Mailchimp Audiences

Mo Audiences, Mo Problems

“Now get back in there and decide which of those audiences you want to keep… you can only have one”

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As ‘the Mailchimp Guy’, I am regularly asked by clients to tidy up their unruly Mailchimp account.

Sometimes, it’s templates, sometimes it’s their forms, but usually the first thing they want to sort out is their database… i.e. their audiences… and try to consolidate their data down into a single audience.

Why would they want to do this?

Well, when it comes to managing your data in Mailchimp, the more audiences you have, the more problems you’ll get.

It’s the whole reason I coined the phrase “Mo’ Audiences, Mo’ Problems”… a phrase I use again and again in the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group.

Plus, with GDPR now in place across Europe (and further restrictions being looked at worldwide), it’s become even more important to move to a single audience, because getting it wrong could prove to be even more painful!

If you’re looking at your Mailchimp audiences and thinking… “I’ve got more than 1 audience… am I doing something wrong?… unfortunately, you possibly are, so please read on.

(Of course, since June 2019, if you’re using a free Mailchimp account, you’re limited to having one audience anyways – which if you read the rest of this article is a good thing! – but it does means you’re not as interested in the issues of multiple audiences and are probably much more interested in how you effectively segment your one audience into different interests.  If you are – you probably need to read this article on segmentation in Mailchimp.)


Why Do Mailchimpers end up with so many audiences?

Drowning in AudiencesSo, if the goal is a single audience, why do so many people end up with so many?  Why is it such a common Mailchimp issue?

Well, it’s usually all down to two things:

  1. You want to have multiple ways (I call them Entry Points or EPs) that people can be added to your database and you want a way of identifying someone who comes into the database in a specific way. E.g. you’ve already got a general “newsletter” form on your website home page, but you want to add a form where people can request a free download – so you need to know in Mailchimp which form they have completed.
  2. You’re using a tool which is limited in terms of how it links with Mailchimp and it doesn’t give you the option to update existing subscriber information in an audience with a “tag/group” (which are Mailchimp’s way of segmenting an audience)

…so it’s pretty much all down to your Entry Points.

Here are the biggest culprits…

  • Mailchimp’s hosted form
    Once you get to grips with Mailchimp, one of the first things you start to consider is using forms to capture people in your audience. Mailchimp makes this VERY easy and gives you a standard hosted form (stored within Mailchimp) which you can use and which integrates perfectly with the Mailchimp sign up process.
    This is great as you don’t need to stress about embedding a form in your website and you can just provide a link to the Mailchimp one.
    However, as soon as you decide you want to have more than one form… you’re stuck, because you can only have one hosted form per audience.
    So for example, if you wanted to use a hosted form to specifically send out a free guide to those who completed the form, then you need a different hosted form, which means a different audience for those people.
  • You have imported data from other systems
    Bringing data from other systems without an understanding of how Mailchimp can be used to update information may mean you end up defaulting to adding data to a new audience.
    This usually happens where you don’t have a full handle on the unsubscribe process and thus can get yourself into a bit of a pickle.
  • Mailchimp’s embedded forms and pop ups
    One thing not many users realise is that if you use a Mailchimp form, whether it’s hosted, embedded, or even a pop-up… you cannot update an existing person in your audience (check out this article on Mailchimp Forms).
    So if you do want to use several forms connected to separate lead magnets (incentives to get people to complete a form) and want people be able to fill out more than one form… you can’t use Mailchimp generated forms, because if you do, you’ll end up with multiple audiences to deliver those different lead magnets.
    Fortunately, there are an awful lot of 3rd party form tools out there (for lots of different platforms) which you can use to create forms and they do allow updates to information in Mailchimp, which is why for many businesses I recommend moving away from Mailchimp created forms as soon as they can.
    …but you need to be careful because there are some 3rd party tools that don’t work…
  • Your 3rd party tool tool doesn’t give the option to segment in Mailchimp
    Recently, when I was updating this very website I was looking at different options for the forms I wanted on the site (it’s a wordpress site if you’re curious).
    The theme I used came with form creator “fully built in” and I thought it would be great… but when I dug deeper it didn’t allow me to track an individual form being completed (through Mailchimp’s Segmentation tools – Tags & Groups).
    When I create a form, I want to make sure as well as the information that is visible to the form completer (typically email, first name, etc), that I can also segment my database based on which form they filled in.
    That way I can set up a triggered automation directly related to that form and be relevant and specific in my emails.  In my book if your form solution doesn’t allow for this… it’s not a great solution for you (and Mailchimp).
    …and it’s not just forms… there are lots of sources of data that you might want to link with Mailchimp. E-commerce platforms, CRM systems… some work with a single audience, some don’t

