3 Core Criteria You Should Use to Segment Your Audience

By Brennan Dunn

If you sell a product or service online, you probably wanted it to be capable of selling itself...

You didn't want to need to jump on a call or engage in back-and-forth emails to sell it, so you wrote a sales message...

This sales message includes everything needed to make a sale. It describes:

  • The problem that the reader has
  • The solution the reader wants to achieve
  • How the product will achieve the solution
  • Any objections a reader might have, and why they're (likely) invalid
  • Social proof, showing that the product actually does work

And it culminates with a call-to-action that gets the person reading to buy.

It doesn't matter if this message is broken up across multiple pages on a SaaS' marketing site or combined into a single, long-form sales page advertising an online course. Every low-touch sales message follows roughly the same formula.

The problem lies in that the reason I need your product is different than why others might need the product.

And if you're trying to speak to me and everyone else who could use your product, you end up generalizing what you're saying.

(And if you're speaking to everyone, you're speaking to no one.)

The workaround is to usually to niche your product.

Instead of selling a course on marketing, sell a course on marketing apps for software developers who hate Internet marketers and their tactics.

Instead of building another email service provider, build one built for professional bloggers who want to build an audience of raving fans.

Now you're getting somewhere.

Now you can write with focus and clarity. You're able to empathize with the actual needs someone has, you're able to communicate in a way that aligns with the way they see the world, and you're able to prove that your product works for people just like them.

Could every product benefit from niching? Yes. Given the choice between General Product and Product Designed For Them, the latter will almost always win out.

But does that mean you need to niche in order to speak directly to someone? Absolutely not.

What is segmentation?

My "list" - people who have joined my email courses, bought my paid courses, opted in to receive my newsletter, attended a webinar of mine, etc. - is currently made up of close to 40,000 people.

Almost all of them have something in common: they're freelancers, or at least fancy the idea of becoming a freelancer.

Some of them have relabeled themselves as agencies because they've grown beyond a solo business.

There are also a lot of different types of businesses represented on my list:

  • Designers
  • Developers
  • Marketers
  • Writers
  • etc.

And about a quarter of those on my list are customers:

  • Many have bought Double Your Freelancing Rate, my most popular product
  • Others have bought Mastering Project Roadmaps, an advanced add-on to DYF Rate
  • Others have attended one of the 3 conferences I've run
  • The smaller Mastermind events I've hosted
  • Some über customers have joined the DYF Academy, our flagship program
  • And recently, a few hundred bought my new Mastering Drip course

There are a number of other ways I've segmented my list. In fact, many subscribers of mine fall into dozens of segments, many of which overlap.

Segmentation by itself is useless. Once you start personalizing your messaging based off a segment someone's in, that's when things start to get interesting.

Imagine the following three people:

Mary the Software Developer. She's a freelancer who has been running her own business for more than 10 years. She's been struggling lately to close proposals and wants to find a way to increase her conversion rate. She also has a personality type that values cold, hard facts and gravitates toward structure and processes.

Tim the Designer. He's just started freelancing and isn't yet sure that this is right for him. Right now he's worried about how he should price his services. So far, he's been basing his hourly rate off what he made as a salaried employee. He's more interested in social status and is most receptive when appealed to emotionally.

Jane the Marketing Agency Owner. She runs a team of 5 and over the years has built up an impressive portfolio of clients. Her prices have been competitive, but she wants to start pricing on the value her team delivers. She's not sure how she should tactically do that, and wants to start value pricing ASAP. She's has a personality that makes her naturally ambitious and has a deep desire to win and produce results.

I have a course that serves both Mary, Tim, and Jane. It's called Double Your Freelancing Rate and helps freelancers and agencies learn how to price and pitch their services.

To sell to the three of them, I'd need to intentionally generalize my sales message.

  • Every instance of "freelancer" would need to be replaced with "freelancer or agency".
  • I'd need to spend a lot of time addressing the 3 reasons they have for buying (pricing in general, moving to value-based pricing, and increasing proposal conversion rates.)
  • In speaking to one personality type, I'd attract one of the three and alienate the rest.
  • Social proof and objections would need to be universal, rather than specific.

It doesn't take any exhaustive A/B testing to realize that by attempting to speak to them all I'm losing sales.

How most companies segment

I've been doing personalization consulting for a while now, and the majority of my clients have almost no segmentation (at least easily identifiable segmentation) in place.

If a list is segmented, it's probably segmented by what someone's bought.

Additionally, many companies can segment based off acquisition source. Did they opt-in for this lead magnet? Did they fill out a particular form?

And that's usually the extent of it.

Some are now using the click-to-tag functionality that many email service providers offer to offer a sort of in-email survey: "Click the link that best represents you."

This tactic is most often used to ask someone about what kind of role they identify with, or what they're looking to get out of their relationship with a brand.

There's likely so much more that you could be doing to segment your audience. And the less information you have about someone, the more general your messaging likely is.

The rest of this article will overview the various ways you can segment your list.

