Negative Preferences -- A Positive Solution To Segmentation

Everyone agrees that personalizing email according to consumer preferences is a good thing. Most, however, gloss over the challenges:

1. Most consumer databases do not have preferences for all of its members. If you send email only to those with a preference, you limit your reach. Just because I didn't fill out the profile page doesn't mean I'm not interested in X.

2. If you ask for a preference, you must be prepared to provide content for that preference on a regular basis. If I select a preference for topic A only, can you generate regular content on that topic, given staff and budget constraints?

A solution the Email Diva is toying around with is asking subscribers to indicate anything they DON'T want: negative preferences. The goal, after all, is relevance. We want to send email about topics the recipient is or may be interested in, but our worst fear is sending something that is entirely irrelevant --diaper coupons to the childless couple, for example. You think you can do this with standard demographics, but can you? My retired neighbor babysits for her grandchildren regularly and would certainly be interested in diaper coupons. Another neighbor with the right demographics is a firm believer in the benefits of cloth diapers.



The idea would be to give people the option, in every email, to customize their experience by indicating content that is irrelevant.

At first blush, this technique seems like just another way of indicating a preference, but the difference is that it doesn't limit your reach. If I don't have a positive preference, is it because I don't want to read about topic A, or because I haven't filled out a profile or shopped for it on your site or look like the "typical" customer? With negative preferences, you can send email to your opt-ins on a particular topic or product unless they tell you not to. Moreover, it puts the customer in control, which is always a good thing, and far better than any marketer's crystal ball.

One challenge will be getting consumers to follow the instructions and indicate what they don't want, rather than what they do. I've proposed this to one client and will let you know the outcome in a future column. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Write me and...

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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