Preference Center Or Subscription Center

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 18, 2012

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” (Peter Drucker).  In today’s marketing world of exploding social media, seemingly infinite consumer choice, transient time- and place-shifting advertising experiences, the value exchange of consumer information and business value is as fluid as it’s ever been. 

We tend to use the terms preference center and subscription center synonymously, yet in most cases they offer very different values to the consumer and the business.   The belief is that the consumer understands enough about the brand they are engaging with that they will self-select options of communications, including cadence, type of communication and even communication channel.  The belief is that the consumer will update this information somewhat regularly so it doesn’t get outdated. 

I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the value of preference centers, but some of the social media polls and surveys have given me hope that there is a better way of designing these experiences to make them fun, interactive and meaningful without being so obvious. 



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’ve seen many that were launched without much thought of a long-term view of consumer engagement or how this would adapt over time as your program grows, communications increase, and channels become more diverse.  It’s simple, any form of behavioral information has a shelf life, and self-disclosed information has an even shorter span of value, and few preference or subscription centers offer much incentive for consumers to keep this information updated.

 The primary challenge of any consumer preference center is still the same:  How do you create and sustain engagement?

It starts with being realistic about your goals, and being a bit skeptical about the quality of information you collect -- and ends with making it meaningful, even for the two minutes you’ll have them engaged.  The vast difference between subscription centers and preference centers is that one is designed to manage how a brand interacts and communicates with you as a consumer, the latter is about understanding your product/service interests to allow for coordination of content that is relevant to you.  One may be a derivative of the other, but managing these and building strategies for engagement value are different. 

Years ago, when I was working with a beer brand, we had a lot of fun scripting preference center questions that were a riot, and for which completion rate was high.  They were not only demographic-driven, but labeled many psychographic trends through fun, interactive questions. The humor was a bit on the edge (as you can get away with that in this category), but most importantly is, it was changed continually depending on the time of year and promotion. These questions were all designed to know the same things about a consumer:  consumption and communication patterns. 

Now that you have so many more outlets to have fun with this process, use them.

1 comment about "Preference Center Or Subscription Center".
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  1. Jordan Cohen from Fluent, September 19, 2012 at 12:22 p.m.

    Nice article Dave. "Fun" and "Interactive" is definitely the way to go when it comes to asking users to self-report preference. And, I agree, that it's more productive to get subscribers to tell you more about their personas than to report very specific product/category/channel preferences, which will change over time (what we like will change over time, who we are, is, um, pretty much who we are and are going to be). The Container Store does a great job of this. They ask for very specific pieces of information, like your birthday, in order to send you personalized deals, but also ask "what are your interests?" "how would you describe yourself" and emphasize that "it'll take just a minute" to complete the survey. See slide 16 in my EEC prez from last year for the sample creative:

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