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Customer Profiling via Email Preference Centers: Good, Bad & Ugly

Oct 18, 2013   |   3 min read

Knowledge Center  ❯   Blog

good bad ugly emailBusinesses focused on providing a positive customer experience appreciate the ways in which an email preference center can contribute to their efforts. Savvy marketers also know a preference center can be a valuable marketing tool and a means of obtaining useful customer data.

A preference center typically is a web landing page that lets users subscribe and unsubscribe to emails, as well as giving them a chance to inform you of the types of communications they wish to receive and how often they would like to receive them. Another useful feature is an email change of address form. If your site uses passwords, a password changing field can be included as well.

A preference page can inform users about different services or resources of which they may not be aware and allow them to sign up for them. For example, you can allow users to check off boxes to receive newsletters or special offers, access whitepapers, receive webinar invites or subscribe to your blog. Some preference centers include fields for providing profile information, such as gender, birthdate, company, job title, special interests and more.

Rather than having them opt out anonymously and simply disappear, steering users to a preference center gives you an opportunity to persuade them to stay or to feel better about reconnecting in the future. By presenting a list of reasons they can check off, you can learn why users are unsubscribing.

A preference center gives the customer control over the content they receive and information they provide and gives you valuable feedback about who your customers are and what they like and dislike.

A well-conceived preference center can generate good will, additional revenues and higher customer retention rates. However, as many marketers have learned, a badly conceived preference center can backfire and alienate customers rather than delighting them.

Wrong Turns and Land Mines

Preference centers have gained a bad reputation among some marketers because of unmet expectations, poor user responses and what is perceived as negligible business value. As Silverpop VP Loren McDonald relates, “Many email marketers love to hate the preference center.”

The problem, as he and other analysts point out, is usually not in having a preference center per se, but in the way the preference center has been implemented. On Email Insider, McDonald describes a litany of worst practices that can undermine the effectiveness of a preference center, many of which are annoying and frustrating design elements that cause users to flee. Knowing these preference center pitfalls can help you avoid and correct them.

Similarly, Eric V. Holtzclaw describes how a preference center can become an albatross in larger enterprises because of conflicts and complexities that arise from having multiple divisions, products, goals, stakeholders and data-handling issues. As Holtzclaw relates, projects end up being either buried or implemented halfheartedly, with diminished chances of success.

Guiding Principles

There are many forms a preference center can take and many ways to present information. The design choices you make will determine how successfully your preference center meets its goals. Thus, the overall plan and details should be well thought out before you begin to create the preference center.

Simplicity, clarity, and ease of use should be guiding principles. The categories you present to visitors should be relevant and the choices not overwhelming. The interface for selecting and providing information should be friendly rather than confusing. Presenting too much information-and asking for too much information-is generally considered a no-no. While you may want to gain an understanding of the customer by querying them, a preference center should not be a long survey.

Gather in Stages

Rather than trying to glean too much information from visitors in one big gulp, you can gather information in smaller bits in a more iterative fashion. Loren McDonald calls this “progressive profiling,” in which information is gathered during interactions on your website that ask visitors for additional data and interests in more bite-size chunks.

Rather than one preference center trying to serve a number of different newsletters, products, or other communications, it may be better to split them out and create dedicated preference centers for each individual subscription.

As email marketing moves further towards real-time targeting, user profiling and behavior monitoring, the data gathered from preference centers can be combined with other data source to create a comprehensive customer view. Most experts, recognizing the value preference centers can bring, consider them must-haves for email marketing. When preference centers go wrong, the fault, dear marketers, is usually not in the preference center, but in ourselves.

Like preference centers, email intelligence can help you learn more about the people subscribing to your emails. Learn more about email intelligence in this free download.

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