’s 2012 and email blasts happen all the time, you do.

Now, more than a decade later, here you are reading another article about email blasts—except a lot has changed, and your manager’s 2012 advice wouldn’t stand up against today’s email deliverability standards.

Conventional email blasts are ineffective because they’re often not relevant to the majority of people who receive them.

Conventional email blasts are ineffective because they’re often not relevant to the majority of people who receive them. Even worse, they can harm your brand’s sender reputation and deliverability with email providers.

When you send enough email blasts, you train your audience into thinking your content doesn’t apply to them. That’s when they start deleting your emails without opening them, unsubscribing altogether, or marking your emails as spam.

But you can avoid that. There’s still a time and a place for a broad(ish) email blast—you just need to take a few extra steps to enjoy the potential revenue they can generate.

Read on to learn what an email blast is, the benefits of sending email blasts, what makes an email blast good, and how to create email blasts that aren’t spammy.

What is an email blast?

An email blast, or e-blast, is the mass distribution of a single email to a large group of recipients. Brands send mass emails like this when they want to deliver a specific message or offer to a wide range of subscribers.

Modern email blasts use personalized content to engage recipients and encourage them to take action. Compelling subject lines, engaging copy, captivating design, and CTA buttons work together to make email blasts as effective as possible.

Email list segmentation and cleaning, however, are what really increases average click-through rate and conversion on email blasts, because they ensure messages are relevant for recipients.

6 benefits of sending email blasts

We like to mock the ol’ bulk emails of yore as much as the next contemporary marketer, but brands that get them right see some benefits from them.

Here are 6 ways email blasts can serve you when you’re doing them right:

1. They save you money

According to Litmus, email marketing earns you $36 for every $1 you spend. If you’re in retail, ecommerce, or consumer goods, that number shoots up to $45.

In other words, email marketing campaigns are cost-effective, and your blasts have the potential to earn you way more money than you spend on them.

The same can’t be said for paid ads, which barely break even for a lot of brands now that most Apple users opt out of the tracking functionality that made audience targeting so specific. Since the feature was introduced in 2021, cost per acquisition has soared and return on ad spend has plummeted.

2. They help you target the right people

Email marketing, and owned marketing in general, is the best way to communicate with people based on how they interact with your brand.

Using Customer-First Data™—the combination of zero- and first-party data—keeps your digital marketing relevant because it allows you to send email messages based on the needs and preferences of each person after they opt in to a relationship with your brand.

And when your owned marketing audience data and email communication are under one roof, you can segment your email blast campaigns based on demographics and behavior like website visits, previous email engagement, previous purchases, etc.

3. They earn measurable results

Email marketing metrics are signals for your brand. You know your email blasts are working if the following metrics are meeting or beating benchmarks:

  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Conversion rate
  • Revenue per recipient (RPR)
  • Deliverability rates
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • List growth rate
  • Return on investment (ROI)

These metrics are all signals of how close potential customers are to buying, where they are in the funnel, and how much they enjoy hearing from you. When you gain these insights from email blasts, you can transfer them to other marketing channels—and, ultimately, refine your marketing strategy as a whole.

These metrics are all signals of how close potential customers are to buying, where they are in the funnel, and how much they enjoy hearing from you.

4. They increase sales and revenue

Email blasts, or email campaigns, don’t typically earn as much per recipient as email automation flows. But if your content is relevant and your email lists are at least somewhat segmented, you can make up for low RPR with sheer volume.

The most obvious example of an email blast with earning potential is your Black Friday Cyber Monday campaign. While you’ll want to build out special BFCM segments for your VIP customers and previous BFCM purchasers, your overall campaign can skyrocket overall sales with a compelling offer.

5. They drive repeat purchases

If you’re seeing that existing customers are making repeat purchases by clicking on your email blasts, you’ve collected some encouraging information.

Unlike marketing automations, email blasts aren’t triggered by recipient behavior, so they’re more like periodical reminders that your brand exists. If your customers make a purchase after receiving one of these reminders, that means your brand is top of mind and they had a positive experience with you in the past—which is great news.

If you’re noticing a repeat purchase pattern from your email blasts, that’s your cue to create a “highly engaged” customer segment for more personalized messages in the future (more on this later).

6. They boost brand awareness

Similar to posting on social media and receiving engagement from your followers, email blasts create more brand awareness among those who have shown casual interest in your brand.

Contests, quizzes, and incentives to share, when baked into your email blasts, are powerful brand awareness mechanisms that can benefit you over time.

What makes an email blast good?

Relevance is what makes any marketing email good. Our inboxes are overflowing, and we only have time to pay attention to messages that apply to us.