A quick note on how to segment

If you're using a modern email service provider, there's probably a way to add a tag to a subscriber or add them to a group.

When I talk about adding someone to a segment, what I usually mean is applying a tag to their subscriber record.

Sometimes the segments I talk about will be actual. Meaning, if you tag someone with "Bought Foo" they're a member of the segment that bought Foo. Finding everyone else is that segment just means loading a list of subscribers who have that tag applied. It could also mean having a specific value for a custom field, like "business_type" set to "designer."

I also use dynamic segments. A dynamic segment is one where the subscriber isn't hard-attached to a segment. For example, let's say you have a custom field of "days_since_last_visited_website". You might have a segment of "Recently Visited", where days_since_last_visited_website is less than 5. On the 6th day, they'd no longer be in that segment, but there's no tag being added or removed to signify that.

I'm not going to talk too much in this article about how to segment. This article is primarily focused on what to segment off of.


Your subscribers engage with you in different ways.

They read content, either on your website or that they emailed to you.

They buy your products or services, or they've visited the sales pages of your products or services.

What they've bought

At a minimum, your ecommerce platform or sales team should have the ability to tag people who bought your products.

This information gives you a few obvious and immediate wins.

  • You can exclude them from any future marketing for that product
  • You can remove any on-site call-to-actions that promote that product
  • You can lead them to the next rung of your product ladder, the natural "next step" for a customer of this product

What they've read or consumed

People intentionally buy stuff, but they also intentionally read articles and watch videos.

I tag every article view. If you just read my article reviewing Drip and I know who you are, you have a "Read - Drip Review" tag applied to your subscriber record.

This puts you into a larger segment of people who I think are interested in either Drip or marketing automation, which is an aggregate segment of people who have particular tags applied to their records. (This was very useful when I recently launched my course, Mastering Drip.)

Additionally, you can track the theme, or category, of the content they're consuming from you.

Most of us have some sort of categorization or tagging of our articles. By tracking reading trends, you can infer quite a few things about someone.

If they're eagerly reading every article of yours that has to do with pricing but rarely open up any of your emails or read your articles on marketing, what problem do you think they have?

From an engineering perspective, this doesn't take too much work. And if you use your email service provider as a flexible datastore, it's easy enough to keep a running count of article IDs, grouped by category or tag, and perform calculations about how interested someone is in a particular type of content.

What key pages they've visited

Beyond just free content being consumed, there's a pretty good chance that someone who ended up on your product page but didn't buy is still a very good, and very qualified prospect for your product.

Just by showing up, they're often saying "Yes, I'm qualified to buy this product." But something about what you said (or didn't say), or something specific to their current situation, had them click the back button.

By creating segments around your key pages, you can create natural automation campaigns and on-site personalization opportunities that lead people back to your sales page. It often takes a few encounters with an offer for someone to act.


The second form of profiling I use is demographic profiling: what has somebody told you about who they are and what they want from you?

Where activity profiling happens as a result of what someone's done, demographic profiling is what someone's explicitly told you about themselves.

Form information

When submitting a lead form, many of us stick to simple email and first name fields.

Many companies are using more interactive lead magnets, that are delivered as quizzes or calculators. These often get demographic information about someone - the type of business they run, their age, their gender - and store it away in the subscriber's record.

My primary lead magnet, Charge What You're Worth, asks subscribers what kind of business they run. But not all of my subscribers have gone through that email course, so if I don't know the type of business someone runs I ask them through progressive profiling (I talk about this in a second.)

I'm not a fan of overloading forms with fields that help flesh out a demographic profile since each additional field often cuts directly into conversion rates.

That being said, what you can capture on opt-in that directly relates and, ideally, helps make the experience a new subscriber has with you, the better it is for all involved.


My courses, both free and paid, include worksheets. These are just Gravity Forms that, when submitted, email a copy to the subscriber and myself (I file it away in a Gmail label, and my assistant combs through submissions looking for future content ideas or cries for help.)

These worksheets are primarily meant for the subscriber, but I mix in questions that help me better know who someone is.

In Charge What You're Worth, my first worksheet asks people how long they've been freelancing. This is a dropdown select, and depending on what they choose I'm then able to put them into a particular experience bucket.

I also ask qualitative questions, like "What's the #1 thing you need to get out of this course?" This helps me learn more about why people opted in and helps ensure that what I'm delivering is consistent with what I've promised on the email course landing page.

Long-form surveys

From time to time, I'll send out a survey to either my entire list or a segment of my list. This survey will allow me to capture a lot of information about someone at once, and I promote the course by letting everyone know that this will help me create more relevant, more specific content for them.

I'm currently retooling the way I survey so I can eliminate questions that they've already answered. Ideally, if I know something about someone I'll go even deeper with follow-up questions.

This is a great way to capture a lot of information that you can segment from in one go.

Passive profiling

As people, both known and anonymous, move through my website there's a 1 in 3 chance they'll be prompted with a quick, one-click survey question.

These quick popups take a second to answer, but they help me get a much better understanding of my audience.

