Preference Centers And Targeting

While the concept of an online consumer preference center is a great idea, does it really add value to an email program or consumer experience?  In theory it works. You ask your customers to profile themselves, manage their subscriptions and hope they'll manage this over time.  In theory, this would help with customer targeting, timing and overall customer management. 

While I've seen some really great approaches to preference centers, consumer adoption and interaction is a product of the consumer brand involvement with the product and service (how frequently and how often), the perceived value in contributing to this enhanced profile (what's in it for me), and your ability as a marketer to continue to motivate your customer to contribute to this profile over time. 

Many preference centers are great ideas that are poorly executed -- not because the registration page isn't functional or the users can't update their profiles, but because of  mismatched expectations.  When many marketers are still grappling with permission management practices (opt-in vs. opt-out), why add another layer of consumer management to the problem? 

Many in the email space propose preference centers to help with subscription practices. Some do it for depth of profile, some do it thinking this level of management will help you understand what percentage of your audience will get that involved in your brand.  Which are you? 

If you decide to develop a preference center, which I personally think has value for the marketer -- and, if done creatively, for the consumer -- there must be a connection between a consumer, the appropriate depth of content and value in a program, and a commitment from the marketer to continue to build value in keeping profiles updated.  Remember, a bad or outdated profile is potentially riskier to a customer relationship than little-to-no profile.  Would you rather market broadly to your customers with a common voice -- or show them you still have their old address from 10 years ago?  I have several profiles I set up in 2001, and I continue to get local marketing ads for Texas with poor use of personalization that is designed to show how smart the marketers are.  They simply showed me how inept they are in carrying a profile for 10 years without first attempting to get it updated.

If you decide to bring this on, here are some things that you should consider:

 

  • How do you want to introduce it?  (At enrollment/membership, one-step or two, a condition of membership?)
  • How can you support this through alternative channels (offline? Television, radio, POS)?
  • Do you have a "big idea" that can carry this program message?
  • Is your organization behind it and the value it can add? (this means all channels committed to building and leveraging this information)
  • What level and type of data is actionable vs. nice to have? (the 4-Ps of Data, Personal, Profile, Preferential and Performance)
  • Do I try to build a profile in one sitting or build it in stages?
  • How will I entice the consumer to participate today and tomorrow?

As a professional marketer, I'm a bit skeptical of customer preference centers.  Yes, they make sense for transactional relationships and managing functional tasks.  But if your goal is one-sided (only value is to the marketer), your program and the perceived value by the consumer is likely that as well. 

Pull a comScore report and look at all the sites that your ideal customers visit regularly; look at their demographic traits, their interests and genres, and see how many of these sites and brand relationships they are willing to go to the next level. Then do a reality check and try to determine whether your idea of a preference center would really "hold water" with all these connections the consumer has today.  If your brand has this connection and persistence, then you have a chance.  If you have a preference center in place and have completed profiles of less than 15% of your base, then you need to rethink the value this serves.

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