Our inboxes are overflowing, and we only have time to pay attention to messages that apply to us.

So how do you achieve relevance with an email blast? Let’s break down the elements of relevance:

Segmentation and targeting

There’s “batch and blast” email marketing, and then there’s the thoughtful email blast that uses segmentation and targeting.

“I am always shocked when an ecommerce brand develops an email marketing strategy without utilizing list segmentation,” says Ashley Ismailovski, CRO operations manager, SmartSites.

I am always shocked when an ecommerce brand develops an email marketing strategy without utilizing list segmentation
Ashley Ismailovski
CRO operations manager, SmartSites

“What consumers want now is personalized messages that keep them engaged with their favorite brands and allow them to receive only the most relevant content to them,” Ismailovski adds.

Marketers used to blast emails to their entire contact lists, but we now know this isn’t the way. At best, batching and blasting means you risk low email deliverability and low engagement. At worst, it could damage your brand perception among audiences who are annoyed about receiving irrelevant emails.

Segmentation and targeting are what make your email blasts as relevant as possible. With segmentation, you split your audience into groups that share similar characteristics. Audience segments may be based on:

  • Demographics: location, age, gender
  • Psychographics: interests, lifestyle, values, beliefs
  • Behavior: purchase type, purchase frequency, money spent, product landing page visits, email engagement, reviews

Your target audience segment and your email blast content should play off each other like two instruments in an orchestra. When you customize your email blast for the specificity of an audience segment, you increase that campaign’s relevance—which is the single most important ingredient for its success.

Your target audience segment and your email blast content should play off each other like two instruments in an orchestra.

Check out this example from Rapha, which runs a location-based event campaign using dynamic content blocks. The brand knows their audience wants to attend bike races in their area, so they use location targeting to build banner content that notifies them of events.

Image shows a location-based email blast from cycling brand Rapha which invites Chicago subscribers to a kick-off party and pop-up in Montrose Harbor.

Image source: ReallyGoodEmails

Valuable content

When your email blast segmentation is on point, its content almost instantly becomes more valuable. This is because your audience segment—and your deep knowledge about that segment—guides the contours of your email content, which generally falls into one of 4 categories:

  1. Educational: Teach the reader something interesting.
  2. Entertaining: Amuse, delight, and captivate your email subscribers.
  3. Engaging: Encourage the reader to interact with your brand or take action in some way.
  4. Inspiring: Use brand storytelling to influence shoppers and motivate them to buy.

No matter which path you choose, the recipient should walk away from your email campaign with a clear understanding of the benefits of your offer.

The recipient should walk away from your email campaign with a clear understanding of the benefits of your offer.

Check out this example from Made In, which uses a how-to video for each product on sale to demonstrate the exact value a customer gets if they take advantage of the last-chance offer.

Image shows an email blast from Made In Cookware, which uses how-to videos to promote its fully forged knives and blue carbon steel pan.

Image source: ReallyGoodEmails

Attention-grabbing subject line

Email subject lines are the first impressions of your email blasts, so it’s important to get them right. Similar to your content, tailor your subject lines to your audience. Keep them brief while piquing curiosity—and maybe creating some urgency in your subject lines.

Keep in mind that the most effective email subject lines are contextual. At the top of this article, we mentioned Barack Obama’s wildly successful subject line, a simple, “Hey.” This didn’t work because the word “hey” carries some special open rate magic. It worked because people aren’t used to presidents addressing them so casually. President Obama broke a social convention, and it was surprising enough to grab people’s attention.

Something similar is happening in this example from grooming brand Supply, which uses inbox context to craft a creative subject line. The brand knows their email is showing up in overloaded inboxes, and they use that fact to tempt recipients into opening it.

Image shows a screenshot of the Promotions tab of an email inbox, with the top email from grooming brand Supply. The subject line reads, “This email is better than” with a finger pointing downward emoji, alluding humorously to the other promotional emails in the recipient’s inbox.

Image source: Twitter

Clear and compelling call to action (CTA)

Email CTAs give your email blasts purpose because they lead to action. Whether that action is to make a purchase or engage with a piece of content, CTAs are designed to grab the reader’s attention and encourage them to interact with the contents of the email.

Purchase CTAs frame the buying experience as one that’s urgent, exclusive, special, or positive. But some go above and beyond, like this example from Splash Wines. Their Cyber Weekend email CTA skips the typical “Buy Now” messaging in favor of implied personalization.

Splash Wines sets expectations with their CTA, encouraging the recipient to customize their purchase.