I ask questions like:

  • What kind of business they run (if I don't know this yet)
  • Whether they're solo or run a team
  • How long they've been freelancing (if they haven't told me this already in one of my worksheets)
  • What they want from me (business advice, 1-on-1 coaching, skill augmentation, community)

(About 11% of surveys shown get answered.)

Not only does this help me better understand and segment my list, but I'm also able to trigger automation campaigns when certain answers are selected (for example, they let me know they're looking for 1-on-1 coaching.)


Another way to profile is by personality. I haven't done this yet, but it's something I'm working on now.

We all have different personalities. Some people buy online business courses that are heavy on the yacht photos, others want more methodical processes and systems.

Both of the above personalities ultimately want largely the same thing - to run their own business - but the way they're sold differently.

Those who sell with long, usually ugly sales letters promising a better tomorrow get people who like to dream big about tomorrow. That's a distinct personality type, and it's neither right nor wrong.

But the people who sell that way are going to put off those who think that style of selling is below them, or appreciates more concrete information instead of fanciful imagery of a wealthier tomorrow.

What if you could tailor the way you sell to the way the person reading your sales message buys?

Crazy, right?

But not impossible.

I recently came across Crystal Knows, a service that:

  • Finds social media accounts tied to an email address
  • Pulls all public tweets, Facebook posts, etc. that person has ever written
  • Analyzes what they've written
  • Returns a DISC personality assessment

I'm still learning about DISC, but it seems to be a pretty solid framework for identifying someone's personality type.

From the Crystal Knows website:

D - Dominant

When someone has a D personality type, they are by nature outgoing and task-oriented. A D is direct, assertive, and decisive. They seek challenges and control, and are very comfortable with conflict.

I - Influential

Individuals with the I personality type are outgoing and people-oriented. They're confident, enjoy people, and get excited to explore fresh ideas and new projects. I's are sincerely interested in the feelings of others, and generally considered to be charming by those they interact with.

S - Steady

People with the S personality type are by nature reserved and people-oriented. They are innately supportive, sympathetic, and place high value on positive interactions. An S enjoys routine, consistency, and cooperation.

C - Calculating

Someone with the C personality type is by nature reserved and task-oriented. They are very analytical, detail-oriented, and logical, ignoring emotions and quickly changing their mind when presented with new information. C's naturally gravitate toward process, structure, and rules.

DISC doesn't try to determine someone's personality exactly. It's best to to think of DISC as describing someone's natural behavioral tendencies. It's completely possible that someone falls into a particular behavior style, but has overridden a natural "weakness" associated with that type.

It's also important to recognize that no type is better or worse than the others, they're just different!

When I described Mary, Tim, and Jane, I described their DISC personality types.

Mary is Calculating, Tim is Influential, Jane is Dominant. They each have different behavioral norms that can help you understand why they might be interested in your product.

Mary, being calculating, abhors risk and is task-oriented. The way I sell her Double Your Freelancing Rate will to talk about how it's a logical framework that over 8,000 people have successfully used to stabilize their cash and client flow.

Tim is outgoing and people oriented. He's more excited about the idea of what something can help him achieve than the thing itself. He cares about how others perceive him and might be the type to buy courses showcasing how awesome the lives of their creators have. I'll sell DYF Rate by talking about how tomorrow will be for Tim and minimizing the framework.

Jane is naturally competitive and ambitious. It's no surprise that she's grown such a successful agency. In selling DYF Rate to her, I'll reaffirm her past success and demonstrate how the course will push her to the next level in her business. I'll also be very direct in how DYF Rate can help her quickly learn and implement value-based pricing.

It's 100% possible right now to use publicly available data sourced from social media, get an idea of the type of personality somebody has, and then tailor a sales page to speak directly to them.

Combine this with data they've told you explicitly (demographic) and data you've gathered by looking at what kind of content they're consuming of yours, and you're able to really dial in your messaging.

I've been doing it on my own site for the last 2 years, and this level of personalization has almost doubled sales for my primary course (when compared to tests I've run when I'm not doing any personalization for identified viewers.)

Don't get overwhelmed

There's always more you could be doing to segment.

You could (and should) be learning more about your subscribers by profiling them based on activity, survey data, and so on.

The goal isn't perfection.

Start somewhere. Ask people when they join your list or buy a product to tell you a bit about who they are and why they opted in or bought.

Use this data to help amass raw data which you can then normalize into a set of segments. When you have this set established, ask people (at opt-in, through surveying, etc.) to add themselves to a particular segment.

Then learn as much as you can about each of these segments... What do they want from you? What objections do they have? How do they describe their own problems? How do they see the world?

And then make simple content changes based off that. Often times, changing the headline text on a sales page is enough.

Over time, you'll start to get more advanced. You'll change more sections of your sales page, and you'll start personalizing other parts of your website. Before you know it, you'll be swapping in testimonials gathered from people who belong to a particular segment, and showing those testimonials to others in that segment.

Complexity will naturally happen as you start seeing how effective real-time personalization is. But don't try to achieve "perfect personalization" immediately.