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that your choice of “Entry Point” and how it integrates with Mailchimp is the cause of the biggest number of issues with Mailchimp!

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Why are multiple audiences such a bad thing?

OK… so now you know why it has happened… why is it such a bad thing?

Well, here are 11 reasons why having more than one audience in Mailchimp is a bad thing for your email marketing

(plus a couple of exceptions to the rule…yes, there are a couple of reasons for having more than one audience).

    1. Managing Unsubscribes and Deletes gets very messy!
      The idea that someone unsubscribes from your audience once is kinda fundamental to email marketing. If someone unsubscribes and then continues to receive emails from you… they’re probably not going to be happy (it’s the same if you delete them). As such, technically, when someone unsubscribes from one of your audiences, if you’ve got more than one, then they should be unsubscribed from all of them – which requires you to manually go in and do this (or if you’re really clever set up a funky link in a tool such as Zapier)….
      It’s much better to have a single audience and then use other ways of segmenting an audience as a way of managing preferences and specific information about individuals within your audience.
    2. It’ll Cost You More
      Although most people who use Mailchimp are on the “free” level, if you’ve an audience of over 2,000 you’re probably paying for it… but if you have multiple audiences and the same people in more than one audience, you’re definitely paying over the odds.
      Mailchimp charges based on contacts (which if you started your account after June 2019 includes both subscribers and those who are unsubscribed), and doesn’t account for the same email appearing in more than one audience.
      So avoid paying over the odds and consolidate your data into one single audience.
    3. Automations are a pain
      Automations are always connected to a specific audience… which means if you’ve got more than one audience, you can’t use automations to move people who are in different audiences through a sequence.
      A single audience makes it much easier to push people through specific email series depending on where they are in relation to your offer…
    4. The challenge of hunting for data
      “Can you update my preferences”… we all get this request from contacts… and it becomes a logistical challenge to find the right audience they need to update if you’ve got more than one. A single audience helps manage this much more effectively.
    5. When ‘Send to Everyone’ means you need to send an email more than once.
      If you’re sending an email to everyone on your system, then you need to send more than one email because you can’t send an email to more than one audience at a time.
      A single audience means everyone gets the same email and no need to waste time duplicating.
    6. When ‘Send to Everyone’ means you manually need to filter duplicates out
      …so you duplicate the email because you’ve got more than one audience… but what about those subscribers who are in each of your audiences?
      If you want to avoid sending more then one email to the same subscriber, then technically you need to remove those people who are duplicates… which is a big pain in the butt.
      A single audience avoids this problem completely.
    7. No single place to understand what how your prospect has interacted with your communication
      Understanding where prospects and customers are in their interaction with you is important if you are going to be able to market correctly.
      The right message at the right time to the right person is dependent on knowing this information.  More than one audience… this is not easy to work out, which is why you need to get your head around effective segmentation in Mailchimp.
    8. Keeping track of forms (and where they are connected to) becomes a nightmare
      Knowing how to use forms effectively, is one of the biggest routes to success there is in Mailchimp… but if you’ve got more than one audience they can become a pain to manage.
      …especially if you’ve got multiple forms and multiple audiences.
      On many occasion I’ve been asked to track down random forms which connect to random audiences in a clients Mailchimp account.
    9. It’s really time consuming to move data around to get it in the right place
      Moving data from one audience to another is challenging – especially if data doesn’t match.
      A single audience means that no one is in more than one place… and therefore no data to move around.
      PLUS… it removes the chance of data error.  The more typing you need to do, the more chances you’ve got of making an error.
    10. There is no way to automatically move or update people from one audience to another
      If you’re going to take people on a journey via email, then you want to set up ‘stacked’ automations… i.e. when someone completes the first one, they’ll automatically go on to the next one.
      With multiple audiences, that means moving people automatically from one audience to another… which (unless you’re using a tool like Zapier) can’t be easily done.
    11. You’re almost definitely not GDPR compliant
      …and to wrap up, and linking back to #1… when someone unsubscribes, in the past you just had the issue of working out how to remove them from multiples audiences… or maybe forgetting one.  Now, with GDPR, you really do need to remove them if they ask to be unsubscribed or deleted… and that becomes exponentially harder when you’ve got multiple audiences.

