The Line Between Service And Stalking

Consumers have cited “too many emails” and “irrelevant content” as their top reasons for unsubscribing for years and years now. An email experience that’s more personalized in both content and cadence is clearly the answer, as evidenced by the huge ROI that most triggered emails generate. However, the email experience has become more complex because marketers have new sources of data from which to personalize that experience.

Expressed and implied preferences are the building blocks of content strategies. Expressed preferences are those that are explicitly and directly indicated by subscribers and can be used to power mail stream selection, segmentation, dynamic content and triggered emails.

For instance, Amazon’s subscription center is a good example of allowing subscribers to select the mail streams they’re most interested in. NFLshop sends team-focused emails and even personalizes the subject lines of its broadcast emails based on which team a subscriber indicate as his/her favorite during sign-up. B&H Photo Video’s newsletter uses dynamic content based on which product categories each subscriber has indicated an interest in and the available content. And back-in-stock notifications and birthday emails, such as Pizza Express’, are examples of an expressed preference leading to a triggered email.



Implied preferences are those subscribers indicate through their actions. While this requires some interpretation, implied preferences are more reliable than expressed preferences, especially over time. For instance, Crutchfield uses browse behavior to trigger product category-focused emails, and Williams-Sonoma and others use the abandonment of a shopping cart to trigger an email.

The sea change that’s occurring is that marketers have a growing number of sources of preference data due to both better external sources and better internal integration.

For instance, instead of asking subscribers if they’d prefer to receive a mobile-friendly version of their emails, some marketers like REI now use responsive templates to serve up email content that’s optimized for the device being used to view the email. So a platform preference has gone from being an expressed preference to an implied one in a growing number of cases.

Demographic data collection, which is a form of expressed preference, is also changing thanks to Facebook Connect and social logins. It’s a much more reliable source of information than what’s reported to marketers via preference centers, and is great for powering birthday emails, location segmentation and other campaigns.

Better channel integration is also improving data actionability. For instance, loyalty cards allow Best Buy to send helpful post-purchase emails in response to store purchases that might otherwise be anonymous. And Sky uses the DVR recording habits of its customers as implied preferences to suggest new shows in its My Sky Week emails.

The challenge with using preference data remains the same: to make personalization feel like good customer service that is both welcomed and helpful, and not like an overly aggressive salesperson who doesn’t respect your personal space and essentially chases you out of the store.

Consumers continue to be of two minds when it comes to personalization in marketing. On the one hand, they want relevant content; but they also want their privacy and don’t want to feel stalked. As more and more personal information becomes available to marketers, transparency and tone will be critical to creating powerful personalized emails.

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