Preference Centers: If You Build It, They Might Not Come

I've advocated for the customer preference center for many years, often as one of the few voices in the wilderness bucking opinions that preference centers are a waste of time, and behavior beats preferences anyway.
Marketers complain about two things: Their customers don't use their preference centers, and the data is often inaccurate or dated. So, the preference center doesn't deliver the ROI they expect or need to justify maintaining or upgrading it.
As the headline says in my Email Insider column from 2012, "Preference Centers Aren't Worthless – Your Approach Can Be."
Customer-Motivated Versus Brand-Prompted
Customers and subscribers are generally self-motivated to use preference centers at three points in their brand journeys:
  1. Opt in or register for an account, event, membership, etc.
  2. Opt out of marketing messages or close an account or membership.
  3. Change or update key information such as a different email address, mailing or billing address, or other data that will clearly affect the communications they receive.
The first two drive most customer preference center use because the customer or subscriber is self-motivated to begin or end a relationship. The third tends to require highly motivated customers because they are acting in the middle of their journey to stay engaged.
Success with this last source requires that you promote your preference center in emails and elsewhere, calling out options to update customer profiles and specific options, such as changing an email address.
Using Prompts to Generate Fresh Preference Data
The failure with preference centers is that most brands assume, “If we build it, they will come.” Instead, map the customer journey, and drive customers at different stages back to the preference center or capture data through other means, including behavioral data.
The prompts listed below use broadcast and targeted/triggered email messages as well as Web-based tactics to elicit fresh and updated preference data:
  • Invitation to update preferences and account information. These emails go out at regular intervals either  to your entire database or only to specific segments such as active subscribers. Although discounts and other premiums are popular incentives, one quick-service restaurant chain used an email contest recently to entice loyalty members to update preferences.
  • Updates from inactives and lapsed customers. When sent as part of a reactivation program, this message can reignite interest in your brand from subscribers who seemingly have stopped responding. A favorite approach is to ask lapsed customers one survey question in exchange for a discount -- and then use the response to put customers into an automated nurture series.
  • Change preferences or message channels. This can be a broadcast email to all of your subscribers, like a general update request, especially as you add new preference categories or message channels. Or, target it to customers whose Web browsing or buying behavior conflicts with their preference data.
  • New-member surveys. You don't want to ask for too much information from newcomers, but you still need data for targeting and segmenting. A simple two- or three-question survey as part of an email onboarding program can give you additional data.
  • One- or two-question popover surveys. Target these to all website visitors whose data match email addresses in your database or to new customers, inactives, etc.
  • Progressive-profiling surveys. This popular B2B marketing tactic builds on data customers have previously shared. Webinar registrants might have to provide four data points initially, but when they return to download the presentation, you present two more data fields.
  • Requests for contact or account/billing updates. These can be part of a reactivation program, a response to an interior alert about either expired contact or payment information, or a preventive notice that payment information is about to expire. Use this opportunity to ask for missing or potentially out-of-date profile or preference data.
Some of these prompts will send your customer right to your preference center on your website. With others, you'll tie data such as survey responses to the preference data you already have on each customer, using the email address as your identifier.
Until next time, take it up a notch!



1 comment about "Preference Centers: If You Build It, They Might Not Come".
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  1. Kim Garretson from RealizingInnovation, April 8, 2016 at 10:42 p.m.

    My suggestion for the ultimate preference center: If you're a retailer, embed a form on every product page to simply ask shoppers to set their preferences for future marketing on that product or category, for price drops, back in stock, new models added, new reviews, etc. Then suspend the creepy retargeting on that product. More than a dozen top retailers are now implementing this, with up to a 40% take rate on the option, and up to a 15% conversion when alerts meeting the preferences are sent. For non-retailers, since most sites are 'channelized' for SEO, the same technology can let viewers opt-in to content updates at every level of a site, even specific articles or posts, and even with saved search keyword stings. When new content meeting those preferences appears at the site, this triggers an automated alert. With digital switching from a 'Pull' where marketers and media create content in the hopes that audiences discover it and pull it into view, to a 'Push' world where individuals' preferences just push new requested content to them, I think it's critical that this 'permission marketing at scale' approach be put into place.

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