So, it’s fair to say that having a single audience should be the goal of anyone using Mailchimp… but there are a few exceptions…


The exceptions (yes, there are a couple)

As you would expect, it’s not a complete one way street… there are a few reasons why you would have more than one audience in your Mailchimp account:

  1. You’ve got different brands
    This is not uncommon in many businesses.
    Having multiple brands means that each brand should have a different audience, even if there are cross-overs in terms of email addresses.
  2. Your lists are focused on different aspects of your business
    Having one audience for “customers” and one audience for “suppliers” is also another really good reason to have a Mailchimp account with more than one audience.

My main criteria for having more than one audience is “will I ever need to send the same email to everyone?” If the answer is yes… that’s a single audience, if not, then you can split it up.


The downside of a single audience

There’s a good chance that of all the people in the world, I love Mailchimp the most (heck, I make my living from using it!)… but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to it’s faults… and when it comes to one audience there is one particular downside that you need to be aware of.

The situation usually occurs because you’ve got one audience and, for example, two interest categories (they could be segmented by either tags or groups, it doesn’t matter). A subscriber is in both interest categories but wants to stop receiving information about one, yet still stay in the audience and receive information about the other.

As it currently stands, Mailchimp does not have an easy way of letting people do this.

… you could use groups and the “update preferences” form… but this is a clunky process.

…you could use a work around which I identify in this article.

…or you could do it manually (which is usually the simplest and easiest way – just add a link in your footer saying “don’t want updates on ****, click here and I’ll update your information”) and then when you get an email you can update accordingly (obviously this isn’t a solution for bigger lists, but for most Mailchimp users, it’s the best.


But I don’t want to change…

There are four main objections I hear from those who try and maintain multiple Mailchimp lists:

  1. I don’t understand any other way of segmenting an audience
    There are several other ways of segmenting an audience without the need for multiple audiences.
  2. My forms don’t let me segment my audience  
    My response is always… get a better form solution!
    Forms are, in my mind, one of the most important aspects of making Mailchimp work effectively, they keep the wheel turning… and as such, don’t waste time on form solutions that won’t give you what you want (such as allowing you to segment effectively in Mailchimp), because there are many out there that will.
  3. I want to give people the chance to unsubscribe from “an aspect” of my business, but keep them on other aspects. 
    This is usually from people who have related strands to their business and want to allow people to “opt out” from one, but be kept on another.
    My view is very clear – an unsubscribe is an unsubscribe.  If you have different brands, then it’s fine to have more than one audience, but otherwise when someone makes a choice to unsubscribe… they want to stop emails… period.
  4. I want to give people the option to choose how they consume my information
    If you want to give people the option to choose how they consume your information (e.g. weekly or fortnightly), then you can use the profile update page to allow them to adjust their settings and “opt out” of one or the other… or use some other segmentation to be effective in your email marketing – as I mention above, check out this article on segmenting via a click in an email.

Wrapping Up

Although it’s a simple system at it’s heart… Mailchimp can get quite complicated (and messy) if you’re using multiple audiences – and this becomes a serious drag on time, energy and your ability to be an effective email marketer.

My experience has repeatedly suggested that a single audience is the ONLY WAY to be successful with your email marketing in Mailchimp.

I’ve yet to see a convincing argument otherwise.

…and using effective Segmentation in Mailchimp is the key to success.

If you have more than one audience and believe it’s right for your business, feel free to comment below as I’d love the feedback!

Otherwise… just remember…

“Mo Audiences… Mo Problems”

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Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind chimpanswers.com and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.

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