Image shows an email blast from Splash Wines with a creative CTA that encourages the recipient to choose between red, white, or mixed.

Image source: Splash Wines case study

Aesthetically pleasing design

Email design matters. But its quality is tough to assess because it’s subjective.

But similar to your offer, content, and subject line, good email design is determined by context—and your audience determines your context.

If you know the audience segment you’ve chosen for your email blast is quirky, opt for an unconventional design approach. If your audience, and products, are more utilitarian, go with something cleaner.

If you know the audience segment you’ve chosen for your email blast is quirky, opt for an unconventional design approach. If your audience, and products, are more utilitarian, go with something cleaner.

Mobile optimization

We can no longer accurately measure the number of emails opened on mobile after the introduction of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) in September 2021, but we can deduce that a lot of your email blasts will be viewed on a mobile device. If your emails aren’t optimized for mobile, it could result in an automatic delete.

So what does mobile optimization mean for email? This is what it looks like:

  • A single-column layout for easy scrolling and readability
  • Responsive email templates that adjust to screen size
  • Readable fonts and CTA buttons for easy navigation and interaction on touchscreens
  • Small image sizes that don’t slow down load times on mobile devices

This example from pottery brand East Fork shows you don’t need to sacrifice design for mobile optimization. The image is eye-catching (it’s actually a gif), the text is readable, and, most important, the recipient doesn’t need to scroll to get to the CTA. They can open the email and easily tap if it piques their interest.

Image shows a mobile-optimized email from pottery brand East Fork, featuring an eye-catching gif and reviews from the brand’s happy customers, such as “My pasta intake is about to go up 100%.”

Image source: East Fork

How to create and send email blasts that aren’t spammy

Now that you know the principles behind a good email blast, it’s time to execute. It’ll come as no surprise to you by now that a quality email blast starts with the right audience—which means blasting your entire list is out.

Here’s what to do instead:

Step 1: Choose an audience segment

Engaged audiences take action. Before you plan your email blast, start by isolating your most engaged recipients within your overall list.

What does an engaged audience look like? As a start, engaged audiences are people who either opened or clicked a previous email within the last 30 days and/or anyone who subscribed to your main list in the last 15 days.

Image shows the parameters for creating an engaged audience segment in the back end of Klaviyo: has opened an email at least once in the last 30 days, or has clicked on an email at least once in the last 30 days.

Image source: Klaviyo

If your open rates for this segment fall below 20%, that’s your cue to shrink it down further. You can do this by tightening your timeframe to 14 days, then more until you see your ideal open rate and engagement rate.

After you’ve gone through these steps, you can add more specific criteria to your segment, like purchase history, interests, email habits, location, etc. The more personalized your emails are, the more likely recipients are to open them.

Step 2: Determine your offer

Now that you know who you’re sending to, it’s time to determine what they’ll get.

An effective email blast always answers the question, “What’s in it for me?” from the point of view of the audience, so you want to make sure your offer answers this question with something sweet.

An effective email blast always answers the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ from the point of view of the audience

Here are some options to consider based on different segments:

People ready to buy

  • Discount
  • Limited-time sale
  • Free gift with purchase
  • Limited-quantity deals
  • Seasonal promotions
  • Personalized recommendations

Existing customers

  • Exclusive pre-sale access
  • Loyalty rewards
  • Referral program access
  • Exclusive content or sneak peeks
  • VIP membership or access
  • Community or forum access

New subscribers

  • Online workshop
  • Free consultation or assessment
  • Giveaways or contests
  • Free trial or sample
  • Educational resources

Step 3: Write your email content

Effective email copy, including your subject line, is constructed around your audience and your offer. You’re the only one who can decide what your brand sounds like, but this foundational best practice remains true: Your audience is the deciding factor for your email blast content.

Here are a few additional best practices for writing good email content:

  • Spend time crafting your subject line. Your subject line should be personalized to the recipient, pique curiosity, and create some urgency.
  • Use social proof to build credibility and trust. No offense, but your customers’ words are often better than your own. If you have them, include some glowing customer reviews to build trust with your audience.
  • State your value proposition. Use creative brand storytelling to convey your products’ main benefits—and don’t be afraid to pull on some heartstrings. (In rhetoric, this form of persuasion is called “pathos.”)
  • Insert a convincing CTA. Use action-oriented language to increase CTRs on your email blast.
No offense, but your customers’ words are often better than your own.

Step 4: Design your email

Your email blast design depends on your goals. If your goal is to showcase new products and give readers a lot of choice, you need an image-heavy design with beautiful product shots to compel people to click. If your offer has nothing to do with your products, a more minimal, text-based design may work better.

