Preference Centers: Rethink Rather Than Tweak

Many email marketers love to hate the preference center.

As David Baker wrote in a recent Email Insider, "The problem with the 'centers' is not that they don't work, but they work for such a small population of your customers that engage, the business value is typically negligible."

I generally agree with David, but mainly because of the way so many marketers use – or underuse – their preference centers.

That doesn't mean you should simply ignore your preference center or just tweak it a little.

Instead, I'd suggest you reinvent and rethink the concept of a preference center. The marketing world is changing, and the preference center needs to change with it in order to have subscriber value and to generate the type of data you need to deliver more relevant, higher-ROI communications.

Behavior Provides the Hidden Preferences

In my concept of the next-generation preference center, data collection goes beyond subscribers providing demographic information and specifying their interests and preferences for newsletters, product categories, frequency, channel, etc.

The new preference center incorporates behavior data that customers generate through Web browsing, purchasing, email activity and even offline engagements that tie into subscription data through the email address or other keys.

The new preference center is not just what is transparent to the subscriber, but also includes the "preferences" they provide through "what they do, not just what they say."

Four Trends Shaping the New Preference Center

1. Social sign-in changes everything about the opt-in process. Social sign-in, where subscribers log in via a social network of their choice, such as Facebook or LinkedIn instead of handing over an email address and other information, takes friction out of the opt-in process.

In fact, according to research from Janrain, 77% of consumers prefer social sign-up to traditional registration forms. Also, companies using social sign-in typically see increased form completion of 10% to 50%.

Many of the social networks provide consumer data, such as birthdate and gender, that you might not capture now during opt- in but could use immediately to deploy programs such as birthday email campaigns.

Data accuracy is another benefit. Janrain research also reports that 88% of consumers admit they provide false registration data.

The downside to using social sign-in is that social networks capture and share data inconsistently. Some don't include the email address, for example.

As such, your visible traditional preference center remains important in capturing certain key data points.

2. Progressive profiling becomes a key follow-up and data generator.

Progressive profiling can help solve the social sign-in data problem and also deliver a stream of updated self-report data.

Progressive profiling presents personalized questions during specific interactions on your website that ask for additional data and interests in more bite-size chunks.

In a B2B context, for example, prospects provide additional data when they return to register for Webinars and download white papers.

User data can also be prompted through a coordinated series of email messages that ask survey questions or focus on capturing specific preferences and interests.

These can be invitations to fill out preferences as part of the welcome process after opt-in, surveys on your products or services, or requests to review a purchase or an experience on your website.

3. Lead scoring helps identify your most valuable customers. This function, a staple of B2B marketing, takes the preference center to a higher level. You might use self-reported data to begin segmenting readers or targeting emails, but adding in behavior can reveal important distinctions among customers.

Say you have two customers, both age 24, living in San Diego and mountain-bike enthusiasts. So far, they have the same score based on self-reported data, but when you layer behavior data on top, you find one has joined your in-store loyalty program and regularly visits your website.

That customer would have a higher contact score and might receive a different stream of email messages from the other biker, who is identical from a demographic and interest perspective.

4. Behavior highlights the hidden preferences that you aren't capturing with static forms. This is where behavior and self-reported data come together in the new preference center.

A simple example: A prospect browses your website and shows clear interest in one product category over another. Perhaps you don't explicitly ask for this preference during registration, or you make it an optional field.

Using web tracking, you can connect this new subscriber's pre-registration web behavior to her email address and, in essence, fill in some form fields for her based on behavior.

The next time you and your team get together to discuss making changes to your preference center, consider rethinking the entire concept rather than just making a few tweaks.

In the meantime, I'd love to get your own thoughts and experiences with preference centers in the comments box below.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

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1 comment about "Preference Centers: Rethink Rather Than Tweak".
  1. David Pavlicko from AVISPL , October 4, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.
    Totally agree. Capturing behavior preferences based on actual user activity can be complicated but gets easier every year. One place to start is by using email bucketing and segmentation to build lists based on what content is clicked within a newsletter or promo email. Kiss Metrics has some pretty cool behavioral reporting tools as well.