Regardless, your basic email template looks something like this:

  • Heading
  • Hero image
  • A short blurb
  • CTA button

You may want to deviate from this template because you want to include more product shots, or you want to test a CTA button near the top. Your options are plentiful, but we recommend adhering to some basic principles:

  • Include your logo.
  • Include your social media links.
  • Include an unsubscribe link at the bottom—it’s the law.
  • Use images, but don’t stuff your email with so many that it can’t load quickly.
  • Experiment with colorful or patterned backgrounds.
  • Don’t include more than 3 CTAs.
  • Always optimize for mobile—odds are, this is how people will view your email.

One thing to consider: adding video elements to your emails. According to Think with Google, more than half of shoppers say online videos help them decide which brand or product to buy.

Step 5: Send and test your email

If you haven’t tested your email blasts in the past, your send should come with an A/B test.

A/B testing is how you refine email performance, which is especially important when you’re starting from scratch and don’t yet know what works. Some basic examples of A/B tests for email are:

  • Testing subject lines for open rate performance
  • Testing CTAs for CTR performance
  • Testing images and layouts for CTR performance

The golden rule of A/B testing is to test only one element at a time. If you’re testing subject lines, don’t test CTAs at the same time—the double variable will skew your results, and you won’t know what’s responsible for an improvement or drop in performance.

The golden rule of A/B testing is to test only one element at a time.

With an email marketing service like Klaviyo, you can customize your A/B test parameters by audience percentage and time.

For example, you can choose to reserve 20% of your email recipients for variation A, and another 20% for variation B. Depending on how many of your recipients click on the email, a winner emerges after 6 hours—and the rest of the recipients automatically receive the winning variation.

Image shows an A/B test in the back end of Klaviyo, with 20% of subscribers receiving Version A and 20% receiving Version B, and the winning version going out to the remaining 60% of recipients. The test is set for a 6-hour duration.

Image source: Klaviyo

Step 6: Analyze your results

You’d be surprised how many people A/B test their email blasts only to ignore the results. But test analysis and iteration are arguably the most important steps in deploying an email blast, second only to segmenting your audience.

So how do you measure the results of your A/B test? After isolating your test variable in step 5, you need to make sure one group’s metrics (likely CTR or open rate) won over the other at a statistically significant rate.

Email marketing software like Klaviyo helps you mathematically determine the reliability of your A/B test results by categorizing A/B test results into 4 groups:

  1. Statistically significant: The result has a high chance of winning over the other variations in the future.
  2. Promising: The winning version has a chance of getting more engagement in the future, but you may need to run more A/B tests to make sure.
  3. Not statistically significant: The winning variation is slightly better than the others, but you may not be able to reproduce the same results if you repeat the A/B test.
  4. Inconclusive: There isn’t enough information to complete the test. You need to expand your recipient pool or follow up with more tests.

Your goal is to get results that are statistically significant so you feel confident about doubling down on your chosen course of action. When you run enough tests with enough email blasts, patterns start to emerge with different audience segments—and you’ll ultimately know what your audience responds to the most so your email blasts can become even more effective over time.

It’s your email blast audience that makes the difference

A successful email blast isn’t so broad that it’s not relevant. It takes into account what you know about your audience and gives them something they need.

Study the elements of high-performing email blasts, and your analysis may yield new audience segments that boost your email marketing revenue across multiple campaigns.

Email blast FAQs

How often should I send email blasts?

Your email blast frequency depends on your industry and your audience’s tolerance for receiving email. As a general rule, aim for a balance between remaining top of mind and avoiding audience fatigue. Test various email cadences and monitor engagement rates and unsubscribe rates to determine the ideal frequency for your email blasts.

What are the most common email blast mistakes?

The most common email blast mistakes include sending emails to your entire list without proper audience segmentation, writing generic subject lines and email copy that aren’t relevant, and neglecting to optimize your emails for mobile. To avoid these mistakes, segment your audience and tailor your content to their needs and interests.

How do I measure the success of my email blasts?

To measure the success of your email blasts, track key metrics like email open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. Always remember to monitor unsubscribe rates and deliverability rates so your sender reputation remains healthy—your overall email marketing strategy may be negatively affected if your email blasts are driving your sender reputation down.

Improve your email blasts with Klaviyo segmentation.
Try it today
Tiff Regaudie
Tiff Regaudie
Tiff (she/they) is a writer and content consultant who specializes in marketing, health, and the attention economy. Before devoting herself to freelance writing full-time, they led content teams at various startups and nonprofits in Toronto, Canada.